Friday, September 12, 2008

Children's books can scar you for life...

Tomorrow would have been the 92nd birthday of author Roald Dahl, creator of such memorable tomes as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Matilda." He was also the author of a collection of short stories called "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More" which absolutely, positively scared the living, breathing daylights out of me as a child and scarred me for months thereafter. The particular culprit in this instance was a story called "The Swan," in which two boys bully another young boy, kill a swan and then make the boy wear the dead swan's wings as he (presumably) jumps to his death from a tall tree. I remember my mother accidentally gave me this book when I was maybe 9 or 10 and home sick from school. By the end of the story, I was sucking down Nyquil and smoking sugar cigarettes just to blot out thoughts of bloody, de-winged swans.

It's funny looking back at as adult at the types of things that scared you as a child, like a preview of all your future neuroses. That "Swan" story scared me not only because of its gruesome nature but because of the bullying (no fun for a kid who used to get crammed in the occasional locker or two herself) and the fall from great heights. (Hate heights.) I remember also reading "Dracula" as a kid...and getting so scared that I hid it under the couch, thinking that if Dracula somehow leaped out from inside the book, the hefty davenport, as my grandmother used to call it, would crush him before he was able to do any exsanguination. This was a manifestation of my future ability to be an idiot and also my aversion to men in slightly gay capes. (See "Batman.")

"Bambi," "Charlotte's Web" and "The Cricket in Times Square" also left me a quivering mess, what with the matricide, the barnyard traumas and the separation of friends and family -- all with cute illustrations!

Other media also did the trick. I remember being terrified of The Abominable Snowman in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and also this gremlin dude from "The Twilight Zone" episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring a semi pre-hammy William Shatner:

Today, I look at that gremlin and see a guy in a cheesy rubber mask but when I was seven, the sight terrified me to such a degree that I was literally frozen in place. I remember trying to scream for my parents to come and turn off the TV for me and not a single squeek emerged. And yes, every time I get on a plane, I think about that damn gremlin. I shake my fist at you, Mr. Serling, and your unsettling tales of the manifestation of 20th century anxieties! (I'm pretty sure that's what I wrote in my Hello, Kitty diary once I'd calmed down...)

I can't be the only one with these kinds of childhood traumas, though, right? What books, movies or TV scared you as a kid?

27 comments:

Tella said...

My most clear memory of something like this is of my younger cousin being afraid of the movie "Ghostbusters." I also remember reading a book by Ann M. Martin (the author of the baby-sitter's club books) in which a young girl committed suicide and I was traumatized for days. That one still seems creepy to me.

Black Eyed Gurl said...

I was terrified of ET (the White room scenes are what did me in, I still can't watch that little penis with feet!) and Gremlins (thanks to a bad encounter afterwards which involved a red bed tent and an over ambitious dog (I thought it was stripe coming to get me in the night)).

The movie Fire in the Sky scared me so badly in the 5th grade that I still can't watch it to this day. I've tried, during the day with every light in the house on, but I can't get past the abduction scene cos I know what's coming.

Other than that my youth was mostly trauma free, well except for the normal traumas everyone experiences!

Bakerloo said...

The Abominable Snowman, any Gremlin, Garbage Pail Kids, Aunt March from Little Women made me a little nervous, Heffalumps AND Woozles, the Evil Queen in Snow White, and Malifecent. But more than anything, DUMBO and those damn pink elephants scared the living daylights out of me. Oh, and the big flying dog from Neverending Story.

Hilariously, I thought Cruella deVille was oh so chic. She was very fashion forward, even with all that fur.

Lisa said...

For me, when I was young, it was the The Red Pony, the first 5 mins of Jaws and the 'nothing' that lived in the cave in the Neverending Story (which also, coincidently, lived in my basement. As a teenager, how I got through nine years of X-Files devotion without getting seriously messed up I'll never know. The chupacabra lived in my alley and I still cover up the red light from my alarm clock to ward off the moth men. And don't even mention the Blair Witch Project.

And I've not grown out of my overactive imagination. Now I'm haunted by Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. Shouldn't have read that one.

inquisitive said...

holy crap, do I hate that William Shatner Twilight Zone episode. Even as an adult it gives me the creeps.

Speaking of Dahl and of films, the Gene Wilder, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" had me hiding under the bed for weeks after seeing the film for the first time.

