This week’s blog post is coming a day early to coincide with HALLOWEEN! And is brought to you by me, the curator of the blog, the wise old owl that dispenses advice that is more or less old and wise.
Okay, before I start, let me explain the title. It is inspired by two of my favorite authors: Meg Rosoff and Neil Gaiman. And they advocate scaring children – in fiction. That is, not going out and terrorizing kids in real life because you think it’s fun. Rather, because being scared in fiction is safe, but still inspires imagination. Rosoff gave an incredible talk about it at the 2015 Pearce Memorial Lecture here in Cambridge, and Gaiman has written/spoken about it many times, but go here to start falling down the google-hole. But both of them agree that fear can broaden the mind and spark imagination. Which are GOOD THINGS, people!*
Rosoff started her talk with a literal version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” wherein the bears were actual bears. As in, the chomping, eating, have-really-sharp-teeth kind. She cited a study that said reading children fairytales was bad for them, because “allowing children to think bears are friendly creatures…might encourage a child to have an unhealthy relationship with a bear.” Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen the headline “Child Mauled to Death by Bear for Breaking Its Chair.” Though that would be a great headline. Obviously not for the child. But I digress. The point is, while fairytales can sometimes be seen as scary, and always as “lies” (and it’s “wrong to lie to children”), they make you think. Even Albert Einstein advocated for fairytales; he said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Rosoff explained that even if you’re someone like Einstein, someone who we perceive to be brilliant and brainy and full of the maths, and you’re trying to figure out the origins of the universe, what you’re basically doing is telling a story. Sometimes it’a terrifying story. But it’s always a story.
But none of this is really my point. In fact, I have two points. Maybe three? We’ll see how this goes.
Point the first: I hate being scared.
Point the first and a half: I hate being scared, but damn I am imaginative when I am terrified. I think up all kinds of things that could be happening or have happened. I remember once I was home alone at my parent’s house on holiday (I’d like to pretend I was a small child, but this was a couple years ago…) and it was the middle of the night. My parents live in a rural area, away from the main street, and there are no street lights. Lots of glass doors that I always lock, but always think must be easier to break into than regular doors. I was trying to sleep, and, as per usual, I left my door open in case any of our pets wanted to snuggle. I had the lights on (obviously) and (stupidly) had my back to the door. I heard a sound. Like a door opening. A bump. My adrenaline spiked. I thought how glad I was to have my dog with me, so she could help fight off the intruder (an indication of how petrified I was, seeing as my dog weighs 14 pounds and likes licking much more than biting). I froze in bed, thinking maybe if I just pretended to be asleep, the intruder would just steal stuff and leave me alone. I wondered how many of them were in the house. I wondered how they’d gotten in. (Probably through a glass door.) I wondered when my parents were meant to get home. I wondered if I could dial 911 on my phone without the intruder noticing. I wondered all these things instantaneously, while listening for any kind of noise to indicate what was happening behind my back. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to act. I rolled over, ready to pounce and –
– my large orange cat Mittens was staring at me from the floor.**
Point the second: I love Halloween.
Point the second and a half: I know you’re thinking, “How can she like Halloween if she hates being scared?” Well, I’ll tell you. Because while for some Halloween is about dressing up as a monster or a zombie or *shudder* a clown, it has also become about dressing up full stop. It in no way needs to be scary. Or the scary can be a minimal, periphery part of the enjoyment. To me, the perfect level of fun and scare-ment is the Disney Channel Movie Hocus Pocus. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it this Halloween. It’s a classic. It stars Bette Midler and was aimed at kids and talks about virgins and has zombies and witches and flying vacuum cleaners. It is the BEST. I also find it kind of spooky. But a fun spooky. A spooky that still makes me think there are things lurking in the shadows and I should definitely stay away from candles that burn black. (That last one seems obvious, though.) Also that Sarah Jessica Parkers is horrifying and eats children. But whatever.
But, as I said, Halloween, especially when it comes to kids, is much more about the fun and the costumes and the candy than it is about being spooked. And even though I am now an adult and it would be much more acceptable for me to only be into the horror movies and haunted houses, I still love dressing up the best. I don’t do it every year, but every year I contemplate a costume that would be awesome. (I’m still working on figuring out how to be the house from Up. Balloons and all.) And that takes imagination. And even when Halloween isn’t scary, it can be thrilling. Maybe that’s the middle ground I crave. Thrill fulfillment. I think the best part of being scared is the moment when it’s all over, and the adrenaline comes down and relief washes through you. But I think I’ll keep my frightening encounters cornered in the fictional world, where I can always put the book down, or know that the haunted house had to meet health and safety standards and I’m not in any real danger. Probably.
Point the third: To reward you for getting all the way to the bottom of this point, which as you may have realized has no cohesive point at all, I give you a selection of some of my awesome Halloween costumes from over the years – roll over the pictures for captions/explanations. You’re welcome.
*This is a blog post and not an academic article, so I can make judgey statements like this and it’s FINE. FINE, I say.
**For those in the know, yes, this was Weird Uncle Mittens.