Author Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Stephen Gammell have a reputation for teaching a generation of kids to fear the dark. They didn’t. Instead, their series of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books taught children to love the dark, to be thrilled by it, and to use their imaginations to populate it.
The pair also gave young readers lessons in identity, in getting to know their own character. I remember kids on the playground or at birthday parties trading details about their favorite stories from the books. Some kids were most disturbed by the body horror of a spider laying eggs in a girl’s cheek, while others related to hallucinatory confusion of a woman on vacation who fetches medicine for her sick mother only to return to her hotel and find every trace of her mother erased. What scares us is as personal to us as anything else—it tells us who we are.
And yet “Harold” is, no question, the best story of the bunch.