Memory Lane: Scary Stories and the Art of Stephen Gammell

30 Oct

There are certain things that stick with us from childhood. Certain moments, songs, memories good and bad, sweet and sorrowful. For some reason, I am strongly attached to the memories of things that really disturbed me when I was young… The villain in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that could smell children, the dramatization of the creature that haunts Leap Castle via a TV ghost show that kept me up all night, and most recently I was reminded of a series of books called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a three book series published in the 80’s featuring horribly creepy stories by Alvin Shwartz accompanied by scarier still artwork by Stephen Gammell.

scary-stories books

The combination of Shwartz’s ghastly tales and Gammell’s art were the stuff of childhood’s most imaginative nightmares, probably why the series was the most frequently challenged for library banning in the 90’s. A spider laying eggs in a girl’s cheek, a rabid sewer rat mistaken for a dog, a woman stealing the liver of a neighbor’s corpse to cook for dinner… this folklore was not for the faint of heart.

A friend recently posted one of the illustrations on Facebook, and I was instantly transported back in time. I LOVED these books. They were totally alarming and dark and wonderful. I remember bringing them to Girl Guide camp and scaring the other girls by the campfire. I remember being afraid of the images yet unable to stop staring at them; memorizing the lines and shadows. For all I know, these books could have been the catalyst to my teen goth development, their images replaced over the years with Salvador Dali paintings and posters of Marilyn Manson surrounded by prosthetic limbs…

One of Gammell's illustrations, which will likely remain burned into my psyche for all time.

One of Gammell’s illustrations, which will likely remain burned into my psyche for all time.

It turns out the publishers recently changed the artwork for the 30th anniversary reissuing, replacing Gammell’s nightmare-inducing works with much safer illustrations by artist Brett Helquist. Helquist is a talented illustrator, but nothing can quite capture the dark and twisted tales of Shwartz the way Gammell’s horrors did.

Gammell's classic artwork on the left,

Gammell’s classic artwork on the left, Helquist’s replacement on the right

I’m now eager to purchase a box set of all 3 books, before they become too obscure and the prices go up. There are still sets kicking around Amazon and Ebay. Box Sets run around $35 (for now).

scary stories 03

Enjoy Devil’s Night… Good luck sleeping if you decide to google more after reading this post. OR listen to the complete audiobooks on youtube here.



One Response to “Memory Lane: Scary Stories and the Art of Stephen Gammell”

  1. bookfessionschica October 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks for the blast from the past! Wow. I totally remember the covers. I’m pretty sure I took one of these books with me on my family’s annual trip to Mexico when I was a little girl.

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