The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This photo was taken when Charlotte Perkins Gilman was about 40 years old.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman; July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935) was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.

— Wikipedia

Read the story online here. 

Also important to know: Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a pioneer in the study of nervous conditions, urged Charlotte Perkins Gilman to treat her ‘hysteria’ by abstaining from her work as a writer, and to “never touch a pen, brush or pencil,” as long as she lived. Continue reading “The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman”

The Rats In The Walls by H.P. Lovecraft

The Rats In The Walls Lovecraft

If you’re a fan of Renovation Rescue or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and think you’ve seen some good horror stories, you might consider turning brief attention to the story of H.P. Lovecraft, and I don’t actually mean his tragic life story in which he only achieved fame after an early, lonely death; I’m talking about the one in which a guy decides to restore his ancestral home after the death of his only son only to find he is hated by the locals… For creepy reasons which are none of his own fault. Then things get far, far worse.

Kingsley Amis said that this story achieves ‘a memorable nastiness’. Other short stories that have had this same effect on me: Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

A lot has already been said about The Rats In The Walls, not least in the Wikipedia entry.

The Rats In The Walls is a great example of a story which has been woven out of an Urban Legend: The Piltdown ManContinue reading “The Rats In The Walls by H.P. Lovecraft”

The Wolves In The Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

The Wolves In The Walls
The main child character has a naturalistic hand but basically dots for eyes. The wolf is depicted as an outline but has naturalistic wolf eyes. Lucy is an inverse of the wolf. Which parts of Lucy are wolflike and which parts of the wolf are Lucy?

Have you ever had something living in your walls or in your roof space, or cellar?

Apparently the story was inspired by his own daughter, who heard rats in the walls at night. (So do we — they’re actually mice…) Hearing rodents in the walls isn’t all that uncommon. And rodents are most active at night. It really is quite disturbing to hear two a.m. scrabbling right behind your head: You’re not quite sure they’re rodents, they’re so close to you, yet you can’t see them. And it’s not easy to do much about them, either. You have to wait for them to come out and eat the bait you’ve placed elsewhere.

A PICTUREBOOK FOR OLDER READERS

Continue reading “The Wolves In The Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean”

What is the horror genre for?

dracula horror poster

Raison d’être of Horror

Horripilation is the term for the hair on the back of the neck that stands up when we are seized by intense fear. Raising those follicles is the goal of all horror films.

— Howard Suber, The Power of Film

Horror, along with Westerns and the entire speculative fiction category is highly metaphorical.

Horror is about humans in decline, reduced to animals or machines by an attack of the inhuman.

— Carolyn Daniel

In all horror stories, the opponent wants to belong. They want to enter the human community but we won’t let them. Continue reading “What is the horror genre for?”

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen shows that toddlers can cope with the horror genre.

This Is Not My Hat Cover

“Jon Klassen’s darkly humorous illustrations are a joy to behold. Deceptively simplistic, the expressions and events that he captures, which range from the sublime to the sinister, are utterly wonderful.”

– The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal judges’ commentary

Someone on Goodreads called this a “hard-boiled crime thrillers for toddlers”. This is fairly apt description! Below I will refer to a number of 1 and 2 star reviews of this book on Goodreads, because these reviewers say something interesting about what adults think is good for children, and what should be kept from them. Committees who award big prizes are a lot less conservative than many book buyers, but I fear it’s the book buyers who drive the market.

Continue reading “This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen”

What’s the allure of scary stories?

scary

It is debatable whether or not fear of the unknown is greater than fear of the known, but in childhood so much is unknown that a child, in order to make sense of fear, must isolate and identify it; only the known can be dealt with.

Jan Mark, British Writer

I believe that children should be allowed to feel fear … Walter de la Mare … believed that children were impoverished if they were protected from everything that might frighten them … Once one has answered this basic question … the second problem arises of how it is to be presented. This is really a technical problem which has to be faced by every writer for children.

