Book Article

Listen -- If You Dare

Scary stories on tape -- ''Favorite Scary Stories of American Children,'' ''Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,'' and ''Scary Stories 3'' are the titles available

Scary stories on tape

There are two kinds of scary stories on tape: those parents want kids to hear, and the rest. The first usually are myths, rife with significance, burnished by use into something more comforting than fearsome, and rooted in fantasy.

Favorite Scary Stories of American Children
Richard and Judy Young
The myths range from Jewish to Japanese and emphasize history over horror, cunning over cruelty. ''Spirit of Fire,'' on the tape for older kids, tells about the origin of Hawaii's volcanoes; this fanciful adventure is unforgettable. ''The Changelings,'' on the other tape, in which a father saves a baby from goblins, neatly blends magic and meaning. There are some groaners here, and the Youngs are not great storytellers. But Favorites is scary enough for most kids and enlightening enough for the most conscientious parent. B+

Now for the good stuff: the stories kids tell each other. These involve spider eggs and bloody human stumps and have no redeeming value. But they could happen.

Alvin Schwartz has collected this contemporary folklore for years. His three tapes, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories, and Scary Stories 3 offer more than 60 tales in about three hours. They include timeless ghost stories and timeless gross stories. In ''A New Horse'' (on Dark) a woman has ''horseshoes nailed to her hands and feet.'' In ''Just Delicious'' (on 3) a woman cooks a dead neighbor's liver to accommodate a demanding spouse.

Fun, but Schwartz and narrator George S. Irving are at their best with camp, Twilight Zone-style offerings, like the immortal ''The Hook'' (also from Dark), in which a teen couple in a car hear a bulletin about an escaped one-armed convict, then a scratching sound. Unconcerned, they drive home and get out of the car. ''Hanging from the door handle,'' the story concludes, ''was a hook.''

Eat before listening to ''The Hearse Song'' on Dark (''pus pours out like whipping cream''). Even tastier are ''Sam's New Pet,'' starring a sewer rat, and ''The Red Spot,'' in which spider eggs hatch in little Ruth's cheek (both on 3).

Like alcohol and the facts of life, grisly ghost stories will find your child eventually. Schwartz's collections at least let the meeting take place at home. Dark: A
More and 3: B+

Originally posted Oct 18, 1991 Published in issue #88 Oct 18, 1991 Order article reprints