We need to talk about Henry

A colleague of mine was trawling the internet last week when he stumbled upon a recently-published children’s novel entitled Horrid Henry and the Zombie VampireHe was struck by the title, fearing that this novel might be an unauthorised re-working of my own story, Vambie Zompire: The End of Days, and so immediately alerted me. Had I fallen victim to plagiarism (again)?

Based solely on the title of the novel I understood why my friend had raised the plagiarism alarm.  However, even though I had not read it, I must say I did not share his concerns that my Vambie Zompire idea had been ripped off for the story.

The offending novel

As I pointed out to him, even if the author was pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, it was very unlikely that a publisher would release a children’s novel centred around a night-long supernatural slaughter-fest, featuring rectal-impalement, brain-eating, and one instance of suffocation by dismembered testicles.

The question remains, however, whether zombie/vampire crossbreeding itself is a suitable subject for a children’s story.  Without conducting even the briefest of research into the actual content of the Horrid Henry novel, I would say that no, it certainly is not; and that furthermore the author of the book in question is committed to corrupting the minds of the young.

Why exactly the author, Francesca Simon, is doing this I do not know; but I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I believe the author is confused, rather than malicious.  Like any decent writer, she is experimenting with genres.  That is perfectly understandable.  However with this novel she is experimenting with an adult genre in a child’s world, with potentially devastating results.

In my own work, zombies and vampires have “mixed” due to nothing more complex than perpetual transmogrification.  It is all based on the bite – that tried and trusted horror staple.  When a vampire bites a zombie, that zombie becomes a vampire, and vice-versa.  It is beautiful in its simplicity, and it stays well away from the graphic issue of the compatibility of zombie and vampire genitalia.  However, the title of Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire suggests that Ms Simon has waded into the quagmire of inter-monster copulation with reckless abandon.  Were I a parent, I would be furious at her irresponsible foisting of hardcore Undead sex upon the innocent minds of my kids, and I am sure I would not be alone.

A powerful piece of meta-genre horror fiction, Vambie Zompire pitches zombies against vampires in a locked movie theatre

Another troubling matter begat by the book’s title is how Horrid Henry eventually destroys this cross-bred abomination.  I am keen to know how Simon approaches this messy issue without further disturbing the minds of her child readers. I am sure she considered that in disposing of such a creature, both parts of it have to be dealt with accordingly.  That is, the zombie part would need to have its murderous brain destroyed, and the vampire part would need to have its evil heart pierced.  I am thus picturing little Henry up to his knobbly knees in the stinking viscera of monsters, a sawed-off shotgun hanging at his side, speckled with fragments of zombie skull.

OK – maybe Simon steered clear of such a brutal execution.  But if she did, the story is inauthentic, and her experiment with the horror genre has failed.  Because the simple fact is that if you are going to introduce a zombie/vampire hybrid into your story, you’d better kill it off in a credible fashion.  Simon is therefore faced with what I call “Heller’s Dilemma”, or what a more mundane individual might term a “Catch-22 situation”.  To avoid killing the monster off in a credible fashion results in an inauthentic horror story.  But to kill it off in a credible fashion involves recourse to the brutal methods of executing the supernatural, which are obviously entirely inappropriate for children.

I appeal to Ms Simon to rethink her strategy. Why peddle profane horror stories to minors, when she can serve them up unabashed to those over the age of eighteen?  As the Bible probably says, “broaden thy horizons, and ye shalt reapeth the rewards”.

For example – I write for mature readers and thus am unconfined by morality, taste or anatomical accuracy.  Therefore a vampire-hunter of my creation will inevitably be far more grizzled and brutal (and therefore more authentic) than a boy such as Henry, who has to juggle vampire slaughter with the innocent expectations of his young fans.  I can be explicit with my violence; I can describe in minute detail the process of ripping a cheek off, or pan-frying a bloke’s face.  I do not have to worry about children coming across explicit passages detailing protracted hacksaw dismemberment, because my stories are for adults.

And the results are obvious. My protagonist Roger McKindling has been described as “one of the most complicated vampire-hunters in fiction”.

Stake or Sawed-off? Not a choice a child protaganist should have to make.

Horrid Henry cannot and should not compete with such a complex anti-hero.  My character has developed over several challenging books, thriving and evolving through slaughter and chaos, unconstrained by the ethical concerns of parents.  Francesca Simon must learn from my example, beginning by demarcating her horror fiction from her children’s fiction.  Henry may then retire from his unrealistic career as a monster-killer, and Simon can step down from the pedestal of controversy she has presumably constructed in corrupting the minds of children with pan-ethnic monstercide.  She will then be free to focus on developing her own authentic zombie-slayer / vampire-hunter for an appropriate (i.e. eighteen-plus) audience.

Though I must reiterate, I’ve not actually read her book.