What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? I mean the book that kept you sleeping with the light on, the one you stayed up all night reading because you knew that if you didn’t finish you would have nightmares. In today’s world where Halloween haunted houses pop up in every town and horror movies make their name by creating the most frightening special effects and jump-out-of-your-seat scares, books may seem a pale compromise to the horrors of special effects. But the truth is, nothing is scary than our own imaginations. A good writer can take us places even the best special effects crew cannot.
Now that it is October, the scariest month of the year, here is my list of the most terrifying books I’ve read. They are not in any particular order. Most are classics, and several don’t fall in the traditional category of horror story. But a really suspenseful, horrifying tale lasts through the ages.
Vampires and Zombies and Werewolves, Oh My!
Before vampires glimmered and werewolves were hunky, they were just evil. Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson started it all with Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These classic stories of good and evil, redemption and condemnation have been made and remade until it is often hard to remember the originals. But they are definitely worth a re-read this Halloween season.
Everything retro is in these days, so why not try a couple of mid-century modern tales? The Lord of the Flies is not a classic horror story, but what could be more horrific than this tale of innocent boys who, when stranded on an island, turn into the worst savages. And what could be a more lasting image of horror than the head of a pig stuck on a spike and covered in flies. If you prefer a ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, written in 1959, is the quintessential book: four people isolated in an old mansion, a spooky caretaker couple, a disturbed young woman and a variety of odd house guests. This book has all the right ingredients to scare you silly.
Creatures of the Deep
What is scarier than a shark? A giant, man-eating shark. Before Jaws was a movie, it was a book. I read it when it first came out, and had the pleasure of not knowing how it would end. I stayed up all night reading it. I had to. Not only couldn’t I put it down, I couldn’t put out the light.
The Gothic novel is such a large category that it includes several sub-categories, including the Gothic Romance and the Urban Gothic. But all share certain similar elements such as spooky medieval castles, the battle of good versus evil, and a hint of the supernatural. Rebecca is the archetype of the Gothic romance, including a tragic hero, an evil housekeeper, and a dark secret. Edgar Allan Poe was another master of the Gothic story. The Telltale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Cask of Amontillado are some of the scariest stories you’ll ever read.