Scare Tactics and Ghost Appeal The Appeal of Scary Stories for Grades 3-5 Cheri EastwoodSLIS 5440Fall 2003
Rationale This is a presentation of ten scary stories popular with children in grades 3-5 to find the characteristics that link the stories and their popularity. The characters, the settings and the intensifiers will be analyzed for their role in these popular stories. The stories were found using a combination of searching strategies including school and public library web catalogs, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com. Most of the stories were selected due to the requests of students, and others due to the best-selling rank on the commercial sites.
Citations and Synopses 1. Stine, R. L. “Pumpkinhead.” Nightmare Hour: Time for Terror. HarperCollins, 2000. 4-19. Two brothers, one laid back, one always looking for a conflict, and a neighbor girl visit a pumpkin patch and meet the strange farmer who warns them to stay away from his special patch. Soon mischief causes the farmer to ask the boys to leave. Halloween brings the urge for payback, and the end result for one of the boys is shocking. 2. Stine, R. L. “ I’m not Martin.” Nightmare Hour: Time for Terror. HarperCollins, 2000. 68-77. Inspired by an overheard sentence, the story tells of a young boy who must get his tonsils out on Halloween. His roommate in the hospital keeps claiming over and over that he is not Martin and is scheduled to have his foot amputated. That night the boy has strange dreams including a vivid one in which his chart is switched. The next morning, he finds himself being called Martin. As they wheel him away, he claims not to be Martin, and the staff replies that they were warned he would say that.
3. Schwartz, Alvin. “The Big Toe.” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. New York: Lippincott, 1981. 7-9. In this version of the jump story sometimes known as, “ The Golden Arm,” a little boy pulls a toe out of the ground, shows it to his parents, and they share it for dinner. Later they hear a voice calling several times, “Who has my toe?” At the end, the teller turns to someone and shouts, “You have it!” 4.Schwartz, Alvin. “High Beams.” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. New York: Lippincott, 1981. 66-68. A girl leaves a high school function and drives home, but notices a truck that seems to be following her. The truck shines its high beams on her a few times scaring her even more. As she turns into her home, she asks her parents to call the police. When the police get there, the truck driver shows them why he followed her home – to keep her safe from the man with a knife hiding in her back seat.
5. Mason, Jane. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: retold from Washington Irving. New York: Scholastic, 2001. A junior Classic version of the well-known tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Ichabod, a funny-looking man who teaches in a one-room school as well as church choir seeks to win the heart of the prettiest girl in the village who also happens to be the wealthiest. Ichabod is fascinated with ghosts and reads about them all the time and has close calls with the town’s famous ghost. Ichabod’s rival Brom Bones is his complete opposite and likes to play pranks also wants the hand of the same young lady. After a mysterious meeting with the young lady, Ichabod leaves quite upset, is chased by the headless ghost, and is never seen again.
6. Howe, Deborah and James. Bunnicula: a Rabbit-Tale of Mystery. Santa Barbara, CA: Cornerstone Books, 1990. Chester the cat is very suspicious of his family’s new pet rabbit. So much so, that Harold the dog turns to writing so that the story can be told. The new rabbit’s behavior of sleeping all day and wandering outside of his cage at night worries, Chester. When vegetables are drained of their color, the animals decide to investigate if the new rabbit is a vampire. Their adventures are funny and suspenseful, just as Harold experienced them.
1991 1994 1999 7.Kehret, Peg. Earthquake Terror. New York: Cobblehill Books, 1996. Jonathan and Abby are left alone on an island while their father rushes their mother to the hospital with a broken ankle, but on the way an earthquake occurs. The parents are not able to get back to the island, and the island is disappearing under the rising water of the river. Jonathan struggles to help Abby who’s legs are paralyzed. With the help of their dog Moose, the children must be resourceful to stay afloat. They get separated, but are finally found with the help of the National Guard and reunited with their parents.
