I had totally forgotten about these emails until the two tweets above jogged my memory.
This is a story about the nicest thing a non-relative has taken the time to do for one of my children without getting paid for it.
When Salinger was 7 she became plagued with nightmares about the film ‘Monster House’. Strangely, through a friend, I knew the screenwriter Dan Harmon (@danharmon, Creator of ‘Community’ on NBC).
So one day, in early 2008, I wrote to him:
Salinger has watched Monster House twice now.
Both times she has been plagued by nightmares for at least a week following the viewings.
She only watched it the second time because she was struck by the fact that 4 year old Henry was completely unfazed by it and figured it couldn’t have been so scary.
Me- What is the part that scares you so badly?
Her- That the woman is so evil that even after she’s dead and none of the kids care about teasing her anymore…she turns into a house and chases them. She’s too crazy, that’s pure evil.
Me- Is it the animation that’s creepy?
Her- No, it’s scary that someone is so mean that they could come back from the dead, become something that should not be alive and then try to kill people.
Henry- I think it’s AWESOME
It’s been 3 nights of her waking up crying and I totally blame you.
You should come over and rationalize the entire thing to her.
Okay, maybe you could just write her a note because she doesn’t believe I know the creator of her nightmares.
Here was his immediate and amazing response…….
Your Mom told me about Monster House scaring you. It sounds like one of the things that upset you is the fact that the house kept wanting to hurt people even after nobody wanted to hurt it anymore.
I will tell you a secret that sounds so silly, you might not believe it, but this is true: I never finished writing Monster House before my bosses turned it into a movie. And then different writers, people I don’t even know, changed the story in lots of ways, and the movie that you saw was not the story I wanted to tell you.
I think a good story, even if it is sad or scary while you’re watching it, should always make you a little less scared after you’ve seen it. Because even a scary story, if it’s a good scary story, takes us into strange, dark places that don’t make sense at first, and helps us see that they do make sense, and are therefore not so scary.
And that didn’t happen in Monster House. The kids go inside the house, and everything’s scary in there, but nothing starts making more sense. I don’t know about you, but when I go inside a giant scary monster, I expect to be rewarded for my bravery. There should always be something inside a monster that helps you understand it, and makes you less scared of it, and able to make the monster go away. Not just a bunch of stuff that makes you more confused and scared.
And why, after they escaped the house, did that old man tell them another scary story about a mean fat lady that didn’t make very much sense either? I’ll tell you why. Because Gil Kenan is a hack and Steven Spielberg is a moron. But hey, I shouldn’t be dumping this stuff on you.
Let’s just say, Salinger, that I have a lot of questions about that movie, too. And because I saw them making it, I know it’s not real, so it doesn’t scare me, but it makes me mad that it scared you, because I tried to tell them they were making a bad movie that was going to confuse and frighten smart children, instead of making children more brave, and they acted like I was stupid for being afraid that would happen.
I guess you and I are just smarter than other people, and I guess part of being smart is being scared of things that don’t scare other people. Henry’s a little younger than us and he just thinks the movie looks cool, which it does. And we won’t take that away from him. But you and I are looking at the movie through smart, sensitive, older eyes, and we can see how confusing it is.
The good news is, although our smart, sensitive, older eyes will probably always see more reasons to be afraid than other people’s eyes, we also have smart, sensitive older brains that can make sense of scary things, and make them less scary, not only for us, but for everyone else. Who knows what kind of amazing things you will be doing as you live your life. Maybe you will tell stories, or paint pictures, or sing songs, or climb mountains, or clean streets, or study insects or rescue elephants. But we know one thing for sure: you are going to be very special while you’re doing it, and you’re going to remove a lot of fear from other people’s lives, because you’re smart enough to see it, which means you’re smart enough to conquer it.
I hope one day I can finish writing a movie that they don’t change so much, and if you see it, I hope it makes you happy. Until then, I heard that Wall-E is very good, you should go see that. And next time Monster House is on, just remember that the guy that wrote it told you it was dumb.
And after 4 years of knowing each other online, I finally met him 2 weeks ago: @danharmon, nice guy/genius.