Why I Write Horror for Children – Neil Gaiman

This week I have been suffering from a horrible virus and the original post for today is garbage, written under the influence of a fever.  So I will save you from that pain.  Instead, here is a delightful little video of Neil Gaiman explaining why he writes horror for children.  I am starting my own venture into horror literature for children.  Many tell me that I am insane and that it is morbid to corrupt children like that.

Those people could not be further from the truth.  Scary stories for children have been around from the dawn of humanity.  Oral traditions used tales of terror as a teaching experience.  If you have ever seen the movie The Croods, the stories that the father tells his children are a perfect example of this.  His stories taught about the macabre dangers of life.  However, scary stories do something else in addition to teaching, something that most people don’t expect: they give a reader hope and strength.

Gaiman’s words and drive to write horror stories for children echo my own desires.  We want to give young readers a story to get them through the hard times in life.  To have these young readers say “This character is going through something so dismally horrible, but you know what – the character survived it.  My situation is not as bad.  I can get through this too.”

Yes, some will think that is twisted, but stop for a moment and think about the context.  Think of the horror stories that you read in the adult genre.  Do you not relate your life and situations to characters in those books?  Even if it is for the briefest moment, you do think to yourself, “wow, this main character has it so much worse than I do, and he/she is getting through it.  Maybe things are not so bad for me.”

10 thoughts on “Why I Write Horror for Children – Neil Gaiman

  1. When Maurice Sendak wrote “Where the Wild Things Are,” some critics and parents said the story was too frightening to children. Others said it encouraged misbehavior. Time has proven them both wrong. The idea that the world might be a scary place isn’t news to children; it already often feels out of their control. I think frightening stories tell kids that aren’t crazy to think that way, and it can give them some sense that there are forces of good battling those forces of evil. Plus it can be so damn fun to be frightened. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the support and wonderful reference to Sendak. You are right, a scary world isn’t new news. Scary stories do show them the balance of good and evil, leading them to use their judgement to choose a side. And yea, being scared is so much fun!!

  2. My childhood was filled with horror stories. My mum told us good stories. But my elder brother filled me with horrors. I wasn’t even of school going age when he began. One day he told me about a drunkard whose leg was swallowed by a python. He said that the python found the man lying dead drunk by the roadside near a sugarcane plantation and wanted to teach him a lesson that too much alcohol is bad. So it swallowed only one leg, and was still there holding it when the man awoke and started screaming his head off. He never drank alcohol again but the python digested his leg until there were only bones left hanging from his buttocks down.
    My brother said that pythons really hate drunkards and they can smell them from several kilometres away, and swallow their legs or arms. If they feel particularly mean that day, they can swallow your head–only your head–and digest it.

    He told me crazier and crazier stories. He told them at night. These days I laugh when I remember them. I used to cry until my mother would intervene.

    • That is one of the best scary stories for kids ever! And it only disturbs me so because I had a neighbor who had hundreds of snakes as pets. There were 3 burmese pythons, and I remember playing with them, lying on the floor with them, letting them slither all around my head and neck… If I had heard this story as a kid – I probably would have been terrified of the pythons!

      I want to hear the rest of the stories!

      • But I am so scared of pythons. They were common where I grew up. The African Rock Python. They liked goats the most, but sometimes they attacked people. Adults used them to scare us into obedience. They said, for instance, that if you were a bed wetter, they’d get one and tie it around your waist. So that if you urinated on it, it would squeeze you to death swallow you in the dark.

        One other story I was told when I was six was about a widow who had become friends with a hyena. Her son, who was taking care of her, learned of their friendship and warned her that the hyena was not known to be a good friend to anything. She did not listen. However, during a dry season, when the hyena could not get food in the wilderness, he came to eat the woman.
        The woman did not want to be eaten all at once, so she made a deal with the hyena to eat her in bits.
        On the first day, the hyena ate her left arm. When her son returned from the farm, he quarreled with her over her stupidity and went on to lock her up in the house the following morning.
        But when the hyena came back, he said, “Mama Ugol, where are you today,” to which she promptly replied, “Today, my son locked me up in the house.” She then let him in and he ate her other arm.
        When Ugol returned he was furious. He hid her inside a pot and told her never to speak to the hyena again.
        In the morning, after he had left for work, the hyena came. “Mama, Ugol, where are you today.”
        The woman said, “Today, my son hid me inside the pot by the bed.”
        Needless to say, the hyena ate one of her legs that day.
        The following day, before Ugol left for the field, he dug a hole under the bed and hid her in it. He covered it safely with a mat and put rocks on top of it.
        “Mama, Ugol, where are you today,” the hyena said.
        “Today, my son dug a hole under the bed and hid me in it,” the woman said.
        The hyena removed her from the hole and ate her other leg.
        Next, Ugol hid his limbless mother on the rooftop. He knew the hyena could not reach there.
        When the hyena came, the woman told him to get a long stick and push her down with it. He did that and ate the rest of her. Except her head.
        In the evening, Ugol came home to find her head jumping all over the room, knocking down pots, plates, and chairs, and screaming:
        “My head, son! Just my head is left! My head, son! Just my head is left! My head, son! Just my head is left . . .”
        But the son, seeing that talking head coming towards him, took off and never returned.

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