Saturday, March 7, 2015

An origin story

While a main goal of this blog is to highlight works that I find worthwhile, literature or otherwise, I am also interested in sharing my thoughts on the concept of horror itself: what it means to me and how I came to appreciate it. That being said, I've decided to begin by telling you about the moment that led me here.

The beautiful woman you are looking at is from the children's story collection titled Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Many of you may recognize the book, most notably due to the brilliant illustrations by one Stephen Gammell. For those who don't know, the books feature retellings of supernatural folklore, collected and retold by Alvin Schwartz. Most of the stories themselves are more humorous than chilling, though there are certainly exceptions (one of which may receive its own post at a later date). But the artwork...

The artwork made the book.

I couldn't have been any older than six when I fell in love with horror, and it had everything to do with the woman above. My brother had checked the book out of our school's library and I remember us sitting on my bed when we came to this picture. The face alone was unsettling enough, but what really got me was finding a long strand of dark hair nestled between the pages. That was the only time I've ever thrown a book. 

My best guess is the hair belonged to the last person to check the book out, but it still terrified me. It made the story seem real, more tangible somehow. For a long moment I refused to place my feet on the floor, knowing somewhere in my childish mind that the woman was there in my room waiting for me. Then something strange happened: I felt a tinge of curiosity and stepped from the bed. I crossed the room and retrieved the book from the floor, turning back to page 30, back to the image of the woman who was dead but not really. I studied the picture, the strand of dark hair now missing, absent as if it had never been there at all. I continued to look at the woman, trying to determine what it was about this image that terrified me. I didn't realize it then, but I wanted to find out how this artist had created something so visceral, so utterly affecting that it made an impact on me. Years later, upon discovering a certain Mr. Lovecraft, I realized that the feeling I'd had as a child could be replicated with words, and that was a powerful moment for me.

But perhaps that's a story for another time.

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