The Original Folktales And Urban Legends That Inspired ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’

Adapted into a movie by Guillermo del Toro and André Øvredal in 2019, Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books traumatized many of us as children. What made them so scary? The illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

But seriously, that's only part of it. The stories all had that unmistakable ring of reality in an age before creepypasta and the popularity of found-footage horror movies. These were classic campfire tales, designed to be told in the wee hours of a sleepover with a flashlight held under your chin. Part of the reason they work so well is that Schwartz pulled them from all over the place, ranging from ancient Babylonian myths to contemporary urban legends, creating a manic collection of the scariest stories he could find from all over the world and across history.

He didn't stop there, though. The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books were terrifying, sure, but they were also educational. In the back of each book were story notes and an extensive bibliography that explained where Schwartz had gotten each story from, and pointing the reader toward other tales of a similar type. Yeah, most of us ignored those when we were kids, gravitating instead toward the stories themselves and those impossibly creepy illustrations. But even so, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark served as a gateway to urban legends, folktales, and classic ghost stories that we might otherwise never have encountered. Here are the real folktales and urban legends that inspired some of our favorite Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.