Sunday, 14 November 2010

All Hallow's Read

First off, I give you a link

All Hallow's Read is not a half bad idea. In fact, it's a very good idea. I, of course, am late as all hell and currently combing my second hand bookshops and charity shops for battered old Stephen Kings and Daphne Du Mauriers and the odd Edgar Allen Poe, even, which are probably going to arrive around Christmas in orange and black paper with spider web ribbons. As someone who has watched The Nightmare Before Christmas twice a year, every year, since childhood, I fully approve of this.

I am quick to leap upon new ideas, especially when they involve something I love, such as books - however, I think this idea is highly reliant on A. convicted bandwagoners like me and B. the fact that the person who came up with it is Neil Gaiman. We love Neil Gaiman, but I can't help but think the success of All Hallow's Read has more to do with the fact that we all love Neil Gaiman than we all want to give people scary books. It's like Trick or Treating - you go to the house with the shiniest pumpkin lantern. If the house doesn't have a shiny pumpkin lantern next year you forget to go, no matter how good the sweets were. Or something like that.

This makes me just a little sad. Giving someone a book is possibly the best thing you can ever do. Nobody is EVER worse off for having read another book, particularly not children. Even if it's a bad book.

Especially if it's a scary book.

A good book sticks in your brain and you think about it every so often. A scary book sits in your brain and you can't help thinking about it every time you're alone in the house.

I do not watch modern scary films - I have pacing issues and am too easily able to guess the trajectories of scripts and things jumping out at me just shortens my temper and my lifespan - so all my horror comes from books. And it has had an impact. I will not stay in a room with yellow wallpaper. Scratching noises at night are never just the cat trying to get out. I am highly suspicious of large black dogs, especially near the sea side. Under no circumstances will I approach a lone house with a light on at night. I cannot look at theatre audiences without speculation. Getting lost in the woods is not a minor inconvenience but a recipe for a panic attack. And I will never, ever visit Massachusetts. Or so I like to pretend, at times.

The first horror books I ever had were, of course, Goosebumps. I watched the series as well, but the books I devoured. The only thing that topped them in terms of sleepless nights was a How2 episode on how ghosts didn't exist (In which they explained all the things that weren't ghosts but cars passing at night, the central heating warming up, or so on, and thus kept me awake for weeks waiting for the thing that wasn't explained) and the time the fire fighters came to teach us fire safety at age seven and brought the door.

Oh god, the door.

To this day, weird noises at night will render me an immobile blob under the covers clutching Alfred the tiger, and I'm too nervous around flames to ever learn how to cook worth a damn. Until three months ago I'd never struck a match. This is 'real' scary. This is bad scary. This is the kind of scary that traumatises small children and eventually small adults.

Goosebumps, on the other hand, was good scary in that I was terrified at the time in a way that was vaguely enjoyable and then I grew out of it but still remembered. Goosebumps was all about the incongruously eerie and playing on your phobias. Goosebumps did not have happy endings. Half the time the hero or heroine turned into a monster or ghost or devil or worst of all - it turned out they had been all along. Gothic Horror would later teach me to love atmosphere and suspense and creeping dread and a well tied cravat, but for sheer shock value it was Goosebumps  all the way.

But I'm not scared of any of those things any more.

I think this is perhaps the best thing scary books can do for small children, which is to give them fears to outgrow. I am not afraid of eerie music boxes or empty parks at night any more. I am not afraid of monsters. I am not even afraid I will turn out to have been a monster or an alien all along. And I'm happier for it.

Don't wait for Hallowe'en. Give a small child a scary book today.

I decided to make my first 'official' foray into poetry - sometime, I should do one of these asides on poetry and my love/hate/love relationship with it, but not yet - and thus I'll see you in two weeks with W.H.Auden, assuming of course I can figure out how exactly I plan to do this...

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