Gothic Reading Group: Laughing in the Dark

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Scary Stories CoverOctober 27th marked the second meeting of the Gothic Reading Group.  Of course, fall is the perfect time to be diving into the haunted material usually associated with the gothic. However, the group took a different turn for this month’s reading. Instead of diving into Frankenstein, Dracula, or other traditional texts, we took a trip to the past and found ourselves face-to-face with the stories that haunted us as children. Nope, it’s not Goosebumps. Our group took on the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was first published in 1981 by Alvin Schwartz (author) and Stephen Gammell (artist). Two sequels followed the original collection, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984) and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991). The Scary Stories legacy is dependent on the mythical tales, but best known for its terrifying artwork. The entire collection was recently re-released in the summer of 2017, which provided the group an opportunity to reenter their childhood fears.


Okay. I know that we are a reading group composed of graduate students. I am fully aware that we should be engaging in scholarly texts and contributing to the larger academic conversations. I get it. But I would be a complete liar if I told you that I did not love every minute of these children’s books. They’re fun, exciting, scary, corny, and amazing. Most importantly, they provided our reading group with an understanding of how young readers come to access the world of the gothic.

 While Scary Stories may seem immature, the collection is derived from old and new myths. The timelessness of the stories provides them with their scares, as well as their limitations. The tales can feel out of place sometimes. Yet, their ambiguous and loosely defined parameters make them fun to read. In fact, Alvin Schwartz provides readers with an appendix and glossary to further investigate the history behind the myths within the books. In doing so, Schwartz ties the adaptations to their source and provides certain scholarly reading groups access to crucial background information.


Glossary or not, the Scary Stories collection is notable for the combination of text and artwork. The photos throughout this post have been pilfered from the books. The design, the gore, and the overtly frightening nature of these pieces makes us wonder how the books ever got past our parent’s filter. Regardless of their explicit nature, we are happy that the artwork has been paired with the text. The group spoke at length regarding the combination and our consensus that the text and the art work are an important pairing. They seem to need to be together, as it is their symbiotic relationship that provides the horror of the Scary Stories collection.

If you have never read the Scary Stories books, worry not. We have compiled a list of our favorites. These should provide you with some reference. Even if you are not interested, we highly recommend that you hunt down some of Stephen Gammell’s artwork. It is the epitome of creepy.

Our Favorite Stories:

  • Harold
  • High Beams
  • The Red Spot
  • One Sunday Morning
  • The Bed by the Window
  • The Window

If you are interested in joining the reading group, please be in contact with our fearless leader Meg Bruening ( If not, we’ll continue our dark rituals without you. Either way, stay scared.

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