There’s nothing wrong with kids getting a good, healthy scare every once in awhile. It’s like eating dirt; no childhood is complete without it. I still remember being four years old and sticking my tongue out at my grandma. (Let me stop and say here that she is one of the nicest people I know, especially to her grandkids.) She didn’t say anything, but her face took on a grave expression, and she slowly raised her hand and made a “snip, snip” motion with her fingers. Let me tell you, it chilled me to the bone! I instantly imagined my severed tongue flopping around on the linoleum floor of her kitchen like a fish out of water. I pulled that tongue back in my mouth and never stuck it out at her or anyone else, ever!
My dad used to tell us bedtime stories about little boys on campouts surviving a goblin attack. I remember laying in bed after he’d turned out the lights and watching the red beacon on a radio antenna up the road flash on and off in the dark. To me, it looked like the crimson eye of a goblin winking through my window. Stories like that terrified me, and I loved them.
There’s an enduring appeal to stories where the monsters are truly monstrous, the bad guys are truly bad, and children’s lives are really at stake. We’ve all heard them, and I bet you can think of one right now that still sends a shiver down your spine. But be honest, you enjoy that shiver, don’t you.
I have young kids, and I have to go out of my way to find what I consider good stories for them to experience. Just recently, I found an out-of-print book I grew up with that tells the Native American tale of Basket Woman. She was a giant cannibal that wandered around scooping up children, sealing their eyes shut with pine pitch, throwing them into a basket on her back, and taking them home where she’d eat them. One day she captures a brave youngster named Clamshell Boy who ultimately defeats her. My kids can’t get enough of it; they huddle together under the blanket when I read it and cheer when Clamshell Boy pushes Basket Woman into the ocean. They’re not getting stories like that on the Disney Channel these days.
Author Neil Gaiman defines what he calls “Disney Channel fiction” as a bland kind of story “in which somebody thinks that they weren’t invited to the birthday party, but at minute 18 they discover it was all a mix-up and they really were, and there is no conflict, and there is no evil, and there’s nothing to fight and there’s nothing to win and nothing was ever at risk and everybody gets to hug!” What’s wrong with feeding our kids a steady diet of this stuff, you ask? Well, it’s painting an inaccurately hospitable picture of the world. Life is hard, and there are some terrible things lurking out there.
I like to think of a good scary story as a vaccine. It’s a weakened form of some of the real-life terrors in this world, and it serves to inoculate us, to teach us that being paralyzed by fear is never the answer. You can’t arm kids exclusively with “Disney Channel fiction,” then send them out into the shark pool of life and expect good results. They need the know that there are monsters out there and that you can defeat them.
This week’s story digs into the roots of one of the South’s most fearsome bogeymen, Rawhead and Bloodybones (a.k.a. Raw Eyes and Bloodybones, or Raw Hide and Bloodybones). May it send a healthy shiver down your spine! Enjoy!
I hope you enjoyed Luke’s writing and his video. If you’ll jump over to his website and subscribe you can get strange and spooky tales delivered to your inbox for FREE. Luke recently published his first book Some Dark Holler. You can go here to find out more about it.