The CreEpy Catalog: Frozen Charlotte
In order to write great children’s horror, you must READ great children’s horror. To help you out with this, we’ve invited our very own middle school librarian to take you into the deepest, darkest corners of the stacks to see what frightening fiction kids are reading. Welcome to the CreEpy Catalog!
Everyone who knows me knows that I have a soft spot for dolls. Even the ones that look “creepy” find a home with me because I can’t bear to have a representation of someone’s childhood go abandoned and unloved. I love reading horror stories that feature creepy dolls, and our library has its own creepy doll mascot, named Minerva (after the Maine State Library Catalog). I maintain a Horror Readers Advisory file in the library, and one of the topics listed in it is Creepy Doll books.
Creepy Doll Books
Neither the book jacket image or the blurb on the back gave any indication that there were creepy dolls involved in Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell. I picked up the story because it seemed to have some classic Gothic qualities: a remote island, distant relatives, an old house that used to be a school and of course, plenty of mysterious deaths. The doll element was (what I consider) a pleasant surprise! The protagonist Sophie is sent to visit her cousins in Scotland, and she quickly discovers that they are haunted by their past. Rebecca’s death, Cameron’s accident and Lilia’s bizarre fear of bones all lead her to research the history of the house, which contains a collection of antique dolls.
The book takes its title from a particular type of doll that was very popular during the Victorian age. These dolls, called Frozen Charlotte’s, were made from china and were usually small and molded as one solid piece. Since the dolls could not be posed, it’s appropriate that they were called ‘frozen’ although the official namesake is derived from a folk ballad.
A Grim Victorian Pastime
The tale of Frozen Charlotte is a cautionary tale that was based on a poem titled “A Corpse Going to a Ball.” Both renditions recount a young woman on her way to a winter ball. She wants everyone to see and admire her fine new gown, so she refuses to cover it up with capes or blankets. By the time she arrives at the dance, she has frozen to death. It sounds like a pretty grim pastime, but the Victorian era is known for its fascination and fixation on death.
A ballad like this highlights the age’s popular viewpoints on femininity (physical weakness and senseless vanity) while also cashing in on the death trend.
While most people would dismiss a collection of Frozen Charlotte dolls as an eccentricity, the dolls are the very life of the house. Even from behind the locked doors of the cabinet they’re kept in, they whisper. They plot. They bore into your brain at night while you’re sleeping, whispering to you through the glass doors. They say things like:
“Let’s play the Freezing-to-Death game!”
“No no, let’s play the Stick-a-Needle-in-Your-Eye game!”
(Bell p. 213)
Tiny dolls that tell people to blind themselves with sewing needles is definitely one of the creepiest doll images that I’ve encountered in children’s/YA horror, and it shows how Victorian doll horror remains spine-tingling for children today. I recently purchased a Frozen Charlotte type of doll that is intended for use in mixed media art projects. I just need to remember to keep my crafting supplies far away from my sewing kit!
Erin is a Library Media Specialist at a school in New Hampshire. She first discovered how much she enjoyed reading horror stories when she was eight years old and read Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Erin has a master’s degree in History as well as Children’s Literature. She has a love for the macabre, including (but not limited to) Ouija boards, historic cemeteries, post-mortem photography, creepy antique dolls, black cats, and Halloween. Her favorite horror novel is Pet Semetary by Stephen King. Erin blogs at thetiedyedlibrarian.blogspot.com.