Catherine Storr, from ‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’ in the Sunday Times Magazine, March 1971

“We’re not really being scared by movies at all, at least not in the ‘brain chemistry way’.”

FilmmakerIQ

The Allure of Scary Stories

1. Shock

2. Relevance – a universal, cultural, subcultural or personal relevance

3. Unrealism – sounds counter-intuitive, but isn’t. At some level we know that what we are watching is not real. Our disgust-o-meter doesn’t necessarily go off when we know something is fictional. Children have a harder time separating reality from fiction, which should be the basis of age censorship.

Does watching violence on screen make us angry or does it have a cathartic, and ultimate calming effect?

Do certain personality types like horror movies more than other personality types?

Different people watch horror movies for different reasons:

1. gore-watching — low empathy, strong identification with the ‘baddie’

2. thrill-watching — high empathy, high sensation seeking motivated by the suspense

3. independent watching — high empathy for the victim and with positive feelings at the end of the film, and

4. problem-watching — high empathy for the victim but negative feelings of helplessness at the end of the film.

Do men like horror films more than women? (Men enjoy horror films more when their female romantic partner is visibly scared, but women enjoy horror films more when their male romantic partner is visibly stoic. I think this just explained to me why it’s always a female voice screaming in the sound effects, and why male screaming is only ever used to comic effect.)

Horror films require us to face the unknown — they allow us to face our fears and put them into context. They shape our belief system, and provide a good, safe space to explore.

 

For more on this interesting subject, watch The Psychology of Scary Movies.

 

Children’s Literature: How scary is TOO scary?

Writing scary tales for children is difficult, because it has to be interesting without being too scary. How is it done? Where’s the line? What have storytelling experts said on the subject?

I’ve always believed that children, even at a very young age, know their limits, and if a story is too frightening and overwhelms them in some way, they will either fall asleep or walk away.  If you read to your child on a regular basis, it’s easy to navigate this terrain with conversations about each story that help you instinctively calibrate what is appropriate for bedtime reading.  Reading fairy tales may expose children to the dark side, but it also introduces them to survival skills, teaching them to use their heads to outsmart predators.  Shoving the witch into the oven may be a bridge too far, but no reason to be reverent about the words on the page, especially for the younger crowd.

Maria Tatar

People say, ‘Your book keeps giving me chills,’ but I don’t know what that feeling is. Horror always makes me laugh. Normal adult things scare me, but not things from a book or a movie.

– R.L. Stine, from an interview with Village Voice

“There’s no formula. I think you have to create a very close point of view. You have to be in the eyes of the narrator. Everything that happens, all the smells, all the sounds; then your reader starts to identify with that character and that’s what makes something really scary.”

– R.L. Stine from an interview with mediabistro

 

What’s the difference between a monster movie and a dark fairy tale?

It’s a very, very, very thin difference. I think that horror stories come from fairy tales, in a way. They share a lot of similarities. I think the difference is tonal. You know, the fairy tale contains a lot more elements of magic and whimsy and the the horror story contains a lot more, sort of, almost existential feelings — sort of dread, and ultimately they are similar melodies, played at a very different key.

– Guillermo del Toro

Over time, supernatural and horror fiction that has been targeted to children and young adults has become darker. If we look at books from the early 20th century through to the 1950s or 60s, we see books similar to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in their mild handling of frightening characters and scenarios. As we move into the 1970s we start to find horror novels targeted towards young adults. Stephen King’s works Salem’s Lot and Firestarter won the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award in 1978 and 1981 respectively, showing that children and young adults have been quite willing to read scary literature for some time. Neil Gaiman’s books Coraline and The Graveyard Book are also targeted for the tween audience, and could easily be considered scarier than even these specifically labelled horror books from authors such as King and Dean Koontz. In recent years, it appears clear that more and scarier books are being targeted to the child and young adult audience, and as a result, children are reading scarier books than in the past.

Thomas Pynchon

Continue reading “Children’s Literature: How scary is TOO scary?”