Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A sad story for Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark

If you're a reader of this blog, you probably don't need me to tell you that the Scary Stories trilogy (Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones), a compilation of ghost stories, spooky folk tales, and urban legends collected and retold by author Alvin Schwartz, is a must-have for any respectable haunted library.

The surreal and unsettling black-and-white illustrations by Stephen Gammell (which have graced the cover and interior pages of each volume since first published) play no small part in the books' appeal, and I'm guessing Gammell's visualizations left their mark on many a young reader's subconscious (Kindertrauma has the proof!)

Sadly, I've learned that after over 30 years of being in print (the original volume was released in 1981, the sequels following in 1984 and 1991), the publisher has decided to quietly replace Gammell's original illustrations with brand new renderings by Lemony Snicket artist Brett Helquist.

Don't get me wrong, I like Helquist's style, which has a charm all its own (this article at Adventures In Poor Taste offers some sharp observations and page-by-page comparisons). The problem is, the new illustrations look like the labor of a competent and perfectly sane artist. Gammell's, in contrast, appear to have seeped out of a fevered nightmare and manifested itself onto paper.

You just don't see this kind of stuff in children's books today (in fact, to find anything comparable I have to reach back to Franz Altschuler's shadowy and ambiguously disturbing drawings for Ida Chittum's Tales of Terror (1975).

In memoriam, I present a selection of scans from the Scary Stories Treasury (a 2002 hardcover compendium of all three volumes, complete and unabridged.) Meanwhile, if you've been putting off picking up an original copy of your own, better act fast. Prices on the used market are already starting to climb! (Hat tip to artist Daniel Danger... and if you aren't familiar with his work, click this link and prepare to be captivated.)


Sarah E. Jahier said...

Gah! Well I'm glad I have the original collection, then!

Countess VonRauber (Heidi) said...

UGH! Why fix something that isn't broken? Gammell's pictures used to scare the bejezus out of me! They're still creepy to me, but in a really good way :)
The stories in these books are good, but Gammell's pictures are what really made this series.
Guess I had better stop putting off purchasing my own copies of the originals.

Marrow said...

Thanks for the heads up. I just bought the Scary Stories Boxed Set.

This is such a shame.

Anonymous said...

I remember these illustrations from my childhood (in Sweden) - maybe the Scary stories were translated. I´ll be bying the books now, that´s for sure.

Unknown said...

My sister and I were first introduced to these books when I checked the first one out of my elementary school library. And at the tender ages of 7 and 9, the two little innocent girls were introduced to and in turn greeted by our worst nightmares...and we were instantly hooked for life! Growing up on my grandparents' farm with a perfect unobstructed view of a cornfield from our bedroom window every summer thru fall... only the true original fans of "scary stories" can appreciate the absolute and delightful terror that we felt every time we read "Harold"...!!! I'm so glad that I still have my original collection. I read them to my eleven year old daughter now and she loves being creeped out by them! It may be just my warped upbringing, but I think that children need a certain amount of nervous laughter, telling themselves that it was only a story and still checking under the bed before sleeping, and a healthy way to face the reality of death, fear, bad guys, etc...Kids love it if their parents allow it! ...Uh oh...I think "Harold" is on my doorstep... ;-)