The Enduring Legacy of Bunnicula
January 8, 2020 9:41 AM   Subscribe

The people who wrote Bunnicula didn’t craft it with a legacy in mind. James and Deborah Howe were two struggling actors in their late twenties, married and underemployed, and they thought the idea of a vampire rabbit was funny.
posted by Etrigan (24 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Deborah Howe never got to see anyone laugh along with the joke she and James shared. While they were writing Bunnicula, she was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away ten months before the book made it into print.

geez, that kinda sucks the life out of this piece. I never knew.
posted by GuyZero at 9:51 AM on January 8, 2020 [20 favorites]

I remember reading the first book as a kid and finding the central conceit of a vampire bunny odd but entertaining.

I should point out to anyone who hasn’t read Bunnicula that a vampire bunny is a vegetarian vampire.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:52 AM on January 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

my favorite title/pun in the series comes from answering the question of what are the vampire minions created by a vampire bunny: The Celery Stalks At Midnight
posted by jrishel at 9:56 AM on January 8, 2020 [37 favorites]

Thanks for this post! I enjoyed this series so much as a child that I gift Bunnicula to every child friend of mine when they are around 8 years old.
posted by superna at 9:57 AM on January 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Such a classic. One of my favorite scores in elementary school from the kick ass Scholastic Book Fairs. Reminded of Bunnicula almost exactly one year ago 'round here, too.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:00 AM on January 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

This was the first chapter book my daughter ever read and she finished it in two days. I loved the whole series as a kid and wanted to pass it along to my animal loving kid. I'm so sorry that Deborah didn't get to experience the gratitude from multiple generations who loved their books.
posted by Alison at 10:06 AM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

James Howe writes all about the process, his working and personal life with Deborah, on his author's site.

For ten months, I spoke to doctors and nurses every day on the phone or in person. Every day, I filled pieces of paper with lists of questions and hastily scribbled notations about symptoms and treatments and pain medications. Debbie would return to the hospital four more times, spending nearly as much time there as she did in her parents’ apartment.

At some point that fall, I typed up the six chapters we had written and, when Debbie was feeling up to it, we returned to telling each other the story of Bunnicula, the vampire rabbit. I can’t place the moment, where it happened or when; in truth, I have no memory at all of writing the book from that time on. I trust that some of it was written in the hospital, some in the apartment in Riverdale. But I can’t see us in my mind’s eye, can’t connect the words on the page to the hands that wrote them. The only connection I can make is to the sound of the two of us laughing as we continued to tell the story aloud to each other.

He married again, had a daughter with his wife, divorced, came out, and married his husband.

It took me a long time to be okay with feeling different myself and liking myself for who I was. After years of telling myself there was something wrong with me, I was finally able to feel good about who I was and came out as gay. I began thinking about how I could help others, like me, who felt beaten down or bad about themselves because of the negative messages they’d taken in.

Growing up, I thought the books were just the right amount of weird. But I always remembered the scene in Nighty-Nightmare when the dad character Robert has a sort of existential reckoning while out on the lake with Harold the dog, musing on the fact that at 40(!) half his life was gone. It was the first thing I can recall that made me really empathize with my parents, and who and where they were as people, while being my mom and dad.

Anyway the site has pet pictures and is sweet and worth a read.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:13 AM on January 8, 2020 [34 favorites]

Another one who loved those books as a kid. Hilarious with just the right touch of weird.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:42 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of the first books I remember reading! Love it. Thank you for this wonderful reminder.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:47 AM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

“Help howls out now!” was my introduction to the way that punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence.
posted by corey flood at 11:01 AM on January 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

I saved up money from my allowance and bought all of those books one at a time from the Scholastic Book Fairs, even though I had already read them at the library.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of my teachers (third grade maybe?) read the first book aloud to the class. I adored both the book and being read to.

I really need to reread these from the perspective of a current house rabbit owner. And really, I just need to reread them.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

> jrishel: my favorite title/pun in the series comes from answering the question of what are the vampire minions created by a vampire bunny: The Celery Stalks At Midnight

The cleverness of that pun just about destroyed my young brain. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Even now it fills me with awe.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:21 AM on January 8, 2020 [8 favorites]

One of my teachers (third grade maybe?) read the first book aloud to the class. I adored both the book and being read to.

My grade three teacher did as well - and I loved Howliday Inn best. But I think I must have missed part of it or something, because I remember rushing out to the library to get it so I could read the bits I'd missed. That one is still my favourite (though I'd only read the first three before growing out of them).
posted by jb at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2020

I'd forgotten that Howe is also the author of Totally Joe - the first in the series, The Misfits is good, but Totally Joe is a really original fiction book for kids. It's structured as an "alphabiography" - every section begins with a letter in alphabetical order, and yet it also reads as an engaging novel. It's really impressive.
posted by jb at 11:40 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

one of my favorite adult Halloweens I attended a pretty major party in New Orleans. I went as Bunnicula. it was awesome.
posted by supermedusa at 12:17 PM on January 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

I always loved the concept of a vegetarian bunny who sucked the juice out of carrots. But the one disappointing thing of Bunnicula was that he was never really the focus of the books--it was more the other animals/narrating that got the focus. Chester got 90% of the screentime, as I recall.

Which is to say, I love bunnies and sci-fish shit and more vampire bunnying, please, I guess.

Also seconding "oh, that's sad she died, I never knew."
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:01 PM on January 8, 2020

They probably didn't craft it with a musical in mind, either.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:33 PM on January 8, 2020

I too loved these books. The part I remember cracking up at was when the cat heard that you could kill vampires with a stake to the heart, so the cat and dog tried to put a steak through his heart. When it didn't work (bunny, steak, dog leaning on steak), hey, free steak.
posted by BeeDo at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is awesome, I've been wanting to read this to my daughter and I haven't read it since grade school. This just reinforces my desire.
posted by MrBobaFett at 4:14 PM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

i have not read bunnicula myself but this is a really lovely intro to the book and its legacy both, by the always wonderful Sarah Gailey (previously on the blue). makes me want to pick it up for nieces, nephews, and children-of-friends for years to come.
posted by Kybard at 6:56 PM on January 8, 2020

Like GuyZero, I never knew anything about the authors when I read the books as a kid, and damn, that hurts. I only remembered Howliday Inn after it was mentioned above, but Bunnicula still holds a strong place in my heart. I might be misremembering, but I have a feeling The Celery Stalks at Midnight might have been my first moment of realizing that just because the first thing was good doesn't mean the follow-up will be great. I have almost no recollection of it, aside from a vague disappointment.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:51 PM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Recently my kid was eating a cucumber slice in a weird juice- extracting way and I told her she was eating like Bunnicula. Then I had to explain vampires, how a bunny could be a vampire, and why a vampire bunny is funny instead of scary. She wants me to read her the books. I hope they’re still in my parents’ attic for her.
posted by centrifugal at 10:35 PM on January 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Of all the books that I kept from my childhood, these are some of my most-cherished books.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:41 AM on January 9, 2020

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