Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No Sparkles, Just Very Long Ears

A random comment made by a friend the other day brought to mind a book I hadn't thought of in ages, which was a shame because the more I thought on it, the more it occurred to me just how influential this book was in shaping my own writing. Which seems an odd thing to say, given that the subject of the book is a vampire rabbit.

Yes, you read that correctly. And those of you who knew you read that correctly are probably doing what I did the other day when the book came to mind, that is to say jumping up and down and squealing with delight while saying "Bunnicula!" way too loud so that the entire room turns and looks at you as though you've suddenly sprouted fuzzy ears and fangs yourself.

Okay, maybe that was just my experience.

For those of you who have not read it or heard of it - and I suspect there are many more of you in that category than in the squealing with delight one – the plot is simple. It's a children's book, one of those early chapter books that I think is too young to qualify as YA but older than picture books. The tale is told by the family dog, Harold, and there's a family cat, Chester (I think), and into this happy household comes a bunny. A white bunny with a peculiar black patch on it's back that looks a lot like a cape. A bunny who sleeps most of the day. Add to that the sudden appearance of vegetables drained white, and you have the makings of a vampire bunny.

Or so the cat believes. The dog is less convinced, and despite there being three books in the series, I don't think it's ever completely stated one way or another that Bunnicula is, in fact, a vampire bunny. (Unlike in the ABC Saturday morning cartoon movie which is where I first learned of Bunnicula. That ends with a very definitive answer to the question.) This does not stop the cat from attempting to remove the "evil" influence from the house.

As you might expect, there's a lot of humor in the book. The horror aspect is limited to the potential for zombie vegetables (expressly stated in the title of the third book, "The Celery Stalks at Midnight") and the general air of paranoia as expressed by the cat. I'm not sure why anyone would ever find the idea of a vampire bunny threatening, especially as all the victims seem to be vegetables, but that doesn't stop Chester from trying to "steak" the bunny through the heart with a side of beef.

The vegetables are put down with toothpicks, lest they, too, rise from the compost heap.

Now, what does something I read when I was back in the fifth grade, possibly earlier, have to do with what I write now? Well, as I said this was my first "horror" book. Most of the rest of what I read at the time was either fantasy or sci-fi, and it would be years before I picked up my first Stephen King, despite my peers reading him early on. (My first King was "The Stand" when it came out unabridged, but that's another entry.) Most of my attempts to write horror fall much more in line with the image of toothpicked vegetables than people having their body parts removed. I also seem to be more or less unable to write anything straight. Eventually, somewhere, somehow, a wisecrack remark will work it's way into my fiction.

In my life, to the best of my knowledge, I've only ever written one thing that actually creeped someone out. Everything else has been somewhat tongue in cheek, and not the zombie kind of tongue in cheek. I won't make the case that this was the only influence on the way I write, as there were other things. Nor will I say that much of what I write also has to do with where my own talents and authorial voice just naturally lend themselves. I cannot, for example, write Tolkien-esque fantasy. I tried, once. Once was enough.

It was, however, something that stuck with me, even if I didn't always consciously remember it. For that I am grateful, and I think my next trip to the library may have me wandering the children's section. I could do with a re-read of my favorite fuzzy vampire.


bettielee said...

omg!! A recent delight of mine was my parents selling their house and emptying out the great store of old books, and among them was my copy of Bunnicula, bought from those wonderful catalogs you got in school - remember those things, what the hell where they? But yes! BUNNICULA! Loved that.

slcboston said...

Scholastic book sales. My daughter brings them home now, too. :)