8. Hayes, Joe. La Llorona = The Weeping Woman: an Hispanic Legend. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos, 1987. Maria, a beautiful young Mexican girl, felt she was better than others and deserved better than the men in her own town. She met a rich man and won his hand in marriage. They had two children, but he soon returned to his old ways and looked for other women. An angry Maria, could take no more when she realized her husband loved her children more than her, and in a rage, threw them in the river. When she realized what she had done she looked for them unsuccessfully and was found dead near the river. Now her ghost is seen and heard at night looking for her children or any children.
9.Stine, R. L. Stay Out of the Basement. New York: Scholastic, 1992. Margaret and Casey are worried about their father, a botanist who lost his job and has begun experimenting in the basement. He rarely comes out and doesn’t seem himself. After being told not to go in the basement, the kids can’t contain their curiosity, and what they see in the basement is disturbing. Soon their father has leaves instead of hair, claiming it is just a side effect. After seeing father eat plant food and drip green blood, Margaret and Casey investigate further and find another father in the basement closet. Margaret finds a way to determine which is really her father, and soon all strange things are explained and their family returns to “normal.”
10. McKissack, Patricia C. “The Gingi.” The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. 95-110. After buying a unique knick-knack at an African shop, even though warned not to purchase it, Laura takes the figure home for her daughter, but only after the seller insists she also take a small gingi as a gift. Soon, strange events occur like sensing the presence of an unseen figure, the cat acting strangely, the arrival of a rabid dog, her husband Jack almost being shocked by an unplugged appliance, and her allergic son being stung by bees in his own room. Laura had been warned of this figure bringing danger to her home, but she does not believe in any of that, or does she? Fear finally drives the family from their home as Laura witnesses the cat turn into a gingi to battle the evil spirit released by the figurine.
Characters storymain secondarysiblingsfamily change occursanimalsghosts strange creatures Pumpkinhead 2 brothers friend, mom, farmeryes yes-physicalno yes I'm not Martin boy mom, dad, Martinnoyesno The big toe boy mom, dad, voicenoyesno yesno High Beams girl driver, parents, man with knifenot knownyesno Legend of Sleepy Hollow man- Ichabod rival, girl, towns people, headless horsemanno yes no Bunnicula Chester- cat, Harold- dog rabbit, brothers, mom, dadyes no Earthquake Terror boy, girl mom, dad, dogyes no La Llorona= The Weeping Woman girl-Maria husband, children, other womannoyes noyesno Stay out of the basement boy, girl father, plants, mother, friendyes no yes The Gingi mother cat, daughter, husband, son, store ownernoyes
Character Analysis These ten stories host a variety of characters who are varied in attributes such as gender, age, and types. Seven of the stories invovled a male figure as a main character, and all stories included both genders for the other characters in the stories. The characters range in age from young children to adults, often involving both. The characters have various backgrounds and personalities. For example, in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the main character is male who teaches school, loves to sing, loves to eat, and loves to read and imagine about ghosts. In Bunnicula, the family cat is suspicious of the new family pet rabbit. The stories vary in the number of characters involved as well as the relationships between the characters. Some stories involve animals, and only a few have ghosts as characters. Only three of the stories include strange creatures. Yet, in all but one, the characters are a part of a family. One thing that seems to be common in several stories excluding La Llorona and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is that the characters are just like us or everyday people. These common characters help make the story seem real or at least possible.
Character analysis cont. Several of the stories are too short to allow much character development, they are rather a snapshot of an event in the lives of the characters, but some are long enough to allow more development to be seen. In Earthquake Terror, the two children face such extreme situations together and face some of their biggest fears, that they develop strength and courage. In “Pumpkinhead”, the aggressive brother “courageously” enters the forbidden patch, but suffers irreversible consequences, and we never see him learn from his mistakes. The characters seem to place themselves or find themselves in scary situations. Some stories, like “I’m not Martin” end abruptly with the realization of a very scary situation, and other stories provide a resolution to a situation and the character’s struggle that was involved. In “The Gingi” we see how Laura’s changing beliefs resolve her situation as her family leaves their house.
