It’s a crisp, moonlit October night. Outside, a wind stirs the skeleton shapes of leafless trees and a black cat hurries home after the evening’s hunt. Inside, you’re curled up in your favorite chair by the hearth, a blanket on your lap and a cup of tea close at hand. What better time to open a book and scare yourself silly?
I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a child. I love them all, from the classic films of James Whale to the B-movie fun of every film that Vincent Price ever made, but it’s only within the past few years that I’ve extended my enjoyment of the genre into the realm of literature. In the spirit of Halloween, I offer you the following recommendations from my own book collection.
If you’re unfamiliar with the horror genre and you’re not quite sure what you like yet, you can’t go wrong with The Dark Descent, a fine anthology that includes stories from such varied authors as Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Stephen King, D.H. Lawrence and Flannery O’Connor. There’s a nice introduction that gives an overview of the history of horror fiction. Since the book offers such a chronological and stylistic range, it’s a good place to begin, and makes a fine addition to anyone’s spooky library.
In a Glass Darkly is a moody collection of ghost stories written by Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu in the late 1800s. Perhaps the best known of these is “Carmilla”, an atmospheric tale of vampirism set in the lonely European countryside and believed to have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Le Fanu creates an atmosphere of quiet dread underpinned with a feverish sensuality that will send the proverbial shivers down your spine. If you have a taste for Victorian-era tales of the supernatural, this is a must-read.
The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories is a very nice selection of Britain’s considerable contribution to the horror genre, ranging chronologically from 1829 (“The Tapestried Chamber”, by Sir Walter Scott) to 1981 (“Soft Voices at Passenham”, by T.H. White). In between are selections from Henry James, H.G.Wells, W. Somerset Maugham and Edith Wharton, among others. One of the scarier stories here, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, was turned into one of the best-known episodes of The Twilight Zone.
The Damnation Game, by Clive Barker, is one of the few books in my horror collection that can be called stomach-churning. I personally prefer psychological terror to graphic violence and gore, but someone recommended this to me, so I decided to give it a try. Barker does gore exceedingly well, and this one is definitely not for the overly-sensitive reader, containing as it does some very vivid descriptions of the slime of decay and the like. Be forewarned.
Of course, if your taste runs to classic literature, don’t forget Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is unlike any movie version you’ve ever seen, and to bring the vampire tale into contemporary life, don’t miss Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. While I dont’ read much Stephen King, Bag of Bones produced the occasional chill and is well worth checking out.
If you decide to enter the realm of horror fiction this Halloween season, I do recommend that you leave on plenty of lights. And don’t mind that noise — it’s just the branches moving in the wind.
This entry also appeared Between Wisdom and Murder.