Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Joshua Gee
Published by Scholastic Books
We in the horror community have to grow up sometime, right? That means that at some point, many of us will have children. As frightening a thought as it may be, we like to instill our own values on our children, just like anyone else does. So when the child becomes curious about, say, the shrunken head hanging from the rear-view mirror or the thing with glowing red eyes in the closet, horror parents may not know where to turn. In such cases, parents should look to Joshua Gee’s Encyclopedia Horrifica, a child’s primer to everything ookey and macabre.
A compendium meant for ages 9 and up, this book is a collection of facts and eyewitness reports arranged in such a way that children can easily understand, without talking down to them. It’s set up like a scrapbook, with color photos and illustrations, tables and examples, that even adults will want to look through it. Moreover, there’s no way to catch everything in one reading, making repeated viewings rewarding for the readers as well. In addition, the book also contains things that mostly adults will catch, like subtle references to “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and lyrics to The Ramones’ “Pet Sematary.”
The book begins with “Real Nightmares,” a four-chapter section detailing such monstrosities as Dracula, sea creatures, aliens, and lycanthropy. It gives a primer on the life of Vlad Tespes, the real Dracula, as well as a side-by-side comparison of who was the biggest baddie, the movie version or the real fellow. The section about sea monsters shows woodcuts and photos of giant squid, sharks, and drawings of mermaids, sea-bishops, and other beasties once thought to inhabit the deep. The section on aliens is a geek-dream come true, followed by the section on werewolves and other shape-shifters.
Part two of the book deals with hauntings and ghosts. Beginning with the infamous Bell Witch haunting, the book continues with urban legends, haunted objects, and phantom encounters of every other kind imaginable. There is a question and answer section with reputed “professor of the paranormal,” Loyd Auerbach, and a section on how to hunt for spirits. It also goes into detail about mediums, phantom pets, and even a detailed hour-by-hour account of a ghost hunt.
Section three, entitled “Every Day is Halloween,” is a brief guide to the weird in the world around the reader. It takes them to a few shops, tells where to find things like skulls or where to see things like two-headed baby skeletons, and where some really strange places to eat are. It also goes into telekinesis, psychics, and the psychology of fear. The final section, “Fearsome Fates,” discusses zombies, fairies, and hoaxes perpetuated by others. It also discusses curses, such as that of the Hope Diamond and of Tutankamon’s Tomb.
While this book doesn’t contain all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, it doesn’t purport to. It is a primer for children, and a damned good one. Handing it over to a curious child will certainly spark interest and imagination, and may give families a little horror fanatic to boot. For parents, it’s a fantastic way to introduce their children to the world of the macabre without frightening them and without making them feel “weird.” It presents the world of the supernatural in a way children can love and understand.
5 out of 5
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