Aaron Mahnke can trace his love of folklore and the macabre back to the fifth grade.
At the age of 10, he found a book of “weird historical tales” while looking through a Scholastic readership catalogue that his school doled out to students. After reading the book — he couldn’t remember the precise title but recalled that it had a “spooky bend” to it — something clicked.
“Ever since then, I’ve been enamored with stories that are fantastical and scary in nature but also rooted in truth,” said Mahnke. “And I never let go.”
That notion is evident in his work today: Mahnke is the creator and producer of the wildly popular podcast series “Lore,” which launched in 2015 and puts a microscope to the “frightening history behind common folklore.”
His creation, a Frankenstein-esque concept that was born from his love of storytelling and the eerie, recently took a leap into new mediums. “Lore” aired this month on Amazon Prime Video as a six-episode series based on the podcast. It also hit store shelves in book form.
“I had never anticipated it would be this popular to begin with,” he said. “It took off.”
Mahnke, who lives in Danvers, a community close to historic downtown Salem, said before there was a podcast with 95 million downloads, or a television show, or even a book, there was the idea to send out a PDF newsletter about strange New England tales and legends.
Once he realized it would be a bit tedious for readers to sift through a PDF file on their smartphones and tablets, he scrapped the initial concept and shifted his focus.
“I was ready to ditch it and throw it away, and then I said, as a reader, I listen to audio books,” he said. “A friend told me to just put out a podcast. I took him on his word and pushed the button — and two years later, here I am.”
Mahnke said in a time when podcasts were becoming increasingly popular, people seemed drawn to his campfire-like stories because of the added educational context weaved into the narrative. That attention quickly led to “Lore” rising to the top of the iTune’s charts, and earning it a “Best of 2015” award.
In April of last year, not long before The Atlantic listed “Lore” as one of the “50 Best Podcasts” of 2016, Propagate Content and Valhalla Entertainment announced plans to develop it into a show. A few months later, news broke that Mahnke’s in-house production would be picked up by Amazon.
The show launched — appropriately — on Friday, October 13, just three days after Mahnke’s first book of a three-book-series was released.
The books feature text versions of some of the most popular podcast tales, with illustrations and a few new tales added in. In a way, they also bring Mahnke’s childhood fascination with the ghastly full-circle.
“It’s not what I thought it would become,” he said. “In the end, it became the thing I do as a career.”