Like the shadows that flicker in the corner of your eye, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things doesn’t fill you with outright terror—at least, not at first. Far more frightening is its creeping sense of dread, the nagging feeling that something is unutterably, irretrievably wrong.
Courtney’s tale, like most cracking ghost stories, begins with a spooky old mansion. “Do you know that one house, the most talked-about house in the whole neighborhood?” asks the omniscient narrator. “It is well known that terrible things happen there. And that Old Man Crumrin is madder than a Victorian hatmaker.”
It’s also the house that Courtney and her tedious, social-climbing parents would soon call home.
Now living with her great uncle Aloysius—or is it her great-granduncle? Even her parents aren’t sure—Courtney has to cope not only with being a social pariah at her new school but also the ghoulish “night things” that lurk just beyond sight.
Whether she’s a force for good or ill isn’t apparent. Courtney’s scruples are as nebulous as the imps, goblins, and boggarts that invade her reality. In Chapter 1, Courtney and Axel, the only kid in school willing to befriend her, are confronted by a pack of bullies after school. Led by Alicia, a scrappy ringleader with Nellie Oleson curls, the older kids hit up the younger two—aggressively, violently—for money. One altercation sends Courtney running into the woods, despite Axel’s warnings that they’re haunted.
Lost in its depths, she stumbles upon a nightmarish creature but manages to escape. (Axel, it’s implied, isn’t as lucky.) Another visit from a night thing prompts Courtney to seek out her Uncle Aloysius. He isn’t in his office, but she discovers a book—The Bestiary of Night Things by one A. Crumrin—that answers some of her questions.
Courtney has to cope not only her new school but also the ghoulish “night things” that lurk just beyond sight.
It’s here that Courtney demonstrates her pluck and mettle. With knowledge gleaned from a “very helpful chapter,” she returns to the forest to bring the beast under her thrall. The final frame of the story is chilling in its ambiguity: Alicia, tucked in bed, a small menagerie of monsters looming overhead.
Courtney, in many ways, is the ultimate outsider. Creator Ted Naifeh further telegraphs her “otherness” by drawing her without a nose. With exaggerated black pools for eyes, eight fingers, and a general lack of facial detail, her flat, alien appearance makes her incongruity all the more pronounced.
Kelly Crumrin, a friend of Naifeh and the title’s inspiration, offers some insight into the character.
“Childhood is a much darker world than most adults care to remember,” she writes in the introduction to Night Things. “If anything, childhood is even more full of terror and passion than life becomes after a few decades spent killing off brain cells.”
For our would-be witch, it isn’t the monster under bed or the bogeyman in the closet that we should be afraid of. The real horrors lurk beneath the placid veneer of everyday life: the grownups who disregard you, the peers who disdain and threaten you, the boy who forces himself on you despite your protestations.
But Courtney, still a child, is able to stare into the darkness and not flinch. Even if that same darkness sometimes emanates from herself.
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Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (Special Edition)
Written and illustrated by Ted Naifeh
133 pp. Oni Press. $19.99.
(Graphic novel; ages 9 and up)