For the last month, I’ve been writing about scary story elements because it’s October and that’s what you do when Halloween comes around. When I was trying to come up with a topic for today’s rant (that’s what I call my column), I had a moment of self-doubt. You know, it’s that little voice inside your head that picks apart your plan. Everyone has one. Well, mine asked the question “Who cares?”
And that got me to thinking. Who really cares about scary stories? Why should we care about scary stories? I know that the voice in my head was trying to discourage me from writing, but what it really did was give me the topic for today.
Back in the day, I’m talking like the 1800’s, two brothers collected stories across Germany and published them. Grimm’s Fairy Tales had 86 stories in its first edition and in 1857 the seventh edition had 210 fairy tales. If you go to a Wal-Mart that has a decent enough book section, like I did, you can find an edition of the Grimm’s work that has 101 stories in it.
Among those stories, you’ll find all the old favorites: Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, Little Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, The Golden Goose, and many others. I bet the Grimm’s family doesn’t see one cent from Disney…just saying.
Just like the brother’s name, most of these stories aren’t the happy ending that you’ll find on Disney+. In Rapunzel, the prince climbs the tower each night while the sorceress is gone and soon Rapunzel gets pregnant. When the sorceress finds out, she cuts off her hair and casts the pregnant lady out into the wilderness. The prince climbs the hair, finds the sorceress, jumps out of the window, and becomes blind when he falls on a thorn bush. Eventually they reunite, and everything is fine.
In Little Snow White, things are pretty similar to the Disney movie, but with a few exceptions. The evil queen gets punished for trying to kill Snow White. Her punishment is to wear a pair of red-hot iron slippers and to dance in them until she drops dead. Can you imagine Walt Disney trying to convince his creative team to animate that ending?
These scary stories are meant to teach children, and adults, a lesson. Don’t let dudes climb your hair each night unless you want to become pregnant and cast out into the wilderness, don’t become jealous of someone else’s beauty, don’t try to fatten children up and try to eat them, and don’t sell your first born child for some easy labor and golden thread.
Strictly speaking, these fairy tales, these stories meant to scare children and adults straight, meant something. There was a meaning to it all. Can that be said about the modern scary story?
If you look at Michael Crichton’s book, Jurassic Park, you’ll a similar lesson. What happens when Man meddles with Nature? What happens when Man tries to do God’s work? This is actually a common theme. You can find “Man verse Nature” and “Man verse God” in many popular works. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is another great example.
In a more realistic example, look at Stephen King’s book The Stand. In it, humanity tampers with a deadly virus that eventually gets out into the world and quickly spreads across the planet. Sound familiar?
In Stephen King’s book Carrie, readers are taught that you shouldn’t be cruel to people just because they’re unpopular and weird. Carrie White is a high school student with telekinesis that is terrorized by high school bullies. Essentially, it’s the horror equivalent of Mean Girls. In my personal opinion, this book should be taught in all middle school English classes to prepare students for high school. As a guy that was bullied in high school for being unpopular and overweight, I wish I had telekinesis.
In Romero’s zombie movies, the viewer is taught that humanity is the real monster. This is the theme of “Human verse Human.” Humanity is faced with a horrible apocalyptic situation and has to do whatever it takes to survive. In most scenarios, humanity tries to work together, but inevitably fails when a power struggle follows.
Scary stories are, in my opinion, still important. It’s necessary for authors to look at a situation and write a story that has a moral or ethical lesson. However, that author should look at the situations facing their world at that time. It has to be relevant. In Crichton’s time, trying to mess with human cloning was just becoming a thing. In the 70’s, high school bullying was something that took place and generally accepted. Nowadays, bullying is met with a zero tolerance stance in most schools. Unfortunately, that human verse human situation is happening now in today’s society. It’s commonly known as Democrat verse Republican.
The last thing I want to impart on you about scary stories is that no one listens to them anymore. Have you noticed that? We still mess with nature and God’s design. We still bully, but it’s through social media. The characters in those stories learned their lesson and survived.
But will we?
Categories: Mastering the Craft