Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Scary Book

Well, as book titles go, you can't get more obvious than that, can you? Published in 1985, and purchased in 1990 (I remember getting the teacher to read it to the class, somehow), it's a book of short poems/verses (there's really no difference - it's only poetry snobs who refer to poems they don't like as verses, apparantly) by Sheila Front, each accompanied by wonderfully smudgy illustrations by Charles Front (either a couple, or siblings, or coincidentally named creative partners - I don't know). 

Before beginning - what a cover! Seems more "sinister" than "scary" - the fate of the pale-faced hat-wearer and his pet owl is never revealed. What that skeleton is beckoning him t'wards, or what the cat is so antsy about, we'll never know... But at least the book's survived long enough for the rest of us to see.

The title page is a good one:

A mad woman with a big nose, possibly naked under that hair, with a handful of snakes and a nice big tarantula. Again, like the miserable thing on the cover, this woman makes no further appearances in the book - which as you'll see covers a huge amount of things that could possibly be the worst nightmare of at least some kids. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED (scary music to listen to whilst looking at it)

Boo! Ha ha, you were warned etc. I'm thinking this page is intended to scare the kids who, for some reason, fear clowns (or the sudden and unexpected appearance of clowns). Personally, I always liked this page - the mad hair and the black and white jacket brought Beetlejuice to mind.

Before we go any further, I can only apologise for my horrendous scanning/stitching skills. There's a fair few double-page spreads in this book, and my success rate at aligning them together varies wildly, as you'll see. Anyway, this is a good page - a creepy ghost-woman (you know you'd shit your pants if that was in your house!), a portrait of a laughing fat man, a shrivelled hand from inside a box, a friendly skeleton, an animated suit of armour and a rhino's head on the wall. Several of the ingredients necessary for a decent haunted house. Plus, there's a grandfather clock, which I always felt fairly uneasy around at the time (that one's a pun, for comedic effect).

Thunder and lightning? People are scared by that? If you're a stubborn golfer or a tree, or if you're one of the kids in Poultergeist I'd understand, but... Weather? Just shut the curtains if it's bothering you so much! Big girl's blouse and so on and so forth.

Aha, giants! Now that's an ACCEPTABLE fear. And a great picture too - without even showing his legs, it's clear that this isn't a dwarf or an angry sailor - this is a big bastard with a club, and he's going to climb down his beanstalk while you're in bed and crunch your bones up. So, you know, brush your teeth before you go to sleep or something.

A nice picture of Dracula here, and the poem's good too - until the sloppy last line. Let's have a fun competition and see if we can think of a better last line, or at least a way of re-arranging the words so that they flow better. Flowing like Dracula's evil cape. Look at his giant hand! A nice combination of the Bela Lugosi and Max Schreck versions there.

Punch and Judy, eh? An understandable fear, I suppose. On the rare occassions you see public puppet shows these days, there's still the odd kid who decides that he or she doesn't like what he's seeing and legs it back to his parents.

One for every child who's ever been bitten, barked at, chased by or slobbered on by a dog. An oddly jovial image considering the rest of the book, a bloodhound and a terrier? Surely a snarling Doberman would've made for a more appropriate "scary" picture?

This just might be the best page in the book - nice and ominous, like. Whatever that shadow belongs to, it's clear from Mr. Mountaineer's face that it's not the ideal thing he'd like to be meeting at such an altitude. Makes a good wallpaper too, if you're into abominable things like this. One for the mountain-based kids, I'm guessing - the ones who refuse to sleep at night in case a yeti decides to take them away to their ice cave for a child-intestine-based snack.

Yeah, sharks! And eels and rays and stuff as well. An acceptable fear - surely everyone who's ever been swimming or paddling in a natural body of water, when they've felt something brush against their legs, has been at least momentarily fear-stricken (with a possible small squirt of fear-wee as well). Could've been a shark, could've been an octopus, could've been a jellyfish, was most likely seaweed, a harmless "normal" fish or a used condom.

Now THIS is one that still puts the willies up me today - having a stranger in your house is bad enough, but an uninvited stranger? Without you knowing until it's too late? And one that's nicking all your stuff as well? I've got a plank of wood with a pointy bit in the end in my bathroom, but apart from that (and I'd be relying on the adrenaline to kick in rather than any particular plank-waving skills), it'd probably be the scariest thing in the whole world ever.

Ha ha, witches! "Witch" would be scariest? "Witch" is your favourite? "Witch" part of a newt would you use in your potion? It's a fun page, is what it is. One of them's riding a broomstick, but she's only a learner. This is amusing, and it puts the witch-fearing child's mind at rest - reminding them that witches are just normal people like everyone else, only they can fly, have talking cats, eat bat wings and have sex with Satan.

