Thursday, October 24, 2013

Think of the Children!

No matter how old you are, you've probably noticed that kids used to be expected to be a little tougher than they are now. If you grew up in the 1930s, maybe you were expected to miss school during harvest season to help on the farm. Or you grew up in the 1950s, and you had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to school, or in the 1970s, when you didn't have any of this newfangled internet. Perhaps you grew up in the 1990s, when you had to wear neon sweatpants that made that awful swishy sound. Whatever "hardships" you had to endure as a child, it probably doesn't make you feel better seeing kids who lament having to use an iPhone that isn't made of solid gold, like some kind of animal.

My crazy ranting aside, there is ample evidence that a large number of parents have gone nuts in recent years trying to protect their children from all the perceived evil in the world. (To avoid upsetting any of our readers, I'll resist pointing out specific examples of ridiculous products marketed toward worry-prone mothers.) What we rise up against during Banned Books Week alone is pretty persuasive to that point. The reillustrated edition of this week's review book makes a pretty good case, too.

Those are the original covers to the Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz. They are illustrated in amazing, creepy, terrifying style by Stephen Gammell. In fact, I'd venture to say that these books wouldn't be half as famous (or as challenged) without those images. Here's a collage of some of the best ones:

Take a moment to really take those in. I'll wait.


Sufficiently terrified yet? I mean, maybe if you're one of the many people desensitized to violence and gore (have you seen any of the Saw or Hostel movies?) these aren't so bad, but to a little kid of an age befitting the writing in these books? That's horrifying stuff.

Which... and here's the crux of my point... is not a bad thing.

Isn't there an entire holiday, coming up next week, dedicated to scaring ourselves silly? Would haunted houses, games like Slender, and horror movies exist if we didn't like being scared? It's an adrenaline rush, and it's one that's easily adaptable to different age levels. Jumping out at someone and yelling "boo!" is fun for the whole family; Rob Zombie films are more suited to an adult audience. But people of all ages like to be scared sometimes.

And these drawings? This is the kind of scary that sticks with you. Kids eat this stuff up. Are there kids out there who shouldn't be exposed to this and can't handle it? Probably. But that's also the case with peanuts and bubble wrap. So maybe a little parental supervision is in order for certain little ones.

But the real problem here is that someone - I haven't a clue who (but my money is on the publisher) - made a decision to replace these beautifully creepy images with updated (read: sanitized) friendlier versions. Take a look at the comparisons below (found here):

The Gammell drawings, of course, are on the left, with the newer images on the right by Brett Helquist. I have nothing against Mr. Helquist or his work; I quite like his style, out of this context. In fact, he's the guy behind the illustrations to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events books. But I know people who only remember reading this book as a child because they recall losing weeks' worth of sleep over Gammell's drawings, and I really don't think anyone's going to have the same problem from Helquist's illustrations.

Which means our kids are safe, once again, from anything too scary or weird or nightmare-inducing. But aren't nightmares part of growing up? I think so.

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