31 Days of Horror: The Legacy of James and Deborah Howe’s ‘Bunnicula’

When I was a child, there was a little bookstore a few blocks away from the the apartment that my father’s parents lived in. Many times, I would visit my Nanny and Grandpa on a Saturday morning through to early afternoon. Much of that time would be spent with my Nan, as Gramps (as I would later call him) would be often be off hosting a curling television show on the local Hamilton station. While he was there, Nan and I would visit this bookstore, and I’d have the chance to choose a book to read.

I can’t remember every book that we got together. But I do have memories of the actual store; it was two levels, with the kids section up top, and more adult oriented fare in the basement. I remember that specifically because it was the first time I ever saw the Creepshow comic book, which was on display and which scared the crap out of me back when I was 6 or 7. I ‘think’ I tried to get a glimpse into the book, which did go over too well with my Nan, who certainly didn’t want me scaring myself with the artwork of Bernie Wrightson. Little did I know back then how much I’d follow in love with his work so many years later.

Like I said, I don’t recall every book we bought, but I do remember one specifically – James and Deborah Howe’s Bunnicula. It was the story of a family (The Monroe’s), the menagerie of pets they live with (Harold the dog and Chester the cat), and the peculiar bunny they adopt after finding him in a movie theatre that was screening, what else but, Dracula.

Even as a little child, I was obsessed with vampires and horror films. I would take books out of the library telling the histories of monsters in mythology and on film. So, the chance to read a book about a vampire bunny was right up my alley. I ate up Bunnicula, and laughed out loud at the antics of Harold and Chester as they uncovered the secrets of the vegetables that were turning up drained of all their juices in their house (vampire bunny, natch). Before long, I had moved on to the next books in the series, Howliday Inn (in which another new pet, Howie the dachshund, was added to the Monroe’s household), and The Celery Stalks At Midnight. Sadly, Deborah Howe would pass away following the publication of Bunnicula, and James Howe would write the remaining books in the series on his own (though I’ve little doubt Deborah would have approved of how they all worked out).

The Bunnicula books would be formative to my childhood and my own desire to be a writer – they mixed humour and  horror, pop culture (what passed for it back in the day) and family. I recall rainy days in the home I shared with my mother, curled up on the sofa in our living room, reading through all three books in a row as the rain pelted the windows and roof top. The stories always stuck with me, though sadly, the books I had from my Nan have disappeared over time. However, on a trip back from Kentucky in 2007, I found a Barnes and Noble exclusive hardcover copy that collected Bunnicula, Howliday Inn, and Bunnicula Strikes Back, a book in the series that I’d never actually read before. Again, another treasure.

This year Bunnicula has been especially prevelant in my life, as I introduced the Princess to the series. It was actually very funny to watch it go down. For years, she’d been hesitant to even look at the hardcover book I had, because of the bunny’s glistening, red eyes. Then, one night, as we were cuddling in my bed, I told her that I was going to start reading this book to her. At first, the Princess was opposed, viscerally, declaring “No” a few times. Undeterred, I started reading that first book that had entranced me so long ago. Wishing a few minutes, I could hear snickers coming from the Princess. And then outright laughter.

“Pretty good, right?” I asked.

”Yeah,” she replied. “I didn’t know it was going to be so funny.”

The Princess and I read through the entire original series, and moved on to the exploits of Howie the dachshund in his own series (we’re still working out way through that one). It’s been a very emotional, special experience sharing these stories that I grew up on with my own child. My daughter has cited James Howe’s series one of her favourites, alongside the Harry Potter books which she has been reading with her mom.

I don’t know if she’ll ever be the horror fan that I am, if she’ll ever read Stephen King or Clive Barker books. But being able to share the exploits of a bunny, whose fur looks somewhat like a black cape and whose tiny teeth seem to resemble fangs, has been something wonderful for me, as I slowly (very slowly) introduce her to the world of things that go bump in the night.

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