Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scary Stories

This is image is taken from the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. The book (one of three in the series) is a collection of horror stories and urban myths that have been adapted by Schwartz, and are fairly creepy. However, what sets these books apart are the horrific bits of black and white illustration throughout, provided by Luis Erique, Daniel Urena, and Stephen Gammell. Although marketed to children mainly, the pictures are far more terrifying than even most adults are comfortable with. I know they creeped me out whenever I read them as a kid.

Many of the pictures are surreal, and much more grotesque than the stories they accompany. For instance, there is one story of
a woman who adopts a stray dog from Mexico, only to later discover that it is an enormous, diseased rat. Although this is creepy by itself, the illustration of the rat is soul-scarring. There's no way that the thing portrayed by the picture could possibly be mistaken for a dog. It looks more like a monster than a rat, even:

However, the unsettling surrealism of the images exaggerates the horror. It's effective, but I'm curious about the thought process that led up to the creation of these books, which were sold side-by-side with Goosebumps books like The Blob That Ate Everyone and Egg Monsters From Mars. The difference between pulp-horror like Goosebumps and truly disturbing books like the Scary Stories series is startling. Still, both series were successful, showing that there is room for a lot of variety in the horror genre.


  1. Interesting how scary surrealism can be. It must be based on a fear of losing sanity.

  2. Or maybe it has to do with elements of uncanny like we discussed in class. Even though the second picture is of a rat, it still has many human features: ears, fingers, tongue, hair, etc... Perhaps images like this are so haunting because we somehow believe we could one day look like that, and maybe we see a little bit of ourselves in that rat.

  3. I think the fear comes from potentially seeing something like the rat. It must be based on a fear of the unknown. For all we know, there could be a creature like that rat running around somewhere, or a disease that could make people turn into zombie looking creatures like the one above. Creepy stuff

  4. Yeah, a lot of the pictures played up the possibility of infection and disease. Some of the random tendrils on the rat and the sagging face show this, but it was even more obvious when you could view all the pictures, and the weird fleshy disease look is on almost every one.

  5. If someone were to describe the rat through words, I would easily dismiss it as a monster and move on. But when you are confronted with the image of this grotesque thing, it becomes apparent that this is much more than just a diseased rat. The various abnormalities are not normal and I think the image alone induces the fear because it exceeds even the most disgusting mental image we prepared when we read "He's a sewer rat - with rabies."

  6. Surrealism brings an incredible amount of abstraction to objects that can make the ordinary appear horrific. Well drawn, this rat does not resemble the rat in the story because Surrealism does not transplant replica images, however, it does tap into to something deeper. One of those factors is the emotional response that the previous posts have touched upon. Undoubtedly, this must have been the same response that other characters in the book felt when looking at the same creature.


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