As the moonlight streams through the bedroom window, a pair of glowing red eyes can be seen peering menacingly from under the child’s bed.
If the cover of Dr. Michael Howarth’s book is an unsettling reminder of hiding under the blanket at night or keeping the closet door open and light on as a child, that’s sort of the point.
“Under the Bed, Creeping: Psychoanalyzing the Gothic in Children’s Literature” was published earlier this month by McFarland & Company. It examines five gothic texts to argue that while they may be scary and intense, they can also help children learn to navigate through the different stages of growth and development. The texts spotlighted in the book are Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” Carlo Collodi’s “Pinnochio,” Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline,” several versions of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, and J.M. Barrie’s “Peter and Wendy.”
Parents who steer children away from stories that examine the darker side of human nature are doing them a disservice, said Howarth.
“I believe children can handle more than adults give them credit for,” he said. “Some of the intense, scary scenes can serve as learning tools for kids.
“One of the central questions (of the book) is how can children appreciate the light if they’ve never seen the dark? A lot of times, it’s going into the woods on our own – so to speak – that teaches us how to deal with conflict and all that good stuff.”
While the book is marketed toward academics, Howarth said it can also benefit parents when it comes to understanding the importance that the stories can hold for children.
Howarth said there’s been a surge in gothic-themed literature aimed at children and young adults in the last 20 years, whether it’s the adventures of Harry Potter or the sparkling vampires of the “Twilight” series. Young readers, he said, like to be scared to some degree.
“It provides a nice escape, too,” he said. “Anytime you read, you ask yourself, ‘What would I do in that situation?’ You can learn from characters in the story.”
Howarth, who teaches a class on children’s literature geared toward education majors, said he’d be open to teaching a class focusing on the gothic aspects of children’s lit.
“It would be a fun seminar class at some point,” he said.
“Under the Bed, Creeping” is available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.