Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorAlvin Schwartz
IllustratorStephen Gammell
Brett Helquist (2011 edition)
Cover artistStephen Gammell
Brett Helquist (2011 edition)
CountryUnited States
GenreHorror, children's literature, folklore
PublisherHarper & Row
Publication date

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a series of three collections of short horror stories for children, written by Alvin Schwartz and originally illustrated by Stephen Gammell. In 2011, HarperCollins published editions featuring new art by Brett Helquist, causing mass controversy amongst fans of Gammell.[1][2] Subsequent printings have restored the original Gammell art.[3] The titles of the books are Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991).

The three books each feature numerous short stories in the horror genre. Author Schwartz drew heavily from folklore and urban legends as the topic of his stories, researching extensively and spending more than a year on writing each book.[4][5] Acknowledged influences include William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Mark Twain, Joel Chandler Harris, Bennett Cerf and Jan Harold Brunvand.[6] The first volume was published in 1981, and the books have subsequently been collected in both a box set and a single volume.

There is also an audiobook version of each book, read by George S. Irving. The audiobooks are presented in unabridged format with the exception of a handful of missing stories from the first book.

As of 2017, the books had collectively sold more than seven million copies,[7] and appeared on numerous children's best-seller lists.[6] They have collectively been hailed as a "cultural touchstone for a generation",[7] with the original charcoal and ink artwork by Gammell often singled out for praise.[8]

A film adaptation of the same name was released on August 23, 2019 to generally favorable reviews from critics.


# Title Original published date Pages ISBN
1Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkOctober 14, 1981128ISBN 978-0-397-31927-5

The first book contains 29 stories that Schwartz collected from folklore books, collections, and archives, as well as from interviews with informants.[9][10] The stories in this book include:

2More Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkOctober 31, 1984112ISBN 978-0-8124-4914-3

The second book contains 28 stories, including:[11]

3Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your BonesSeptember 1, 1991128ISBN 978-0-7607-3418-6

The third and final book contains 25 stories, including:[12]

  • a story of a man who tries to escape from Death
  • ghost stories, including a vanishing hitchhiker story, as well as a story of a black dog
  • a retelling of the legend of the death of Oleg the Prophet
  • a story of an adult-sized doll that comes to life
  • a story from the Lincolnshire Marsh, which was alleged to be inhabited by evil spirits
  • a witch story
  • a story of a feral child
  • a story of a dream that foretells the future
  • several urban legends, including the legends of the spider bite, the Mexican pet, and the vanishing hotel room.
  • a story of a poltergeist/psychokinesis
  • a selection of jokes and humorous stories
  • and concludes the series with a variant of the Hearse Song
CompilationThe Scary Stories TreasuryJuly 25, 2004368ISBN 978-0-760-76273-8
A compilation of all three books.
CompilationScary Stories: The Complete 3-Book CollectionJuly 25, 2017368ISBN 978-0062682895
A box set of all three books with the original illustrations from Stephen Gammell.


To celebrate the books' 30th anniversary in 2011, HarperCollins re-released the books with new illustrations from Brett Helquist. The new illustrations were generally regarded as kid-friendly and not as disturbing as their previous illustrations, resulting in widespread criticism from fans of the original.[1][2][8] In 2017, the books were re-issued with the original artwork.



This series is listed by the American Library Association as being the most challenged series of books from the 1990s,[13] and seventh most challenged from the 2000s.[14] It again made the list in 2012.[15] Complaints have typically centered on its violence, disturbing subject matter, and potential unsuitability for younger readers, as well as religious concerns.[5][6] Critics have called the stories, many of which feature macabre topics such as murder, disfigurement and cannibalism, "sick...repulsive",[6] and "really disgusting...not appropriate for children".[16] The nightmarish artwork by Stephen Gammell has also been a subject of criticism. Among the groups who have attempted to have the book removed from school libraries are local parent groups and Concerned Women for America; defenders have included the American Library Association and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.[6]

Defenders of the books have claimed that they are aimed at "middle-school kids, who are perfectly able to cope with this kind of thing", and that the stories "help children deal with reality by putting faces on what they're afraid of".[6]


In 2019, a documentary about the book series titled Scary Stories was released. It explores the process of the books' creation (including the artwork and the folkloric inspiration of the stories), their legacy, and the controversy surrounding attempts to ban them. It featured interviews of family members of the deceased Alvin Schwartz, as well as R.L. Stine and several other authors of 1980s and 1990s children's horror. It debuted at the Panic Fest in Kansas City.[17][18]

