Why do scary stories still scare when we're grown up?


First aired on Fear Itself (06/08/12)

For many of us, the childhood summer camping experience isn't complete without sitting around a roaring fire, roasting marshmallows and trading ghost stories. The combination of a suspenseful narrative, the ominous glow of the moon and being surrounded by the claw-like branches of trees distorted by darkness was powerful enough to make you shiver in fear.

Librarian and storyteller Angela Reynolds, who was born and raised in Kentucky but who now lives in Bridgetown, N.S., has made a career out of scaring the bejesus out of children. In a recent interview on Fear Itself, she shared her insight into why kids -- and adults -- love a good ghost story. Her theory is that fear in story form is a fun kind of fear, a place where people can confront the unknown in the safety of their own minds.

"You know it's a story when you reach a certain age, when you're eight and up," Reynolds said. "Stories are a great place to sort of contain those fears and play with them."

Naturally, you don't want to tell a ghost story to a child who's too young (she's had at least one little girl run out the room when told she could leave at any time), but kids seem to love the idea of being spooked.

"Usually it's great. I mean, I can tell that they're scared but they're also smiling, so I know that they're enjoying it."

And our love of the ghost story often continues into adulthood, although the way we interpret them changes as we mature, Reynolds says.

"I have some ghost stories that I particularly tell to adults and I think for adults they like those stories because there's something in it that touches them. One of the ghost stories I tell is about a little girl ghost who makes her way down the mountain to fetch a doctor because her mother is sick in bed with a really bad fever. It's a creepy, scary story but I think for adults, it really touches them that this little girl loved her mother so much that she came back as a ghost to help her mother."

"Kids just get scared, and I think adults think it through a little bit more, but they still like that thrill, that chill of 'Ooh, it's a ghost.'"

What were or are your favourite ghost stories? Let us know in the comments section below and we'll compile a list!