Ginger Nuts of Horror
As complementary feature to our exciting Festive 50 countdown, we bring you The Books of Our Childhood.
We all have that one book that we hold dear to our hearts. That one book that stands out in the mists of our memories as the book that first ignited our passion for reading. For this reviewer, the book that springs to mind is Douglas Hill's The Galactic Warlord. Yes on hindsight it was clearly cashing in on the Star Wars craze, but this tale of the last of a species of humanoids who thanks to generations of training and selective breeding became the most feared fighting force in the Universe. However, unlike so many other examples of this the Legionnaires as they were known as where a force a good, fighting tyranny and corruption throughout the cosmos. Which is why The Galactic Warlord decided to wipe them out, with only Keill Randor surviving the initial assault but dying from a lethal dose of radiation, he is picked up by a mysterious race and cured of the radiation poisoning and given an indestructible skeleton and an enhanced healing factor.
You can all stop shouting "Wolverine" from the cheap seats. To a kid in growing up in St Andrews, it would be another 15 years or so before Wolverine would even make an appearance.
The scope of this series of books and their simple moral code fanned the flames of an already burning desire to read. Even now after close to forty years since first opening the pages of the books I still think about them. Keill Randor I salute you.
Read on to discover what other books have inspired some of our finest YA authors.
Being asked about your favourite book from childhood is little like being asked, as an adult, which of your own children is your favourite. You say you couldn’t possibly choose, but secretly everybody has an answer. For me, my favourite (book, this is, not child, no way I’m risking that one) is one that came a little later in my childhood, so I’m not sure it even counts. But it had such a profound effect on me I’m going to talk about it anyway.
I grew up kicking around the same places most other kids did—Narnia, Middle Earth, the Lake District, Kirrin island and Treasure Island, venturing as far as Gormenghast and Baker Street. My early days as a reader were fairly conventional, and safe. I loved those stories, but by the time I was eleven I was skipping out of my room at night to spend nights in haunted houses (true story, although it turned out not to be a night but seven minutes before exiting through the window at speed vomiting in terror). I was fascinated by horror at that age, I saw horror as a quest to investigate the unfathomable mysteries of the world, an excuse to peek behind the skin of reality. Of course back then I didn’t truly know what horror was, because I wasn’t encouraged to read it. And it took a very special book to introduce me.
I kind of view my childhood as a glorious beach—warm sand, cool, blue water, the safety of shore almost close enough to touch. I vividly remember the feeling of drifting further out, of feeling the abyss yawning open beneath me, cold and dark and ancient. I can’t even remember where I got a copy of Pet Sematary from, my dad’s shelf, maybe, or at a car boot. I was drawn in by the cover, that graveyard of exotic stones, the skeletal limbs of a tree arranged to look like a face. I didn’t even know who Stephen King was. I can’t remember exactly, but I must have been about twelve, and this twelve-year-old me had a jolt of something—not quite panic, not quite excitement—when I picked it up and started to read. The waters were growing cold, I was drifting somewhere I’d never been before.
I read most of King when I was a teenager, and I’ve reread them all since—all except this one. I’m not sure why, it feels like sacrilege, somehow, like I’m walking on sacred ground just like Louis Creed does. It’s partly because I still remember the book like I read it last week, I still recall with absolute clarity that feeling of stumbling through the woods at night, the crack of branches, the thunder of my heart, and the stench of the mud, of the grave. It’s a more vivid memory for me than pretty much anything that I might have actually been doing at that point in my life. The creeping horror of each resurrection is etched into the fabric of my own childhood, I can feel that cold hand drop down onto my shoulder, the whisper in my ear--Darling--and it’s my life I’m remembering, it’s my past. I know I’ll never have to read this book again because I lived it.
And it taught me that I kind of liked swimming in those deeper waters, the ones where you might get dragged under at any time, where you couldn’t see that beach any more. I kind of loved it. I went from Pet Sematary to a book that I think was called Fungus (which traumatised me, in a good way) and from that to Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, which remains today one of my absolute favourite books. And by that time I was writing horror stories of my own, the stories that would grow into the ones I write now. I wonder if I’d ever got here if I hadn’t opened that copy of Pet Sematary when I was twelve years old, if I hadn’t wandered into the woods to bury that damned cat…
DARREN SHAN ON Robert Cormier'S The Chocolate War