Wednesday, October 22, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Tomes of Terror

Here are 13 or so book recommendations for the Halloween season. Guaranteed you'll want to sleep with the lights on after reading these "tomes of terror". Some of them are well-known while others may not be. I just tried to think of books that really stuck with me, long after I'd read them. I know I'm forgetting some... so leave me a comment and let me know what I missed.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The original horror story, this play has witches, ghosts, murders - everything a good scary story needs. It even has a phantom spot of blood, that only one person can see... And it's set in the fog-covered moors and shadowy castles of Scottland.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Is the governess seeing ghosts or is she just crazy? This was one of the first pieces of literature to break away from the stereotypical ghosts that howl in the graveyard and make them all the more present and menacing.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
We have Stoker to thank for the huge vampire sub-genre in literature and films. This is the one that started it all (well... The Vampyre started it all, but Stoker is the one that made Dracula a household name). It's still creepy and intense, even after all these years.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It was a given that I needed to include this one on the list. This book alternates between a philosophical discussion about the creator of life, and a gothic horror story about a monster that has been sewn together from mix-and-match corpse pieces. Yet Shelley makes it all work beautifully.

Anything by Edgar Allen Poe
How do you pick just one short story of Poe's to read for Halloween? There's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat, two stories about a murderer who is haunted by his crime. Or, an appropriate Halloween story may be The Masque of the Red Death where people celebrate and have a masquerade party while outside people are dying from the plague. One story that still chills me is The Cask of Amontillado, where two friends go down into a wine cellar, under the pretense of sipping some excellent wine. If nothing else, read The Raven, which is spooky and sorrowful and beautiful in its own way. No one has ever written like Poe... or ever will.

Anything by H.P. Lovecraft
Like Poe, Lovecraft is one of the granddaddies of the horror genre. Lovecraft introduced the idea of a horror so terrifying, that experiencing it would drive people to insanity or turn their hair white, because they couldn't comprehend the reality of it. His work has spawned another sub-genre of horror, set in a surreal multi-dimensional Lovecraftian world. It has also inspired movies, TV shows, card games, RPGs and stuffed animals. Two of his most famous stories are The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King
I was hard to pick only one Stephen King book to put on this list. I know a lot of people like to pish-posh him as a hack and writing junk for the masses, but I suspect those people either 1.) don't like horror or 2.) have never actually read one of his books. Just because he's prolific and successful doesn't mean he's a hack. He deserves the title of the Modern Master of Horror. (I'll step down off my soap box now... sorry about that.) This book about vampires terrifying a small town, still scares me just to think about it. Two others worth mentioning, are The Shinning and Pet Semetary, which also kept me up at night.

The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon
It's so hard to recommend this book to people, because once I describe the plot synopsis for them, it sounds like a ridiculous B-movie plot and they are immediately turned off. A werewolf spy fights the Nazis during WWII. See, I told you it sounded ridiculous. Even the description on the back cover of the book makes me giggle - "He is Michael Gallatin: master spy, lover and...werewolf!" However, this book is an amazing breakthrough for the werewolf genre. I love his description of how they shapeshift, their packs, and I love the main character who is willing to use his powers for good. This isn't a horror/scary novel, per se, but an amazing adventure. I've yet to read another werewolf book like it.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Stephen King credits reading this novella as the inspiration for him to start writing horror. It takes the vampire genre and turns it on its head. It inspired three films: The Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and I Am Legend (released recently with Will Smith). None of the films even come close to doing the story justice. To this day, you could walk up to me and say, "Neeeeviiiile" and I will get goosebumps. Also, check out Hell House by Matheson - the ultimate haunted house story.

Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz
Koontz is another prolific modern day horror writer, whose work has been made into films and TV movies. I find his work to be hit and miss for me though. I recommend his earlier novels. My favorite one is Twilight Eyes, about a man who has a unique gift of being able to see through the disgusies of the evil undead who are feeding on human suffering.

Books of Blood by Clive Barker
This collection is a nice representation of the disturbing horror of Clive Barker. The modern classic horror film Hellraiser (with the evil Pinhead) was based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. His other books, such as The Damnation Game and Weaveworld are good as well. However, I find that his books make me feel unsettled and generally icky all over (although I suppose that is the point). I much rather prefer his Y.A. fiction such as Abarat and The Thief of Always.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
You will never look at buttons the same way ever again, after reading this book. Who knew buttons could be so... disturbing. This story is currently being made into a stop animation film, that I'm really anxious to see. A combination of Alice in Wonderland and a dark fairy tale, complete with ghosts of abducted children, and an alternate world, this book is chilly and scary. The good news is, it is Y.A. fiction, so it's low on the gore factor.

Again, I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite scary book is!


Laura said...

Since I don't like horror movies (sorry!) I can't imagine the terror of reading a horror novel. I have always had an active imagination and I don't need a good author's graphic description to send me over the edge.

I suppose poetry must not have the same effect on me as I do love Poe, Lenore and Annabelle Lee are favorites of mine.

One particularly funny thing I remember about horror novels was on one episode of Friends.

RACHEL: Umm, why do you have a copy of The Shining in your freezer?

JOEY: Oh, I was reading it last night, and I got scared, so...

RACHEL: But ah, you're safe from it if it's in the freezer?

JOEY: Well, safer. Y'know, I mean I never start reading The Shining, without making sure we've got plenty of room in the freezer, y'know.

RACHEL: How often do you read it?

JOEY: Haven't you ever read the same book over and over again?

RACHEL: Well, umm, I guess I read Little Women more than once. But I mean that's a classic, what's so great about The Shining?

JOEY: The question should be Rach, what is not so great about The Shining. Okay? And the answer would be: nothing. All right? This is like the scariest book ever. I bet it's way better than that classic of yours.

RACHEL: Okay. Ah, well we'll just see about that, okay. I will read The Shining, and you will read Little Women.

JOEY: All right, you got it.

RACHEL: All right.

JOEY: Okay.


JOEY: Ah, now Rach, these ah, these little women.


JOEY: How little are they? I mean, are they like scary little?

Later in the episode:


JOEY: Beth is really, really sick.

RACHEL: Awwww.

JOEY: Jo's there, but I don't think there's anything she could do.


JOEY: Yeah.

RACHEL: Do you want to put the book in the freezer?

JOEY: Okay.


Anonymous said...

I need to reread A Wolf's Hour. What a terrific yarn! It would probably make me feel young again. Love the list. I agree on your pick from Stevie-baby. Dracula definitely holds up. I'm loving these posts, Davines. - Chad

D.L. White said...

@ Laura - I never watched Friends, but that whole exchange was hilarious. I don't blame him for wanting to keep the book in the freezer! :P

@ Chad - Glad you're enjoying the posts. I figured you'd like this one especially. :) It's so hard to limit the list to just a few though... how do you chose?!?!

D.L. White said...

I completely forgot to mention that one of the books I'm reading right now, called "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman, is perfect for this spooky time of year...