Excellent Children’s Horror: the Griezelgenootschap

Say “horror for children” and there are a few writers or titles that might spring to mind, depending on your location and age.

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street series are probably fairly high up the list for those fabled 90’s kids. Go a bit further back and you’ve got Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and maybe even Stephen King if you parents weren’t paying attention. Further back and you’ve got Road Dahl — I don’t think I ever fully recovered from The Witches.

But if, like me, you grew up in the Netherlands in the 90’s, then there’s one group of writers that eclipse all others: the Griezelgenootschap, led by Paul van Loon.

 

‘Griezelen’ explained

Now, before we dive into the Griezelgenootschap, I want to take a moment to explain and appreciate the word ‘griezelen’ (that’s the verb — ‘griezel’ is the noun and ‘griezelig’ the adjective).

The original meaning of ‘griezelen’ is simply to shiver in fear. But during the heyday of Dutch children’s horror, it took on a different meaning. Engaging in ‘griezelen’ meant enjoying scary stories, maybe even stories featuring a ‘griezel’ — a creep.

But you wouldn’t classify grown-up horror books as ‘griezelig’. No, those were just scary. There was something different about ‘griezekboeken’, children’s horror books. ‘Griezelboeken’ gave me plenty of sleepless nights, more than adult horror ever has.

That’s not necessarily because they were scarier, but they were part of a scarier world. Growing up, you realise just how awful the world can be. Every day there’s a lot at stake — maybe everything, depending on who you are and where you live.

But if you’re lucky, it’s the things that seem small in hindsight that get your pulse racing when you’re young. The things that sprang from your uninhibited imagination. Stuff that’s gross and weird and completely illogical — and therefore actually safe to be scared of.

It’s that balance of safeness and real horror that sets ‘griezelboeken’ apart for me. And no one did ‘griezelboeken’ like the Griezelgenootschap.

 

The Griezelgenootschap

The Griezelgenootschap was a group of eight authors who met at night in an old castle deep in the woods to tell each other scary stories by candlelight. (I might not have believed in the Griezelgenootschap’s metamythos, but I did enjoy the Are You Afraid of the Dark? vibe.)

The eight authors were:

  • Paul van Loon
  • Eddy C. Bertin
  • Els Rooijers
  • Jacques Weijters
  • Tais Teng
  • Bies van Ede
  • Hans van de Waarsenburg
  • Henk van de Kerkwijk

If you’re a fan of science fiction or horror, a few of those names might ring a bell — even if you’re not Dutch.

In addition to writing their own horror and thriller books for children and young adults, the members of the Griezelgenootschap also collaborated on short story collections. As far as I know, none of these are available in English.

Before I get to the list, another linguistic note: each of the collections includes the word griezellig. That’s not a typo: this is a mixture of griezelig with another uniquely Dutch word: gezellig. It’s notoriously hard to translate gezellig to English. There’s no one word that covers it, but it essentially describes a cosy, friendly atmosphere where everyone is actively enjoying everyone else’s company.

So griezellig basically means ‘creepy and fun’.

With that sorted out, on to the books, with the topics:

  • Griezellige feestdagen (holidays)
  • Griezellige beesten (animals)
  • Griezellige vertellingen (personal stories)
  • Griezellige tijden (historical stories)
  • Griezellige klanken (music)
  • Griezelverzen 1 (poetry)
  • Griezelverzen 2 (poetry)
  • Griezellige schooldagen (school)
  • Griezellige gasten (personal stories)
  • Griezellige hobby’s (hobbies)
  • Griezellige zeeverhalen (the sea)
  • Griezellige bosavonturen (the forest)

The Griezelgenootschap disbanded after this final publication. Or, if you’re to believe the overarching story of the last book, they were lost in the Secret Advisor’s forest,

I’m going to see if I can get my hands on copies of these books, as well as non-Griezelgenootschap Dutch children’s horror books. It’s been so long since I’ve read them, so I’ve forgotten a lot. However, what I do remember is excellent, and often features references to the horror canon that I simply couldn’t pick up on the first time I read these books.