You're Scared Cuz You had Helicopter Parents, But Horror can Help
Updated: Oct 6
The world has been a scary place for a lot of people lately.
Not one of us were completely spared from 2020. Even I can admit that come March, I was fearing the end. Everyone was going to get sick and die, the stores would run out of food, the majority government party was going to initiate a coup and turn Canada into a dictatorship. And my kids were NEVER going back to school!
I went a little insane. I know. But I think we all did.
Some people have yet to come in out of that deep end. They have switched into fight or flight mode and can’t shake the feeling that there is a boogeyman around every corner.
It makes me wonder though if we have always been this way. Has humankind always been so easily spooked?
Surely, this is not the scariest year that has ever come to pass. We like to think that 2020 is something special, but it’s not.
My grandmother lived through the great depression and WW2 (75 million dead). She was raising kids during the Asian flu 1957 (1.1 million dead), the Hong Kong flu 1968 (1-4 million estimated dead), the worst of the AIDS pandemic (spanning decades and killing 35 million so far), and now COVID-19, sitting at 1.8 million.
I’m sure all those moments in history were pretty damn scary. But did we react with the same level of fear that is seen today?
But what about before that?
Like during the Spanish flu that killed 50 million people worldwide, 675,000 of those in the USA alone. Or any mass killers of the last few hundred years: Measles, Smallpox, Cholera, Yellow fever, Scarlet fever, Tuberculosis, Typhoid, Whooping cough, Rubella, Diphtheria. Those are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
What about way back during the infamous Black Plague which killed off a third of Europe’s population at the time, 25 million people. Was the fear as palpable then as it is now? Or at least as it was early this year? Was it worse?
Were people screaming at others during these crises if they did not wear a mask or keep their distance? Were others railing against their governments for fear of having whatever freedoms they enjoyed taken away from them?
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to take a poke at anyone's response to COVID. I am simply asking a question out of curiosity.
Although I will say, while I think it is good to have a healthy fear response, I don’t believe it is ever good to let that fear get the better of you. Bad things happen when people become afraid and let that fear rule them, influence all the decisions they make at the detriment of reason and kindness. It wasn't a calm resolve that burned women at the stake for witchcraft.
(I lied. I am going to take a poke at some people's response to COVID. If you were one of those people freaking out about toilet paper, you are NOT a survivor. You are someone who lets fear make your decisions for you. What if the world were actually ending, and you stocked up on TP!?! Not food, not medicine, not weapons. You stashed toilet paper. Well good for you. You are dead, but at least you have a marginally cleaner ass than those of us who will live.)
Let’s take a step back into Medieval times. Imagine everyone around you is sick, many are dying, covered in weeping boils, their fingers black as if they have had reached down into the depths of hell and touched the fiery brimstone. It had to have been terrifying. But was it? I mean in a time where you live and die by the sword in service to a nobleman who couldn’t give a rats ass about you, where you were 10x more likely to be murdered than you are today, where rape and domestic violence were par for the course of being a woman, where everyone was armed at all times because there was no police force. War, genocide, starvation, were always a threat, let alone the fact that the mere weather could easily kill you. Lord help you if you were unlucky enough to be a kid. And don’t get me started on how scary childbirth would have been for young women (I say young because let’s face it, most didn’t make it into cronehood. If you lived into your 40’s you were a BOSS). (HistoryExtra)
Is it any wonder medieval art looked like this?
And these types of images were hung in churches, the community gathering places. Medieval peoples didn’t shy away from horrific subjects, and they were not about to shield their children from them.
“Close thine eyes, sweetie, tis too horrific for your young mind.”
Why bother? That child probably had seen worse at home anyway. Probably had the scars to prove it.
From early on in history, “children’s stories” took the form of brutal and terrifying horror tales, meant to get the point across quickly. You follow the rules, and you do the right thing, or else you are maimed. You don’t get a second chance, and perhaps the best lesson of all that was taught to medieval children was: People suck.
Actually, this has been taught to children right up until our modern era. Where we now read our kids sweet stories of positivity, and understanding, and friendship. Yes, we still have stranger danger and all that, but let’s face it, kids are largely shielded from the evils of the world now.
Take the story of the Pied Piper for instance. It has been told in some form or another, at least in the town of Hamelin, since the 13th century.
It became a true children’s story in the Victorian era with Robert Browning’s poem, written for his son. In a quick summary, the town of Hamelin is infested with rats, and they don’t know what to do. They make a deal with a strange piper to get rid of them, but when he does, they renege on their deal. The piper then takes the town’s children away to...well...die. They do.
Click on the video, and you can listen to the poem in its entirety as I embarrassingly recorded it for my daughter (whose voice is in the background near the end, having had quite enough of quiet time!). While you listen, enjoy this completely random clown tormenting some kids, because Wix blog won't let me upload audio alone, only videos.
You. Are. Welcome....
It is not a story often told to children in the modern era, and when it is, the worst of it is almost always omitted.
It was criticized in Victorian times too, you’ll be happy to hear, but not because of the fact a whole town’s worth of children danced to their death, but because of how the rats were described!
Another thing that should be noted is that the Pied Piper story is based in reality, and it seems that it served not only as a warning to future generations of children to not follow strangers but also an admonishment of the Hamelin adults—they were to blame for their children’s demise.
“....it is almost universally agreed that a version of this event really did happen in the town of Hamelin, Germany, around 1284. The earliest known record of this story is from the town of Hamelin itself, where a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin depicts the tale. The window dates to around 1300, and although it was destroyed in 1660, copies of the window survive from the intervening period. The Lueneburg manuscript (c. 1440 – 50), relates:
“In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colours, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.”
(I suggest reading the entire post link above. A very interesting read.)
Now there are many theories about what may have actually happened to the children, from the plague to being sent away by their parents, or...you know...being murdered by some brightly colored lunatic, as the Lueneburg manuscript quote suggests.
These stories had real-world consequences for the children of the times to which they were read.
Another such story is the even more famous, Little Red Riding Hood.
I urge you to find the original (or as close as you can get to it). The earliest Perrault version was published in Paris 1697, however, there is evidence that this and other fairy tales have origins much earlier and would have been told through classical and medieval periods alike. The level of gruesomeness also probably changed with the time periods it was told in.
There is a really cool article here that discusses the origins of Little Red Riding Hood, possibly going back all the way to the 1st century. We know that the brothers Grimm believed this to be the case as well. (LiveScience)
In the Perrault version, it is less detailed in the horror but the ending is not a happy one as it is in later versions. Even the Grimm retelling ended with the wolf getting his. Although, it was a bloodbath—closer to the modern horror movie than the modern children’s story.
But Perrault’s is also interesting in that it ends with a definitive moral told in his own words as if speaking directly to the child. He doesn’t speak down to them either; he discusses the dangers of the world directly…
“All the better to eat you up with."
And, saying these words, this wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her all up.
Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.
I don’t believe that the children hearing this would have been ignorant of what Perrault meant either. This is a story about a little girl who was taken and ravaged by a man who pretended to be kind and turned out to be a monster.
Now the Grimm version is so much better in my opinion for a few reasons. While being a warning for girls to be wary of the wolf in sheep’s clothing...or you know...grandma’s, it is also a visceral revenge story. The Brothers Grimm realized something that Perrault did not, children need catharsis about scary situations as much as any adult.