Jen said...

I think I was 8 or 10 when I saw Psycho. I vividly remember being terrified of the bathroom. Showering with the curtain not drawn just so I wouldnt' be stabbed to death was well worth having to mop up the bathroom floor when I was finished.

I think I saw Poltergeist that same year - that little girl with her "they're here..." still haunts me. And, ugh, the maggots on the meat - I refused to eat steak for months!

The Modern Gal said...

I was scared of this weird TV remake of (I think) Through the Looking Glass. It was similar enough to Disney's Alice and Wonderland that that was what I was expected, but turned out to have a slight horror twist. It gave me nightmares.

I read tons of Roald Dahl when I was young. Strangely enough, I was never affected by his weirdness. After I read the Henry Sugar story, I started staring at candles in hopes of being able to see through things and move objects with my mind. I was very disappointed to learn that I couldn't do it.

Wanda said...

The abominable snowman still creeps me out. I don't think I was afraid of much when I was a kid but I always had to leave the room when someone in a TV show was about make a fool out of themself.

Miss Grace said...

Last night I was lying down with my son and he points out the window--there's a scary man right there! We have to hide! Even though I KNEW that there wasn't really a man, I was scared and I couldn't look.

Liz said...

Wow, I'd totally forgotten some of the stuff all of you are mentioning: I was also terrified of Willy Wonka, Poltergeist, ET and Blair Witch Project.

And Wanda, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who had (and still has) the "I can't stand to watch other people humiliate themselves" phobia. I get so incredibly uncomfortable with that.

Ahava said...

Oh, I loved being scared as a kid. In fact, I had seen that episode of the Twilight Zone shortly before my first plane-ride when I was three or four years old. I remember being really disappointed that there was nothing hiding on the wing outside my window.

Anjuli said...

I was definitely scarred by the whale in Pinocchio, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, and the first third of The Exorcist (I had to leave the room after the bed started shaking). But my all-time most traumatizing movie was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the version with Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. I saw it when I was about 11, and could not even sleep in my room alone that night (I crashed in my sister's room).

quirkyknitgirl said...

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Those books TRAUMATIZED me.

Also, I have a random fear of sleeping with my bed under a window that I'm fairly sure is directly caused by one of those books. (Or possibly a fear of serial killers. Or aliens. Or velociraptors, but it predates Jurassic Park.)

The kicker is, no matter how many times I scare myself? I keep reading and watching sci-fi and horror. Oops.

RedCochina said...

I know Jaws has been mentioned but no other show, book or movie has left such lasting psychological trauma for me. My friend had cable and we watched it even though our mothers told us not to. Amanda and I hid behind the couch at the scary parts.

Forget the ocean, lakes or other natural bodies of water. Imagine being a rational 30 year old woman who is afraid of the deep end of the swimming pool. Damn you, Spielberg!

Amy said...

Man, mine has been mentioned, but the only thing I distinctly remember fearing was Ursula from The Little Mermaid. One of my first memories is her giant body on screen, and then me outside the theatre bawling my eyes out.

This post was hilariously timely for me, because I just had a discussion with someone the other day about short stories, and I brought up Dahl's The Swan. Man that was a disturbing story for sure, but I read it when I was older and thus not utteryly and completely terrified.

Oh! Once my dad and I went to see a random dialogue-less movie version of the nutcracker (no dancing either), and it freaked me out. But not because of the movie itself, because it existed. It's actually the first time I remember thinking in my little child brain "the fact that this exists; that someone thought this up, decided it would be a good idea to make, got funding, made it, got distribution, and people came to see it SCARES ME".

m.L.e. said...

Cocoon. Bless Ron Howard's heart.

I was about 5 when i saw if for the first time and i had recurring dreams that the glowing people were under my bed.

Of course, both Kindercare and the produce man at the grocery store also scared the bejeezus out of me.

Clearly, i was a delicate soul.

queencallipygos said...

When I was about seven or eight, my father was watching the Saturday afternoon movie, "Reptilicus," on one of the local syndication networks and I came to watch with him -- but it was this movie about a mummified dinosaur coming to life and attacking people. Which freaked me out, and my father teasing me about it (not seriously, just the "boo!" kind of teasing) just freaked me out even more.

I've since found a description of Reptilicus here and read a review here. What the hell was I worried about?

