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This trio of books is probably one of the most controversial series to hit American bookshelves. "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" is a trilogy of books written by Alvin Schwartz, made up of stories based on urban legends and local myths. These are the three volumes:

  1. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981)
  2. More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984)
  3. Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991)

Strangely, the stories themselves aren't much, cheesy at best, though they can get surprisingly violent. What makes the books so scary (and controversial), on the other hand, are the illustrations that accompany them. Using little more than black and white ink, Stephen Gammell has given us some of the most notoriously terrifying pictures you'll ever see in a book. So much so that the Scary Stories are on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books (ie, Moral Guardians demanding they be pulled from library shelves). Perhaps because of this, Scary Stories and More Scary Stories have been released in new editions with considerably less unnerving artwork by Brett Helquist (best known for his work on A Series of Unfortunate Events).

The stories were also collected and turned into a series of audiobooks with the same names. While they didn't contain any of the scary pictures from the books, the sometimes over the top telling of the stories could be a great replacement.

For those who the illustrations were too terrifying for, here is the link to the movie versions of the Scary Stories. (Caution: The movie versions of "One Sunday Morning", "The Dream" and "The Red Spot" are Not Safe for Work)


These books provide examples of:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: The nursing school in "The Dead Man's Hand." Apparently at this school, being and nice and friendly and not having bad habits is a bad thing.
  • Asshole Victim: The husband in "Just Delicious".
    • The guy in "The Little Black Dog" too.
    • The woman in "It's Him!"
    • The woman in "A New Horse", who puts innocent farmhands through the painful experience of being transformed into a horse and ridden at high speeds around the countryside. While her comeuppance - being transformed into a horse, having horseshoes nailed into her hands and feet, and transforming back into a human, with the horseshoes still on - is quite painful and freaky, we don't feel too bad for her when it happens.
    • Addie Finch from "Such Things Happen"
  • Baleful Polymorph: "A New Horse", Throwing a magic bridle on someone transforms them into a horse. Fortunately for them, removing it changes them back.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: "What Do You Come For?". A lonesome old woman wishes for some company. She gets a living corpse that comes down the chimney and (most likely) kills her.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Since the story "What Do You Come For?" is only a page long, we don't get an explanation as to why the undead guy killed the old lady. Probably because he's undead and they're expected to do that.
  • Body Horror: "The Red Spot". To elaborate: an itchy spot turns out to have spiders pouring out of it. You're welcome.
  • Bowdlerise: The new Brett Helquist illustrations are far tamer than Gammell's-- and less memorable because of it. This blog article compares some of them.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: "The Drum"
  • The Calls Are Coming From Inside the House: The Babysitter
  • Cruel Twist Ending: "Bess".
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The creepy woman from "The Dream" saying that the house with the carpet shaped like trapdoors and the windows nailed shut is an evil place. We never learn why, and it appears to be part of a larger story that the protagonist is not meant to be part of. She leaves before we learn anything more.
  • Darker And Edgier: Scary Stories 3.
  • Death by Despair: "Cold as Clay"
  • Dem Bones: Skeletons make many appearances: "The Thing", "Aaron Kelly's Bones", "The Bad News", "Is Something Wrong", "What Do You Come For", whatever the hell that thing is in the sky in the illustration for "Oh Susannah" etc.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "Such Things Happen". As a poster on YouTube put it, "Accidentally running over someone's cat is one thing. It's another thing entirely to kill a defenseless dog out of spite."
  • Doomed New Clothes: The White Satin Evening Gown, although much more extreme than the trope normally calls for.
  • Downer Ending: Quite a few stories.
  • Face Full of Alien Wingwong: "The Red Spot". Well, it's really "Face Full Of Spider Wing Wong", but it still applies.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: For a children's book, the stories delve into the gore field quite frequently, one key example being "Wonderful Sausage".
  • Government Conspiracy: More like a local government conspiracy, but this is what happens in "Maybe You Will Remember..."
  • Grotesque Gallery: "The Haunted House" and "The Dream". That is all.
