Horror meant for children is an often overlooked topic. As Jenny Kristine explains in her article, “Monsters Under the Bed: Horror Stories for Children,” writing: “children’s horror novels get treated more like Halloween candy than anything that has the potential to be a literary meal.” But horror for children is extremely popular. Almost all children have read at least one book from the Goosebumps series or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. These books are staples for young readers, but they are commonly overlooked and tossed aside by critics. However, these stories not only entertain the children reading them but also teach valuable lessons. As Kristine says, “stories about gruesome mayhem can help kids deal with mortality and the existence of danger in their lives, filling an important developmental need.” There is usually no real critical conversation about children’s horror; thus, audiences may assume these works are unimportant. But horror stories meant for children teach vital lessons to their audiences.
There are many examples of horror in children’s cartoons. Classics include Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo, and Courage the Cowardly Dog. These all have a bit of horror imbedded with in them. Greg Ruth mentions in “Horror is Good for You (and Even Better for Your Kids)” that these shows provide “a playground in which kids can dance with their fears in a safe way that can teach them how to survive monsters and be powerful, too.” If looked at closely, Tom and Jerry is a children’s version of a suspenseful horror show. Tom is always trying to kill Jerry. But he is always thwarted by Jerry’s cunning or the magical and mystical cartoon logic. As Ruth puts it, “The more we ignore scary things, the bigger and scarier those things become,” and this shows teaches the kids to fight back, to stand up to what scares you. That’s exactly what Jerry does, and he always wins.
This wordless cartoon is all about the chase. The chase adds suspense for the audience, and the unique and fun ways that Tom tries to catch Jerry makes this a horror story for children but with much less gore. In Tom and Jerry “Mouse Trouble”, for example, Tom gets a book on ways to catch a mouse. In this episode, the first way that he tries to kill Jerry is with a mouse trap. Before he tries to use it, he tests it by dropping a feather on it. It snaps perfectly, so he gets it set up forJerry. Jerry sees the cheese on it, struggles to pull it off, and eventually succeeds, but the trap didn’t snap. Tom makes many more attempts on Jerry’s life in the episode. After all of these plans fail, Tom even tries to blow Jerry up, but ends up killing himself in the process. The child audience sees that Jerry is fine after the explosion, but then sees Tom with a halo floating up to heaven. Although it is a children’s cartoon, it has a lot of violence. But Tom and Jerry is not the only cartoon with horrifying elements.
Scooby Doo, one of the most remade series for children, is a children’s mystery show with lots of hauntings. Although most of the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins are revealed as normal people, the show still has elements of horror. In the last episode of the first season of the 2012 adaptation of Scooby doo, Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated, the Scooby gang has one of their most shocking and important unmaskings. In this episode, they are trying to figure out who a criminal called The Freak is. Eventually the character Fred discovers that The Freak is actually his father, the mayor of Crystal Cove. In a pivotal scene, Fred finds out that his life was a lie. He finds out the mayor is not his actual father, but his kidnapper. He found out that he was kidnapped as a baby, and he realizes that the people closest to you can be the most deceitful and manipulative. Thus, the show depicts normal, everyday people as the monsters behind the mask. The lesson is clear: humans are the real monsters.
Horror for children can play a vital role in the children’s development. These forms of media can end up helping them deal with mortality and danger in a safe setting. With cartoons like Tom and Jerry, children are exposed to a very watered down horror show that teaches children about standing up for themselves. Scooby Doo, on the other hand, shows children that people are the real monsters. These cartoons all teach children very important lessons, but they do it in a way that uses horror, and horror elements to give children the opportunity to work through fears in an environment that they can feel comfortable in.
References: Kristine, Jenny. “Monsters Under the Bed: Horror Stories for Children.” Tor.com, 15 Dec. 2014, www.tor.com/2012/10/26/horror-stories-kids-neil-gaiman-alvin-schwartz/
Ruth, Greg. “Horror Is Good For You (and Even Better for Your Kids).” Tor.com, 13 Jan. 2020, www.tor.com/2017/10/02/horror-is-good-for-you-and-even-better-for-your-kids/.
Sydney Crider is a college student at Indiana University Bloomington studying to be an art teacher. She is a professional photographer and ceramicist, receptionist, and event coordinator. She has won many photography awards and has been employee of the month at multiple establishments. When she is not doing art, she is with her friends.