Haunting Influence: Childhood Stories

For we still fear the evil that stalks out there in the darkness. – Beowulf

I’ve heard that experts say that things that we see and experience as children have a profound influence on us as we get older. I’m sure Freud at least had something to say about that. Perhaps that’s why parents read children stories with morals when they’re young; capturing the young’s attention and imagination and adding a somewhat-hidden lesson within it. Even fairy tales have morals and lessons of some shape or form, passing on warnings and cautions. Beowulf states these old fears bluntly.

These stories tend to stick with us as we get older (proof that people like Aesop and the Brothers Grimm were effective writers). We might forget the details, but we still remember that there was a prince, or a frog and it involved kissing, fighting a dragon, or passing a magical test.We have a few that we recall as our favorites, and a few we didn’t like for this or that reason. As we get older we may find ourselves reading them to the next generation, passing on the morals, lessons and cautions wrapped in fantasy. And we may, occasionally, suddenly recall a story that had a peculiar impact on us as a child.

As a writer, I love to read through old fairy tales. It’s the best way to research basic, effective plotlines, and to see how people have changed a well-known story into something unique (my favorite is Beauty and the Beast, by the way). If I’m having trouble with a manuscript, stopping and reading something else is a way I often cope, and it usually will spark something that will let me get back to work. On my crammed-beyond-capacity bookshelf, I have a section dedicated solely to children’s stories, and on that shelf is a sadly battered book that only has the front half of the cover left (I have no idea where the spine and back cover went). This is An Illustrated Book of Fairy and Folk Tales by James Riordan, a compilation I got when I was 3 from my great aunt. Within that book is a Spanish folk tale called “Death’s Godson.”

Creepy title, and a disconcerting story, not to mention that the grim reaper in all her glory on the title page was a little much for a small child (yes, Death is a woman in this one). Perhaps it was the picture, or the unusual story, or maybe the whole thing together that really made an impression on me as a child, to the point that whenever I read something about Death, or the grim reaper, I would always think of that story.

Death is an interesting concept to writers, and the ideas of what Death and the afterlife look like has fueled the imaginations of people since death came into being. As I prepare to branch my current project towards the concept of death and the subconscious, I remember “Death’s Godson.” That story has always stuck with me, even when I was no longer afraid of the pictures and understood the story’s lesson.

Today, I want my version of Death and the supernatural to have the same grand impact on my readers that “Death’s Godson” had on me. It is inspiration to strive higher, to give my own words the power to linger in the mind years after they’ve been read.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sonia G Medeiros
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:13:36

    I love fairytales and folk tales. I’m doing a series on fairytales and their retellings on my blog and this month’s writing challenge may have to do with fairytales too. Right now, I’ve been reading up on Little Red Riding Hood. There’s so many ways to look at that story. I just finished Kait Nolan’s Red and Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red. Both were fabulous stories inspired LRRH. Sisters Red would probably be classified as a retelling but with such a fantastic twist.


  2. Haley Whitehall (@HaleyWhitehall)
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:01:20

    Great minds think alike, Sonia! Tall tales influenced me/my writing more than fairy tales. When it comes to fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood was the one I read most often. I’ve read several different takes on the classic story and love them all. I spent a lot of time “in the woods” growing up and I was on the lookout for bears and wolves and cougars!


  3. Andrea
    Oct 20, 2012 @ 08:22:01

    I had the exact same book as a child and still have it in much the same condition as yours !, but have never been able to part with it, one of my favourites was Death’s Godson !


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