I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has run into a slight moral dilemma as a parent and a horror fan and wondered, “When do I introduce my child to horror and where should I start?”
For me, my first clear horror memory was of watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This was way back in the early to mid-‘80s before the film was thrown onto the nasties list and when home video was still in its infancy.
There I was, fresh-faced and beardless. A child content to play with his Kenner Star Wars with only a passing interest in horror, (because what little boy doesn’t like monsters?) when we went out to visit my aunt and uncle. Nothing unusual about that, but something happened that would possibly change my life forever.
They had purchased a VCR.
This strange new technology that allowed people to watch movies in their own home had surfaced and I was getting to see it in action. We sat around in a large family group and my eyes witnessed the very first video movie I had ever seen. In the form of the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I don’t recall exactly how old I was at the time, maybe ten or eleven, but for some reason, I was allowed to watch it and nothing would be the same again.
I’d experienced horror movies before with the likes of the Universal Monsters, Hammer Horror and all manner of black and white b-movies, but TCM is the one that I remember the clearest.
The problem was, when you’re a kid, especially when the nasties craze hit and it became somewhat taboo to be a horror fan, especially one so young, people would instantly make presumptions.
“What’s that young man? You watch horror films, listen to heavy metal and play D&D? Get back Satan spawn, the fiery pit will take you and Lucifer’s cock will be your plaything!”
Ok, there is a bit of hyperbole in those words, but you get the idea. You watched horror movies, you were kept an eye on in case you started worshipping The Devil or torturing animals before moving on to then murdering your friends.
There was, however, one horror medium that, as far as I can remember anyway, was left untouched.
And that was horror fiction.
No one batted an eyelid at a boy sitting quietly reading a book, and good job to as when that boy was me, then the books in question would have been the likes of Stephen King, James Herbert, Guy N Smith, Shaun Hutson or collections like the Pan Books of Horror Stories.
I used to devour such titles whenever I got the chance. I remember a market stall in my home town that, if memory serves, went by the name of Val’s Read & Return. Every Saturday I’d be there, passing over my coins in exchange for books. It wasn’t just horror of course and I could jump straight from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood to the Dragonlance Chronicles, or a Fighting Fantasy gamebook, but horror was always my go-to choice.
The thing is, I don’t remember that many titles aimed at younger readers, so I didn’t have many options to feed my horror craving. At least ones aimed at my age group anyway. It had to be more mature titles. I have a very clear memory of a short-lived bookshop where I bought myself The Rats, by James Herbert. It was the first brand new book that I purchased, rather than something from a second-hand stall.
Best of all, no one batted an eyelid at me buying these titles. If I tried to buy a movie filled with even half of the sex and violence that was depicted in some of the titles I had read, I would be refused instantly. But when it came to books, no one seemed to mind. I had found a way to scratch my horror itch.
The thing is, I have kids now. I want them to enjoy horror, but I don’t necessarily want them watching or reading all the material that I did as it certainly isn’t child appropriate.
I’ll get into the movie side of things on another occasion, but for now, I want to look at horror fiction, or rather, one piece of horror fiction in particular that I think will appeal to readers both old and new.
That title is The Old One and the Sea, by Lex H Jones.
Published by Sinister Horror Company, The Old One and the Sea is, as the author puts it, a “what if” story, and creates an interesting alternative to how H. P. Lovecraft came up with the idea of Cthulhu.
The story starts in January of 1919. The First World War has just come to an end and everyone is trying to get their lives back in order.
A young and imaginative boy by the name of Howard is still coming to terms with the fact that his father, like many others, will not be returning home, having been declared M.I.A.
Howard is blessed with an insatiable curiosity that is piqued even more when he and his neighbour discover that there is something slightly different about the stars and that new ones have appeared. Or rather, old ones that haven’t been seen in a long time have re-appeared.
Coinciding with this is the appearance of a mysterious jet-black reef just off the shore of Howard’s hometown of Innsmouth.
Being of a curious mind, Howard explores the reef and soon meets a strange creature that he calls Oolu.
A friendship forms between these two very different beings as they slowly learn about each other and realise that despite appearances, they have some things in common.
There is a kinship between them, an empathy that draws these two very physically dissimilar beings together.
The story shies away from any real horror, beyond that of a large creature and the nature of human stupidity and ignorance born of fear. There aren’t any moments of death and destruction or blood and carnage at least not within the confines of the story anyway. There are those related to the war, but they sit far off in the distance, the main resonance from them being the loss of Howard’s father.
And that’s what this story is about. Loss. Both Oolu and Howard are lost souls. Howard still has his mother, but he will always miss his father and always feel incomplete without him and Oolu has been alone for centuries.
It is about loss, but it’s also about friendship, family and being yourself.
That may sound somewhat cliché, and if I was recommended a book with the main focus being friendship and loss, I’d politely decline and read something else instead.
Fortunately, I didn’t do that as if I did, I would have been missing out on something very special.
The narrative isn’t dumbed down for kids, but also isn’t overly flamboyant either, striking that wonderful balance that makes it accessible for a variety of ages.
It is a title whereby if you have children, and you would like them to get into horror fiction, then this is one they can read without you having to worry about them reading anything inappropriate or having nightmares.
You could argue that the point of horror fiction is to cause nightmares and send chills running up and down spines, but don’t forget, this is primarily a kid’s book. It’s just one that we can all enjoy.
I got a real kick from the story and enjoyed the “what if” nature of it. Not only that but it blended fiction with enough reality to make the story believable to the extent that you almost wish that it was true and that a young H. P. Lovecraft did actually meet this strange and lonely creature.
The illustrations by Liam Hill are also wonderfully charming and adorn not just the cover, but head each chapter too. As with the book, they get the job done and find that balance where they aren’t too creepy for kids, but also aren’t too cutesy for adults.
My eleven-year-old daughter read The Old One and the Sea and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve seen her get through a book so quickly and without moaning about having to do some reading either, so that’s a win. Besides, it’s also gotten her interested in Lovecraft’s work, so again, another win.
My next step will be in reading it to my five-year-old son to see what he thinks but I’m pretty confident that he will enjoy it just as much as the rest of us.
This diverse age group is just another example of how much this book shines. There aren’t many titles that can be read by such a wide range of children that will also be enjoyed by cynical old gits like myself.
So there you have it. If you are looking for something that whilst light on horror, still nestles comfortably in the genre and is not only enjoyable for adults but is a good gateway title for getting kids interested in horror fiction, then Lex H Jones’ The Old One and the Sea, is the way to go.
The Old One and the Sea is not only a wonderfully told story but a great introduction to the genre.
You can find the book at the Sinister Horror Company website here https://www.sinisterhorrorcompany.com/children-s-fiction
And over at amazon UK
And amazon US
You can also follow Lex on his amazon page here