Setting storyplacetimereal/ fantasy "Pumpkinhead"pumpkin patch/farmpresentreal "I'm not Martin"hospital roompresentreal "The Big Toe"yard/housepastquestionable "High Beams"car/road recent past or presentreal Legend of Sleepy HollowNew England village, woodspastreal Bunniculahouserecent pastreal Earthquake Terrorisland/forest, riverpresentreal La Llorona=The Weeping Woman small Mexican town, river or arroyopastreal Stay Out of the Basementhouse, basementpresentreal "The Gingi"store, housepresentreal
Setting Analysis Four of the ten story settings take place in a house, the rest of the stories vary in location from a pumpkin patch to an island or a hospital room. Most of these settings are a place that any of us could find ourselves in or could easily imagine. Since the settings were so common, they did not require a lot of description. Settings can be real or mythical. “The Big Toe” was the only story with an undefined setting in reality, due to the eating of the toe found in the backyard, and the rest were or seemed like very real places and times. The time period of the stories mostly did or could take place in the present. Others took place in the recent past or obviously a long time ago such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Intensifiers storyrepetitonsutterancesother "Pumpkinhead" warnings to stay out of fenced area, threats to get even "I'm not Martin" claims not to be Martin final realization of what may have happened in his dream was real "The Big Toe" voice looking for toe jump phrase at end "High Beams" flashing bright lights rest of story realized when truck driver tells why he followed the girl Legend of Sleepy Hollow telling stories, going through the forest at night, fear sounds of the ghosts, and forest at nightthrowing of the pumpkin Bunnicula vegetables losing color, Chester's suspicions, rabbit sleeping all day, getting out of cage at night Earthquake Terror worries of parents, worries of helping sister the whole island disappears under rising water, sister is partially paralyzed, parents whereabouts is not known, camper is destroyed La Llorona=The Weeping Woman husband leaving, seeing other women shock after killing children Stay Out of the Basement warnings to stay out of basement moaning, pounding, breathing sounds "The Gingi" memories of the storekeepers words, Laura's doubts, sense of something there little girl's recognition of bad "lady" and Mr. Feathersstrange events Laura can't explain
Analysis of Intensifiers Intensifiers can build suspense, add drama, or bring attention to parts of stories through things that are said or done or heard. In these ten stories, the most common intensifier was the use of repetition. In some stories an action or an explanation can intensify the story. In Earthquake Terror, the rising of the water brings urgency to the story and the boy needing to find a solution. In “High Beams”, an explanation at the end changes what we thought was happening in the story and brings a realization of a scarier possible outcome barely avoided - those what-ifs can really get your imagination going! Repetition of either words or actions were used in most of the ten stories. “Pumkinhead” and Stay out of the Basement had repeated warnings about not going somewhere, and of course the characters went. The other stories are more varied. In “The Big Toe” a voice repeatedly calls out for it’s missing toe, and in Bunnicula, the rabbit repeatedly gets out and vegetables loose their color. In “High Beams”, bright lights are flashed at the girl driving home, and in “The Gingi”, Laura keeps hearing parts of the storekeepers warnings in her head.
Summary In the analysis of these ten popular stories, it seems that what is needed are characters that are common or believable in a setting that is recognizable that includes various elements that build up the intensity of the story leading to a surprise ending or a scary situation or a problem resolved. It seems that in many of these stories the characters are placed or place themselves in dangerous or scary situations, but at the same time these stories come about in a variety of forms and styles. It does seem important to have a real setting as well as some type of intensifier. Even though there are stories that fit a certain style such as jump stories, it is not the only way to make a scary story.
Summary cont. In this project I was challenged by narrowing my selections and my age range. I wanted to keep finding and reading more stories once I got started. There could be different results if I had only looked at ghost stories, or otherwise limited my selections to a certain characteristic. I think the variety of stories that are considered scary is interesting because it is not just because of a ghost, but it could be a situation, a setting, an event, or the thought of an event that makes the story scary. What would also be interesting to investigate is why we enjoy these types of stories and what research has been done to discover those reasons.