8 Best Literary Horror Books
Here we are on Halloween night! If you’re still tuned in to Facebook or G+, then you’re probably seeing this as you come home from trick-or-treating. If so, great! That means you don’t have to let the rest of the night slip away without adding some terrific tales of terror to your required reading list. The books presented here are challenging works in spite of their content matter, and they’re excellent tools for building vocabulary and critical thinking, two essential skills when you take a standardized test. So with that said, let’s get to them, the 8 Best Literary Horror Books!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus
While horror has historically been a man’s world, that hasn’t prevented numerous women from proving themselves just as capable of putting together a nice fright with lasting effects. First published in 1818, this literary classic tapped in to the age of science with all its questions and uncertainty. Just how far could Man take his newfound knowledge without crossing over into the realm of God? And if he could tread on God’s domain, what did that say about everything we understood (to that point) about the universe and our place in it?
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Stoker’s elegant language adds credibility to a love story involving bloodsuckers, beheadings, and all kinds of unpleasant business. It landed during the Victorian era, an age where such contents were taboo in polite society, and thoroughly shook up the masses. It’s no surprise that when motion pictures first took center stage in the early 1900s, this was one of the first stories to ever become a reality.
The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson’s book is filled with whimsy, uncertainty, and dread. Told mostly from the point of view of Eleanor, one of four participants in a paranormal investigation at the notorious Hill House, the abrupt but believable character transitions from camaraderie to fear and madness are thoroughly unsettling. It’s a book that sneaks up on you and one that is well worth your time. Plus, Penguin has just released a brand new hardcover done up in the traditional Halloween colors of orange and black. That should make this novel a mainstay for years to come. There are two movie versions, but neither one do the story justice.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The prolific novelist and TV writer Richard Matheson touched a nerve for decades with this post-apocalyptic tale of woe that has since found its way onto film four times — The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Omega, and I Am Legend. Particularly unsettling in Matheson’s prose is the deep sense of isolation and despair experienced by the main character. While it’s also a tale of hope, there is just enough of that sentiment present to make the situation even more dire.
It by Stephen King
When King doesn’t have someone to reel him in, he tends to get a bit long-winded. However, this 1,000+ page tome is a speedier read than some of his 450- or 600-page books. It boasts a thoroughly unnerving antagonist, who strips away the safety and comforts of childhood while showing us that often times the things we spend our lives running from are things that have haunted us for decades.
The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James
Another sterling tale of ghostly madness — or is it? — that places you in the hands of an unreliable narrator, a young governess who is hired by the new caretaker of a young boy and girl after the death of the children’s parents. The caretaker does not wish to be involved with the children, and so he leaves them in the care of the governess, who finds that a ghostly force has wormed its way into their lives. The tension builds to a disturbing conclusion.
Clive Barker: Books Of Blood Volumes One Through Three
Forget the Hellraiser films. Most of them — how many of them are there now, nine? — are completely terrible. Not so for the stories which inspired the films. Clive Barker is a horror genius, who knows how to whisk his readers into worlds of mayhem and violence while still having something important to say. Recently, all three volumes were published in a collected edition. If you liked film adaptations like Candyman and Midnight Meat Train, then you shouldn’t hesitate to pick this one up.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Complete Tales And Poems
The original king of horror! There’s a reason that Edgar Allan Poe is still taught in schools. He is so literary yet so accessible, and his tales of madness and violence are unequaled by any on this list. While longer works were not Poe’s forte, he packs enough jolts into stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “Bernice,” and “Fall of the House of Usher,” that most modern novelists pale in comparison. When you unpack the language and get to the heart of what is going on, it’s absolutely warped. (Especially “Bernice” — seriously, underrated story.)
Which horror novels do you think go beyond the genre and have something of literary merit? Share your picks with us, and have a happy Halloween!
[Image via TheReporter.WCU.edu]