Tribute anthology[edit]

The Horror Writers Association compiled a new tribute anthology titled Don't Turn Out The Lights, edited by Jonathan Maberry, and featuring submissions from HWA members.[19] It was released on September 1, 2020.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2013, CBS Films acquired the rights to the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books from 1212 Entertainment who initially optioned the material.[20][21][22][23] The script (initially written by John August) was ultimately credited to Dan and Kevin Hageman, with Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton receiving a "story by" credit.[24]

Del Toro produced the film along with Sean Daniel, Jason Brown, and Elizabeth Grave, with Roberto Grande and Joshua Long executive producing.[20] Michael Garza, Austin Abrams, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur and Natalie Ganzhorn were cast, with André Øvredal directing.[25]

The film was released on August 23, 2019, by Lionsgate and CBS Films.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Gammell vs. Helquist". 2011-12-18. Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  2. ^ a b Woerner, Meredith (1 February 2012). "Publishers destroy Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark's amazing artwork". Gawker Media. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  3. ^ Squires, John (28 July 2017). "Original "Scary Stories" Books Were Just Re-Released With Original Drawings Restored". Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Alvin; Vardell, Sylvia (1987). "Profile: Alvin Schwartz". Language Arts. 64 (4): 426–432.
  5. ^ a b Monahan, Maureen (22 October 2015). "14 Terrifying Facts About 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark'". Mental Floss. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Blades, John (September 20, 1993). "WHO IS ALVIN SCHWARTZ AND WHY DO PARENTS WANT TO BAND [sic] HIS BOOKS". Chicago Tribune. Chicago.
  7. ^ a b Scheck, Frank (25 April 2019). "'Scary Stories': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  8. ^ a b Sheffield, Ryan (9 November 2013). "Scary Stories to Tell in the Past". Janet Balis. Retrieved 4 November 2019. Gammell's illustrations have since been replaced in subsequent printings by far more tame drawings by artist Brett Helquist. Though the new artwork is well-done and striking in its own right, it doesn't come even remotely close to possessing the power and terror of the originals.
  9. ^ Schwartz, Alvin (1981). Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Scholastic Inc. ISBN 978-0-590-43197-2.
  10. ^ Cody Meirick (director) (2018). Scary Stories (documentary). Giant Thumb Studios.
  11. ^ Schwartz, Alvin (1984). More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Scholastic Inc. ISBN 0-590-13586-4.
  12. ^ Schwartz, Alvin (1991). Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Scholastic Inc. ISBN 0-590-13589-9.
  13. ^ "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999 |". Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  14. ^ "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 |". 26 March 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  15. ^ "Top Ten Most Challenged Books Lists". 26 March 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  16. ^ "Parents Upset Over Books They Say Are Inappropriate". The Argus-Press. Owosso, Michigan. April 7, 1995. p. 1. This was way past being scary. There were two stories in there that were really objectionable...It's just not appropriate for children.
  17. ^ "PANIC FEST: 'Scary Stories' (Documentary)". Downright Creepy. 2018-01-29. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  18. ^ Olcese, Abby (2018-01-28). "Panic Fest Review: SCARY STORIES Is A Spooky Trip Down Memory Lane". Birth.Movies.Death. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  19. ^ Morton, Lisa (February 9, 2018). "HWA announces its next members-only anthology". Horror Writers Association. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  20. ^ a b "CBS Films Nabs 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' Pitch from 'Saw' Scribes". 4 December 2013.
  21. ^ "CBS Films Nabs 'Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark' Pitch From 'Saw' Scribes". 4 December 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  22. ^ "'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' Will Get Rewritten by 'Frankenweenie' Writer John August". Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  23. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 14, 2016). "Guillermo Del Toro Warms To 'Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark'". Deadline. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  24. ^ Kroll, Justin (February 24, 2016). "Guillermo del Toro's 'Scary Stories' Lands 'Lego Movie' Writers". Variety. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  25. ^ McNary, Dave (August 27, 2018). "Guillermo del Toro's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie Sets Cast". Variety. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  26. ^ McNary, Dave (December 14, 2018). "Guillermo del Toro's 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' Set for August Release". Variety. Retrieved December 14, 2018.