Theresa B said...

Sleestacks (sp?) from Land of the Lost.
Looking back I find it hilarious that I was afraid of them since they had all the speed and mobility of a person in a full body cast without a wheelchair and looked like a giant stalk of asparagus, but something about that emphysematous wheezing scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

Em said...

The Dungeons and Dragons cartoon scared the socks off me when I was little. Just the idea that they could never get home. Sob. It unnerved me in Quantum Leap too; adventures are good but being trapped and never, ever being able to get home, no matter how much you might want to, scares me silly, even now.

Oh, and Venger. What the heck happened to his other horn?

Stephanie said...

Believe it or not, I was scared of a sketch from the Muppet Show (or perhaps it was Sesame Street). Two people would be wearing all black cat-suits,but their faces were masks that could be changed like molding clay. They would jump around like frogs or spiders, then reach up with their hands and remold their face. Freaked me out. Ran out of the room.

Oh, an ET scared the living crap out of me. I was always afraid that he was hiding in MY closet in MY big pile of stuffed animals. Talk about trauma.

bamola said...

I know I'm dating myself with this post, but someone else mentioned the Sleestacks (scared the crap out of me and gave me nightmares) so I know there's at least one other thirty-something posting here. Childhood in the seventies was full of scary stuff. First one to get to me was the original Battlestar Galactica's version of the Cylons. Those big scary metal guys with their mechanized voices. Holy Crap. But the worst of the worst was Golem. Golem in that cute little cartoon version of the Hobbit shouting about his precious and covered in goo. Blech and shiver. I couldn't sleep for a week after my parents took me to see that movie.

Kimberly said...

Remember The Electric Company on PBS? Remember how Rita Moreno would scream out "HEY YOU GUYS!!!!" at the very beginning? That scared me so much as a little kid, especially since it came on after Mr. Rogers and I'd be all peaceful and mellow. Even though I knew it was coming, it'd scare me every time. So as Mr. Rogers was changing out of his duds to go home, I'd hide in a closet and wait for Mom's "all clear" to come out and watch the rest of the show.

Pinocchio, too. When the boys started turning into donkeys I was horrified. I still feel unsettled watching it as an adult.

I was also afraid of my own Perfection game, dashing out of the room before the pieces would explode out of the tray.

Layla said...

The Incredible Hulk tv show -- I very vividly remember being 2 or 3 and screaming and running behind my grandmother's rocking chair when Lou Ferrigno in his sickly green makeup with his sickly green hair and INSANELY creepy eyeballs came on the screen. It still makes my tummy feel not quite right when I think if it.
And Santa Claus. Yep -- I remember being about 5 when someone told me he was the "spirit" of Christmas. Well, I took "spirit" to mean "ghost", and that Christmas Eve, I lay in bed, terrified, envisioning Santa coming down the hall to my bedroom, with glowing red eyes, checking to make sure I was sleeping, and planning on doing unspeakable things to me if he found me awake.
I'm very glad that, for whatever reason, the fear left me by the following Christmas.
Now I need to go have some hot chocolate and watch some cartoons -- I feel all creepy-crawly inside!

topazsfp said...

Was no one else petrified by Thriller?

ea757grrl said...

I think the Babar books contributed to my fear of mushrooms when I was a kid, since the previous king had died after eating bad 'shrooms. There was one that always grew in the same place in our back yard every year, and it scared me to death.

There also used to be a series of commercials for Neo-Synephrine in which the bottle appeared on a nightstand and appeared to breathe. That, too, frightened the daylights out of me.

And don't get me started on that scary CBS Eyeball logo, either....

agent57 said...

If you've ever read the book version of Pinocchio, it's even more messed up than the Disney movie... of course I didn't read it until I was old enough to dig the morbid parts.

When I was young I would always freak myself out reading John Bellairs books. Young adult horror with creepy Edward Gorey illustrations! I don't think they were really well known, but I loved them. Other than that, I remember Arachnophobia and It really scared me witless... even though I watch Arachnophobia now, and it's kind of funny, in an "ugh, spiders" sort of way.

agent57 said...

In that last comment, I omitted some emphasis which would have been useful. "I remember Arachnophobia and It really scared me witless." As in the movie, It. luckily the sentence actually read pretty well despite that fact.