Excerpts from notes on teaching a creative writing class to “gifted and talented” 14 to 16 year olds, summer ’06:
Read from Al Alvarez article. “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” in New Yorker (March 8, 1993) abt childhood fears.
“The best ghost-story writers know that by night fear is a free agent, which will fix on anything that comes to hand. In M. R. James’s ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ the creature, whose ‘one power was that of frightening,’ embodies itself in a sheet from an empty bed and confronts its victim with ‘a face of crumpled linen.’”
“Nothing is definite, nothing precise. Evil is a free-floating force and can inhabit the most common-place objects.”
“The creature from the black lagoon or the morgue or the pit or outer space is always easier to live with, however dangerously, than the nebulous shapes created by the imagination running free. Once you can put a face on evil, it becomes, in Hannah Arendt’s word, banal.”
“Part of the primitive fear of darkness is connected to what happens to us when we sleep. Not only are we vulnerable to intruders and predators. We are also vulnerable to our dreams…”
We talked a bit abt what is and isn’t scary. Fascinating to hear what they remembered from childhood. One girl said the bit of shower curtain where it stuck to the edge of the tub scared her when she was little. I told them about the sinister BLANKET BAG. They wrote Haunted Haikus, eg:
Mother’s broken shoe.
The sole flaps loose like a mouth.
At night it walks by itself.