An interview with Abigail Larson
You seem to have a fascination with the macabre. Where does your love of dark and spooky things come from?
It’s hard to say where exactly — I’ve always loved weird stories, and from an early age with books about mythological creatures and fairytales (which have their own surreal and morbid atmosphere) I cultivated a fascination with monsters. Early in grade school I read a little chapbook of Poe’s “The Black Cat” which really opened my eyes to gothic horror, and from there I read “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” and many other horror stories from that period, but I also loved watching old black and white horror movies as well. My dad and I watched the Universal classics hundreds of times, and I still love them to this day.
Lovecraft’s horror fiction is now well known, besides “The Cats of Ulthar,” are there any other stories you would love to share with new readers? And what was it that first drew you to Lovecraft’s work?
I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft, and there aren’t many stories of his that I wouldn’t like to tackle! Each one has a distinct mood and flavor that I find very exciting and in a strange way, comfortable. When I read stories like “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “Pickman’s Model,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and “The Shadow in the Attic,” that all take place in New England (or fictional places inspired by New England towns) I get a nostalgic feeling — which sounds strange because they’re horror stories, but it’s how New England feels to me; a strange, ethereal place full of secrets, from the ancient forests to the quiet mysterious towns. It makes you wonder what might’ve happened in such places, and Lovecraft built an entire fictional history for us to delve into. For me, that never gets old. With each re-reading I find new inspiration.
Are there any other writers, besides Lovecraft, that you share kindred spirits with, and why?
I’m a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe, of course, since his work inspired Lovecraft’s and he really sparked the interest in gothic horror in America. His sense of romance mixed with horror is so appealing to me. I don’t just love horror, though. I’m a huge fan of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s novels as well — I grew up on books like “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess” and they still hold a special place in my heart. They’re charming stories that each have a touch of darkness to them, with the added bonus of strong, intelligent protagonists — something I latched onto as a young reader.
Your illustrations can be dark, but also whimsical and assessable to children. What are your thoughts on introducing children to other ways of storytelling and art, besides the mainstreamed happy endings of Disney culture?
I’m not a huge fan of Disney — the older I get, the less satisfied I am with the company’s handling of fairytales. I think they’ve done a lot of damage by perpetuating the philosophy of good vs. evil, and watering down stories into that archetype. I like to think that making my work accessible to children by being creepy and dark but still holding on to magic and wonder is important because I don’t think we should assert that the things in the dark are always bad. I think our media should be teaching kids that it’s okay to feel afraid as long as you know what you’re afraid of — not just that it’s “dark” but that they understand why it scares them. Sometimes monsters are misunderstood, and sometimes the “good guy” isn’t really so good. A girl doesn’t have to be a princess to be the heroine, but if she is a princess, that doesn’t have to define her character — what matters are her actions, and that those actions have consequences. I think we’re getting better about coming full circle to the origins of fairytales now that we’re addressing how dark they originally were, but we have a long way to go in bringing that to today’s children. There’s a tipping point in a child’s life when they realize that not all stories have happy endings — concepts of justice, revenge, tragedy, etc. are facts of life, and it’s something I think all adults should be conscious of when selecting books to read to kids.