Pirates? Kids are scared of pirates? And here's me thinking that they're more "heroes" than "murderous thieves" in the eyes of the little people. I know that when I was a nipper, I wanted to be a pirate when I grew up. The LEGO pirates were popular for years as well, and Disneyland had the "pirates as heroes" thing going with their rides. Still, it's a nice grisly group of sea-dogs there - good and ugly, none of the white-toothed, clean-shaven types here. And just for the record, even though various terrible memes such as the whole "pirate vs. ninja" thing and "National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day" have taken a lot of the joy out of pirates for me, all it takes is a good book or film to get me going with the swashbuckling fantasies again. Might do a "post" about the whole thing one day. Maybe.

A great picture of the Loch Ness Monster - with lots of snotty colours used! The boatman's face is worth a chuckle, and it's also worth pondering over whether any Scottish kids lived in fear of a plesioaur going on a bloodthirsty rampage through their town, eating all their haggis and ripping their kilts.

A sad-looking zombie here. Well, he is dead, after all. And the cat doesn't seem to like him much. I love how the poem says that the zombie is "just passing through", like he's going to the shops or something.

Isn't that the cutest snail-with-a-face you've ever seen? And I wonder... what kind of child would be scared of the jungle? Loads of trees to play around with, and up-close encounters with animals you'd usually only see in books, on television or in a zoo. Maybe if they had allergies? To be fair, that gorilla's probably amongst the more sinister-looking things in this book.

Frankenstein's monster here, that most misunderstood of beings. Like Quasimodo, but taller. The bit in the film where he drowns the little girl is still moderately shocking, and the idea of a walking amalgamation of various corpses wanting to be your friend is a bit odd, but as soon as you hear him say "Frieeeeeennd", you'd be butter. Go on, you know you would. Saying that, this is the only page in the book I couldn't look at during bedtime readings.

Don't usually like dragons, but this is a great drawing of one! Those eyes, those fingers, those antennae (?!?), and that big cheeky grin... The knight's funny too. Overall, amongst the best pages in the book, up there with Nessy and the Yeti and Dracula and the rest of them. Meaning all of them except the dogs and the lightning. Can't remember ever hearing of anyone saying that they were scared of dragons, though.

Ha, wrestlers! Remember, this book is from the days of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks (those two in the picture appear to be modelled on Shirley and Martin!), from the days before the comical posturing of your modern WWE stuff. And even though Big Daddy had his own strip in Buster back in the day, it's understandable how his sheer size (and the way he slaps people about) would've scared some of the more sensitive kids out there.

Dinosaurs? UNACCEPTABLE! It's a great picture (ruined by my terrible scanning abilities), but no-one could ever be scared of dinosaurs, especially not in the pre-Jurassic Park era this book was published in. At least the poem only implies that the noise made by them all would be scary. And thinking about it, if we as a species suddenly found ourselves no longer at the top of the food chain - yeah, that'd be a bit scary too. Fair play.

Ding ding ding, war is a terrible thing and all that. The faces are hilarious on this page, especially the guy squawking at the Duke. Back in the day, I saw this as a fairly upsetting page - mostly with the small bird killed by a passing cannonball. The horrors of war etc.

Well, as Martian designs go, this is amongst my all-time favourites. Like a mix of Mars Attacks!, Alien, Coneheads and some kind of rubber-gloved Walkman owner. I love how the boundaries between what's Martian and what's spacesuit become blurred around the helmet area - are those his eyes and mouth, or are those slits to see and speak out of? The whole "kids know more than the ignorant adults" thing is always fun, and is done especially well on this page. Another final highlight to finish with!

This is the back cover, just for the sake of completion. It has a dog, and a haunted house, and another poem and some reviews. And a barcode and stuff. Despite the page about dogs, this has remained a semi-firm favourite over the years - almost all bases covered, it could never go wrong!

Let's have some fun and think of "scary things" that the book missed out on. I notice there wasn't a page for kids who're scared of the dark, for example. Or one about scary dolls.


  1. Welcome to bloggin' Ryan!

  2. Why thank you, sir!
    It's fun, turns out. Not like "extra work" at all.

  3. What's wrong with the last line from the vampire poem?

    It follows quite a classic rhyming scheme:


    Have you a problem with the rhythm, the metre?

    If so, the flow is much improved through simply removing "their".

    Say it aloud in a Chaucer sort of intonation:

    "They fear a count called Dracula,
    who in black cloak spectacular,
    puts terror in hearts as darkness falls."

    Or to further improve the metre:

    "Instills terror as darkness falls."

  4. That's it - removing "their" makes it so much better. It just felt really uncomfortable to read as it was.