    • Every picture in the series counts.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The ghost in "The Dream" may well be cringe-inducing to look at, but to be fair, she did save the girl in the story from some unknown gruesome fate, so...
    • The truck driver in "High Beams" is a straight example.
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: The audiobooks are narrated by Heat Miser
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Is anyone a little creeped out by how much cannibalism there is in certain stories? Exhibit A: "Wonderful Sausage".
  • Jump Scare: In the film version of "Clinkety Clink" it SEEMS like that story would end with the old woman's ghost being unable to find her two silver dollars. But then... fade to black... two second pause... "YOU'VE GOT IT!" (scream)
    • It's invoked in the book version - it's meant to be read out loud, and requires the reader to do the same to the audience, complete with grabbing someone.
    • Inverted in "The Attic". The reader has to scream as loud as they can at the end, and end the story there. At least someone in the audience will ask why they screamed - the reader then explains you'd scream at the top of your lungs, too, if you stepped on a nail.
  • Lighter and Softer: The last story is always a lighter version of the first story. The second book's end portion had a comedic collection of the supernatural.
  • Mega Neko: In "Wait 'till Martin comes", there are three black cats, one normal sized, another cat the size of a wolf, and still another the size of a tiger. None of those cats are Martin, leading to the suspicion that "Martin" is the size of an elephant
  • Mind Screw: "A Man Who Lived in Leeds". The film version does this as well, in a VERY messed up way.
    • Mr Gammell somehow manages to pull off a few in the illustrations. If you dare, stare at "The White Satin Evening Gown", "The Black Dog", "The Ghost in the Mirror" and "The Trouble" for a good five minutes.
    • "The Church", both in the book and the film version. Hands up, who expected sheep?
  • Mood Whiplash: "Faster and Faster." It starts with two young boys having fun in the woods, and then the supernatural stuff rears its ugly head.
  • No Ending: The story about the severed hand in the closet. See fuller discussion in the No Ending page.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: What "The Voice" turns out to be, and "Footsteps" as well. "Sounds" might count, although it's subverted toward the end.
    • "The Curse" might also count. We never do find out exactly what happened to the boys who went into the house.
  • Parental Abandonment: "The Drum" gives us one of the worst possible examples of this at the end.
    • Disproportionate Retribution: Even after the mom gave the girls one more chance, she still abandoned them. Boy, that lady has trust issues.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: "Alligators" (with the added twist that the titular 'gators are actually the protagonist's transformed husband and sons), and "Bess" (in which the protagonist is fatally bitten by a snake.)
  • Rise of Zitboy: "The Red Spot" mostly consists of the protagonist complaining about the disgusting, itching, hurting and growing spider bite - which is basically a zit - on her cheek. However, it turns out to be much worse than just a zit...
  • Scary Scarecrows: The eponymous "Harold".
  • Shaggy Dog Story: In "The Baby Sitter", when the girl learns that the calls are coming from upstairs, she simply calls the police and leaves and the man is arrested. The end.
  • Shown Their Work: Most definitely. Each book ends with a comprehensive collection of sources, references, times, dates and locations.
  • Swamps Are Evil: "The Dead Hand"
  • Technology Marches On: The driver in "Is Something Wrong?" probably could have avoided that whole mess (especially the encounter with the monster) if he had a cell phone.
    • Not to mention that in "Maybe You Will Remember...", the doctor's excuse that he "didn't have a telephone right now" wouldn't work in this day and age.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "Something Was Wrong"
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: "Aaron Kelly's Bones". Features a widow's husband rising from the grave because he doesn't feel dead enough to die. In whatever universe this story takes place in, the rising dead are apparently nothing special, with the characters more annoyed than anything that this corpse insists on living. How that dead man danced...
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: "Alligators"
  • Wendigo: Well, "The Wendigo", even though in the Sources section in the back, Alvin Scwartz makes it sound more like a Greek mythological Siren than an evil spirit of cannibalism.
  • The Wild Hunt: "Faster and Faster".
  • You Can't Fight Fate: "Bess" and "The Appointment".
    • This trope is somewhat in effect in "The Dream". After the eponymous nightmare, the girl in the story can't bring herself to visit the town she originally intended, so she visits an alternate village instead. Guess who she meets in this new town? That's right, that bloody pale woman.
  • Youtube Poop: Is becoming an increasingly popular source; search for "Tom's Terrifying Tales From the Toaster".
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