A recent blog by fellow writer, Crissi Langwell, listed spellbinding books to read before Halloween. A few of them were dark, a few were more lighthearted, like a favorite of mine, The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. But, where Halloween is concerned, I favor dark. I remember how I loved the midnight horror movies that played every Saturday night when I was a teen. I was a huge fan of Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Count Dracula and, of course, the Mummy. So, it’s not a surprise that I also love reading about all things scary. I’m a huge fan of Ann Rice’s vampire books. The Shining is my favorite Stephen King novel. The Haunting of Hill House, The Exorcist—I could go on and on about fairly recent fright books. Yet, Halloween makes me long for true Gothic horror novels. The one usually regarded as the first is The Castle of Otranto by English author Horace Walpole, first published in 1764. I confess, I’ve never read it. My list begins a bit later. It was the 19th century that gave us a host of well-known Gothic horror classics from venerated writers. Here are my six favorites in no particular order…
Frankenstein: 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s acclaimed Gothic novel, written when she was just eighteen. Considered by many to be the first work of science fiction, both Frankenstein and his monster embody the dangers of unchecked scientific discovery—a theme that is just as pertinent today. Frankenstein’s monster, while hideously ugly, is also sensitive and emotional. Shunned by society, the monster seeks revenge with murderous consequences.
Dracula: Published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is considered to be one of the greatest gothic novels ever written. It introduced the character of Count Dracula and established many of the conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy—garlic anyone? In essence, the novel isn’t really a “novel” at all. Rather than having a single narrator, the story is told through a series of diary entries, telegrams, memoranda and occasional newspaper clippings knitted together by Mina Harker as proof that everything related in the story is true. While not the first vampire to appear in fiction, Dracula is definitely the definitive one.
The Turn of the Screw: When I was a teen, I watched Ingrid Bergman in a dramatization of The Turn of the Screw on television. Heart pounding in terror, I thought I might actually be having a heart attack. I can honestly say it was the most terrifying TV program I’ve ever experienced. The Gothic horror story that inspired such teenage angst is just as terrifying today as it was when it Henry James wrote it in1898. The ambiguous nature of the story has inspired critical analysis and debate. Is the governess mad? Are the ghosts real or imagined? Are the children doomed innocents or in league with unspeakable evil? Read it and decide for yourself.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the best-known works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Published in 1885, this early foray into science fiction examines the ever-present battle between good and evil as Dr. Jekyll, like every human being, struggles with that dichotomy within himself. Seeking to purify his soul through scientific means, Jekyll concocts potions intended to refine his loftier qualities by separating them from his base impulses. In the process, he unleashes the monster within. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gets our hearts pumping with its brutal murders, magical potions, inexplicable events, game-changing documents, and, of course, the evil-oozing Mr. Hyde.
The Portrait of Dorian Gray: Published in 1890, The Portrait of Dorian Gray was the only novel Oscar Wilde wrote. At the time of its publication it offended the moral sensibilities of British book reviewers, some of whom said that Oscar Wilde merited prosecution for violating the laws guarding public morality. The book centers on a startling premise—upon understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian Gray sells his soul, to ensure that a recently painted portrait of himself, rather than he, will age and fade. As Dorian sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows more gruesome day by day, a hideous record of evil.
The Island of Doctor Moreau: The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G Wells. and remains one of his best-known books. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man who is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau. The “good” doctor is a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. This interference with nature is a major factor in many of the books on my horror list.
#7 – Any Story by Edgar Allan Poe: Poe is undeniably the master of horror: “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Masque of the Red Death”…purchase a complete anthology of his terrifying tales and read them all.
I stumbled across this list while I was doing some research. If you enjoy being horrified, check it out: