John Connolly has a very good story on how horror stories help children grow up.
I have a clear memory of arguing with a school friend about which Stephen King novel was the most frightening. He was in firm favour of The Shining, while I believed that Salem’s Lot was about as close to pants-wettingly terrifying as one could get without requiring an actual change of underwear. In fact, the discussion became quite heated. A pencil might even have been flung. We were both 11.
Now current wisdom might suggest that 11 is a little young to be tackling a great deal, if not all, of the King oeuvre, but books such as Salem’s Lot were but one element of a pre-adolescent appetite for the uncanny that encompassed novelisations of old Hammer films, dodgy Pan anthologies of horror fiction edited by the delightfully named Herbert Van Thal, and classics of the genre from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the short stories of MR James. These were “adult” books, I suppose, but when I was a young reader there was no “young adult” genre to explore in fiction. Once the junior section of the library had been exhausted, the adult section beckoned: H.G. Wells to begin with, then John Wyndham, Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming, before discovering Stephen King and a lifelong love of supernatural fiction.