What books made YOU leave the light on when you went to bed?
The world of scary writing has its icons–Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft—and then moves off into various avenues of legendary books and writers. Maybe Dracula frightened you out of your wits, maybe Wuthering Heights switched on your nightlight. Maybe you went after the spooky writers of old—Bierce, Machen, Blackwood, James (M.R. or Henry), or maybe you looked into more modern heart-stoppers: King, Barker, Saul.
Looking back on the monsters of my youth, however, I find a few authors who don’t get quite so much attention. Maybe Norman Bridwell isn’t the spookiest of writers for a Halloween reverie. But where would I have been without his witches, mummies, and vampires? Now most famous for Clifford, the Big Red Dog, he was also responsible for The Witch Next Door and its sequels, tales of a pair of children who notice their new neighbor wears a pointed hat and brewed things in a cauldron. This was treated as the sort of thing that could happen to anybody, and she turned out to be a pleasant neighbor indeed. How To Care For Your Monster treated monsters in a similar way: you might just happen to be given the care of a werewolf or a reanimated mummy, and you would naturally want to know how to keep them happy. This was not exactly Wide Awake at Midnight stuff, I admit: it worked quite the other way. If the monsters under your bed were friends of yours, and your vampire was willing to go to bat for you (sorry), you didn’t need to be afraid of things that went bump in the night.
Assorted collections of Alfred Hitchcock stories for young readers were available to me. It was a number of years before I noticed the name Robert Arthur in them, and rather more years before I discovered how many things with the name “Alfred Hitchcock” on them had been ghost-edited and/or written by Robert Arthur. A pulp writer and editor, later the co-author of a radio suspense drama, he had a talent for the tale with a twist in it, and contributed a few scripts to The Twilight Zone before become story editor for Alfred Hitchcock’s television series. In connection with that, he was asked to edit the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies for adults, and later the children’s versions. After that, he wrote the first books in the Alfred Hitchcock presents The Three Investigators mystery series, books with titles like The Mystery of the Screaming Clock. To Robert Arthur we owe such stand-alone stories as that of the stubborn old uncle who refuses to believe he has died and thus keeps coming to dinner or the man who suddenly receives the power of skepticism: anything he doesn’t believe in ceases to exist.
But I think the author who contributed the most gooseflesh to my boy days was the relatively unsung Northwestern alum Bernhardt J. Hurwood. When I began at the Book Fair, I was stunned to find a copy of his book The Whole Sex Catalog. The idea that Bernhardt J. Hurwood had ever done anything besides write strange-but-true horror stories to keep nine year-olds awake at midnight was a shocker.
Chilling Ghost Stories, Ghosts, Ghouls, and Other Horrors, Strange Talents, Haunted Houses: the list goes on and on. These were collections of, in general, three and four page accounts of things he had looked up for us in books of ancient lore. (There was no Internet then, or he might have written three times as many books.) Be they urban legend or obscure tale in some blood-drenched scroll, Bernhardt J. Hurwood would find them and write them up in brief descriptions that led you quickly and inexorably to a terrifying payoff. Monsters Galore, Strange Curses, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Demons—are you sure the woman in that painting was facing left last time you looked? Why is that box on the floor: wasn’t it on the shelf this morning?
Yes, Bernhardt J. Hurwood was always writing something. But why hold things like the novelization of a Linda Blair made-for-TV movie against him? (That was a horror story in many ways, too, after all.) One thing he had, above all else, was that excellent name. When a kid picked up a book with the name Bernhardt J. Hurwood on the cover (assuming the kid lived in the kind of place where The Whole Sex Catalog was kept out of reach) he knew what he would get: a volume of quick terrors, easy enough to read just one more before turning out the light and I do have the flashlight where I can reach it, right, and there’s another one of his books and these don’t take long to read and maybe it would be safer just to keep reading until sunrise.
Have a nice Halloween. And keep some Norman Bridwell books handy in case of an overdose of Bernhardt.