Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a collection of folklore that has haunted children and adults all over the world. It has sold over 7 million copies...that's a lot of terror to spread. If you didn't read these books as a kid, you either need to get yourself to a bookstore this instant, or you're lying to me.
The books have been picked up for an adaptation for film, and I don't think I could be more excited. Heck, that's what got me started here in the first place; the fact that these books are one of the reasons that horror has become more than my little hobby, but my lifestyle and my obsession.
But did you know that this incredible book series has acquired so much attention scaring the living daylights out of people, that schools and libraries all over the world are banning them? They're suppressing childrens' abilities to enjoy the spooky stories and disgusting drawings by taking them away from them.
Now, if you really read these books, you know that the stories were absolutely creepy, but it was the illustrations by Stephen Gammell.
These illustrations haunted our dreams for decades. But what is the draw to these books? I got the opportunity to speak with Cody Meirick, the director and producer of Scary Stories: A Documentary. (YES, THERE IS GOING TO BE A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT ONE OF THE BEST BOOK SERIES IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE. ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS I AM?) We talked via email, and we got to talk about some of the things he's researched for his documentary. This documentary covers vital investigations into what draws us to all things creepy, the folktales and urban legends that are told in the books, literature of gothic nature for children, and artists inspired by the drawings of Stephen Gammell, to name a few.
So what did Cody have to say about this documentary?
Taylor: What sparked you interest in creating a documentary about these stories? Is there another documentary that influenced your decision to make your documentary in any way, whether it be in style, or topic?
Cody: It started with my interest in children's literature in general. My background is in children's literature, both academic and with Erikson Institute. Of course I loved the books growing up like a lot of people, but what really started to take shape are big topics related to the books that really lent themselves to documentary form. I saw how much people gushed over them, liked them on social media, upvoted them. I'm sure a lot of other people have noticed the same thing. But along with the interest, you're talking about a series of books that inspired generations of children to open a book and read, as well as spark an interest in art and illustrating, while also being one of the most banned books of the last 30 years. Those things add up to being a really fascinating story.
TK: On your website, you have a list of topics that may be covered in the documentary. Which was your favorite topic to explore (up until this point) and why?
CM: Although I talk about the banned books topic and the illustrations as art, some of those topics that I know we will explore which are really interesting topics, I guess in my heart of heart my natural inclination is towards folklore and connections to traditional children's literature. My degrees are all in English Literature, so I like to sit down with a professor or folklorist and talk about those things. But again, all topics interest me quite a bit.
TK: I know that personally, these books helped shape me as a person in my childhood, allowing me to delve into outlets other than what was considered "the norm" in reading. I grew up to be a horror fanatic with a love of all things dark and creepy. Do you feel that the reason parents steer their children clear of these books is because they believe that they will enjoy it? Or do you feel that parents think their children will be scared? To put it briefly...why do you think parents keep their children from enjoying dark, scary things?
CM: These are the types of questions I want to explore. Just to throw a few of my own thoughts. I'm sure it varies a lot. I'm sure there are some parents who actually believe these can be "taught" to children... as if reading about death or murder will give a 12-year-old the idea and suddenly they become a sociopath. There are probably a few parents out that like that. But by and large I imagine it is a bit more tame and not quite as extreme as that. They just want them to be a bit older until they are reading certain things. The problem is, the act of banning in an entire school determines that other kids that maybe are ready for it, and could benefit from it, don't have access. So there are a lot of dimensions that I think people could delve into.
TK: What do you think draws children to such dark topics?
CM: I think similar reasons to why I enjoy a good scary movie. I don't know that I could accurately describe my own desire. But I wouldn't mind talking with a few experts who could posit some theories about why that is. Why do I like Freddy Krueger so much?
TK: How did you come across the people to interview for your documentary? What about the crew for the production?
CM: Research, research, research!
TK: Tell us about Open Books! It seems like an organization that you're passionate about, how did you get involved with them?
CM: Erikson Institute where I work isn't too far and I sometimes wonder over there to browse. I love their model. Used bookstore and the proceeds go towards literacy programs. I love it.
[Open Books is an organization featured on Scary Stories: A Documentary's indiegogo page. If you donate to the documentary, a part of the proceeds go to Open Books! It's all about children's literacy!]
TK: What is your ultimate goal for the documentary? What do you want it to accomplish?
CM: I want to pay tribute to this book series that was important to a lot of childhoods while also exploring important aspects of children’s literature. The early years are so fundamentally important. What is put in front of our eyes and processed through our minds during those key developmental years goes to shape who we are. Examining what it is that draws us, inspires us, interests us when we are young I think says a lot about the human condition. Looking at just this particular example I think can be both fun for a lot of fans but also enlightening.
TK: There have been talks about a film adaptation of the stories; are you excited to see those childhood stories we know and love become a reality on the big screen?
CM: I'm intrigued of course. I'm a big John August fan, so that really piqued my interest. We'll see.
TK: The illustrations of Stephen Gammell in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books have been iconic over the years. If you could have yourself drawn into any of the illustrations, which would it be and why?
CM: I'll play along. I've always loved the illustration for Oh Susannah. I have no idea what dimension or reality that is, but I'd be interested in exploring.
If you're interested in more creepy posts like these, find me at terribletoychest.blogspot.com!