This entry is dedicated to my new favourite author, Chris Priestley, the author of The Tales of Terror series, the first of which, Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror has recently been selected for the Booked Up list. The Booked Up project allows all Year 7 pupils in participating schools to select a free book. Here’s why you should choose Uncle Montague.
Each of the Tales of Terror series (Montague was soon followed by Tales of Terror from the Black Ship and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth) is an old fashioned horror anthology a la Tales of the Crypt. Short stories (with unnerving illustrations by David Roberts) linked together by an intriguing narrator with a dark story of his own. In the first book, a lonely little boy, Edgar, visits his mysterious Uncle Montague at his remote forest home. As Montague tells the tales of the chilling artefacts dotted around his home, Edgar becomes increasingly aware that they aren’t entirely alone…
The stories are scary. This should be reason enough to buy the book. Somewhere down the line, a bold publisher must have made the decision to let Priestley scare kids witless and this should be applauded. As a child I loved to be scared, there was almost a siren song to anything that I thought might freak me out. I remember sneaking over to my friends house to watch an illicit taped-off-TV version of A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 9 years old. It was like playing Russian Roulette with my own nightmares, a challenge to see how far I could push myself. Through the day job, I know today’s children are much the same, only now they have the Internet and Saw movies to test their resolve.
But that’s what I love about the Tales of Terror series. The scares on offer are Gothic and sinister without ever being exploitative or sadistic. I would be happy for my ten year-old pupils to read these books. They’re scary, but appropriate. My personal favourite from Montague is a twisted tale called The Demon Bench End, which sees a poor boy, Thomas spellbound by a grotesque wooden carving. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t get rid of the evil gargoyle, unless someone willingly takes it from him. I seem to recall a similar ghost story about floating hermits on the moors from when I was little whatever you do, don’t help him put his feet on the ground, or you’ll float the moors forever!
Each of the stories stayed with me after I’d finished them I didn’t lose any sleep, but I did think oooh, creepy! Win! I’ve just finished Black Ship and made a start on Tunnel’s Mouth straight away. If anything, Black Ship is even more gory than the first offering. Sometimes, in the Tales of Terror universe, kids die, and I think that’s important. Death is shied away from far too often in children’s literature, how are children ever meant to understand peril in a world where everyone’s indestructible? (Doctor Who on TV is the worst offender for this). Satisfying children’s longing for body horror, Black Ship features cracked skulls, twisted limbs and flesh eating snails galore. Worry not, parents, with Priestley’s moral compass intact; anyone who gets it certainly had it coming!
Next week sees the release of Priestley’s new tale of terror (note lower-case), The Dead of Winter and mine should be arriving from Amazon any time now. If you’ve never read Priestley’s work, I urge you to do so, as the children’s horror genre may well have a new master. Well, that is until my book is published, of course!
Read Priestley’s blog, giving more information on the origins of each tale, here.