A few months ago, I wrote about ghost stories. The stories I mentioned were all originally written for grown-ups, but could be enjoyed by younger readers as well. However, it might have got you thinking about whether there are scary stories written specially for children, and what they are like. Well, one answer is a creepy but fascinating book called Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley.
In this book a young boy called Edgar, who studies at a boarding school, likes to go and visit an old man, Uncle Montague, during his holidays. This is quite strange because Uncle Montague is not at all the sort of jolly old uncle who tells you jokes and gives you sweets.
Quite the contrary, he is a gloomy old sort who whiles away the time telling Edgar chilling little stories that he remembers from the past.
All his stories involve children getting into some terror-filled situation — hardly suitable fireside conversation for a little boy, or for you, do I hear you saying? Because these stories are all different from each other, and they are all quite dark, like the story of the ghost who joined a little girl’s game of hide and seek or the one about the boy who wandered into a strange old woman’s garden, or the story of the Demon Bench! After some time, Edgar starts wondering if these stories are real and how Uncle Montague knows them all.
Slowly, the book works up to a thrilling finish — and that’s what makes a scary story so appealing. We know it is just a made-up story, but we still want to know what the mysterious things in it mean and what happens to the characters in the story, whether they escape the spooky horrors they face or not. It’s all make believe, but it gives us a safe thrill, starts the heart racing and takes us away from the everyday world for a while.
Maybe it also makes us think about the things we fear, and how we can face them.
I’d also like to mention the great drawings in this book. Of course, part of the point of reading is to use your own imagination to flesh out the story in your mind, but good illustrations help to set the right mood and David Roberts’ quirky drawings are just perfect.
If you’ve enjoyed this book, the good news is that Priestley has written more, like Tales of Terror from the Black Ship and Tales of Terror From The Tunnel’s Mouth. Once you’ve read them, you may notice they are very British stories.
So why not think up some very Indian stories like them? How about a story about a haunted autorickshaw, or a ghost who likes to join in the celebrations at Diwali?
It’s up to you!