Monday, August 17, 2015

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1971)

The Headless Cupid has always just been around for me.  I don't know when I first read it; sometime between 1979-1981.  I imagine I either checked it out from the public library or school library growing up.  It exists in that same mysteriously eerie world at The Witch's Sister and Witch Water by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Lois Duncan's Summer of Fear, which I know I read in high school, or The Ghost Next Door by Wyllie Folk St. John.   Boston's  The Children of Green Knowe, which I re-read recently, as well, albeit in a slightly different way.     I'm sure there were a few others (I know had a book of ghost stories, but I no longer have it, and I don't remember what it was called).  The Headless Cupid was (and is) better than just a scary story though.  Snyder has a tremendous build up, and she uses David's doubts of his step-sister Amanda's so called supernatural talents to put doubt into our minds as well.  Of course Amanda is faking, you think. She's trying to trick them.  Her snide remarks about their initiation costumes and other aspects about the Stanley family also lead you to believe she's making it all up.  But Snyder also drops hints about what's really going on, with Blair, and the ghost in the house.  This isn't blood and gore horror; it's not dark Satanist occult shit either.  It's not even really an old fashioned ghost story; it's something new, I think (or at least was something new in 1971).

I can remember when I heard about M. Night Shyamalan's movie The Village  back in the day, and thought how much it sounded like Margaret Peterson Haddix's Running Out of Time.  Now I can see some shades of The Sixth Sense in The Headless Cupid.  Just shades - both films have an overall goosebumps factor, and both have younger characters who can communicate with dead people.  There is a scene in the book where Blair is playing under the covers, and I thought of the scene in The Sixth Sense where the little boy was playing under the covers (a homemade fort maybe) and saw the ghost.  I don't think the similarities aren't anything but genre superficial - sort of like how Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising has crept into a couple of books I've read in the last year.  

The Headless Cupid (Stanley Family, #1)The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 The Headless Cupid exists in the same eerie world as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's  Witch books Witch's Sister and The Ghost Next Door or Lois Duncan's Summer of Fear (The Children of Green Knowe has this flavor as well, only more gothic and less suspenseful).  Snyder was one of the masters of the craft of children's literature; The Headless Cupid continues to hold up really well.  It's deliciously slow, and like the best suspense and ghost stories, tricky.  She uses David, her main character, and his thoughts and beliefs to trick us into thinking things are one way... and then turns the tables on us in a most extraordinarily wonderful way.  I never need blood and gore to make my spine tingle - The Headless Cupid is perfect that way.

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