Halloween-Appropriate Lit That Might Scare You a Bit

Arthur Rackham’s “Cask of Amontillado” illustration from 1935.

Today is Halloween, so I’ve made the frightfully unoriginal decision to discuss novels and stories I’ve found scary or spooky or disturbing or whatever. They include general literature, horror fiction, ghost tales, mysteries, dystopian books, apocalyptic offerings, adventure sagas, sci-fi, etc.

When one thinks of horror writing, the first author names that come to mind — well, come to my mind at least — are Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, and Stephen King. I’ve read multiple works by all four, and the ones that most creeped me out by each were “The Cask of Amontillado” story (Poe), “The Colour Out of Space” story (Lovecraft), “The Lottery” story (Jackson), and the Misery novel (King).

MANY honorable mentions, of course, among them “The Pit and the Pendulum” story (Poe), the At the Mountains of Madness novella (Lovecraft), the We Have Always Lived in the Castle novel (Jackson), and the ‘Salem’s Lot novel (King). 

Then there are numerous dystopian and apocalyptic novels with multiple gut-wrenching moments — including Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, Albert Camus’ The Plague, George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, to name just five works.

Other novels that will haunt your dreams include Octavia Butler’s Kindred (a 20th-century Black woman is yanked back in time to the slave-holding U.S. South), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, H. Rider Haggard’s She, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf, to again name only a few. Oh, and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian — all those sickening massacres perpetrated by white men in America’s Old West and the book’s big, pale, hairless, terrifying Judge Holden character.

I’m not a huge fan of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but I’m sure many people would differ. 🙂 Those two novels just didn’t scare me much.

Other great short stories perfect for Halloween? One is Richard Connell’s thriller “The Most Dangerous Game,” about a person being hunted like an animal (a theme later chillingly used by Richard Matheson in his novel Hunted Past Reason). Also, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s disorienting feminist tale “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Graham Greene’s macabre shocker “Proof Positive,” Edith Wharton’s unnerving dog-ghost tale “Kerfol,” Charles Dickens’ eye-opening “The Signal-Man,” and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s disquieting “The Sandman.” Also, various episodes of Rod Serling’s iconic Twilight Zone TV series were converted into stories collected in books — I have one!

I’ve obviously only scratched the surface here. Your favorite fiction appropriate for Halloween (whether works I mentioned or those I didn’t)?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about a significant election this Tuesday — is here.

130 thoughts on “Halloween-Appropriate Lit That Might Scare You a Bit

  1. Pingback: Halloween-Appropriate Lit That Might Scare You a Bit – Site Title In Motion

  2. Okay, have read Poe, King, Atwood and Orwell and more you have mentioned.
    I’m going with the “psychological thriller”.
    Of this genre, Joy Fielding is a fave of mine.
    Two horrifying tales are “Still Life” and “See Jane Run”.
    In “Still Life” a woman is hit by a car, and is apparently deep in a coma. Not, she can hear everything. What she hears is terrifying, and helps pull her out of the coma, in time for her to defend her life.

    “See Jane Run” is about a woman who has amnesia. “One afternoon in late spring, Jane Whittaker went to the store for some milk and some eggs…and forgot who she was. Jane Whittaker has awakened to a nightmare.”
    I believe Sally Fields bought the rights, but it was never made into a movie.
    Joy writes great psychological thrillers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Resa!

      Psychological thrillers can be great, and I appreciate you recommending and skillfully describing those two Joy Fielding novels. I liked her “Grand Avenue” a lot (I realize that was a bit of a different genre) after you suggested it — and would very much like to read Ms. Fielding again. “Still Life” sounds especially intriguing…and scary. What a brilliant premise!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Still Life is a pretty good read!
        Hey, I might be reading Grand Avenue for a second time. My Norman, her first cousin, has not read any of her books. Go figure!
        I’ve actually read several books out loud to him. 1 a year. It was an interesting way to spend time together, and we both enjoyed the experience.
        I’ve suggested Grand Avenue.He’s mulling it over.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Dave,

    I’m currently reading The Wasp Factory and what a creepy little tale that is! It’s crazy how many similarities there are with We Have Always Lived in the Castle and yet I can’t quite warm to it despite it being well written. There’s something about the main character that is just ugly, compared to the fun and lightness of Merricat and her sister. Maybe it’s that the horror and evilness is more pre-meditated. Or maybe it’s because there was a pet cat in Jackson’s castle, whereas the animals in the Iain Banks novel aren’t having such a good time. Murder as many relatives as you like, just leave the puppies alone!

     

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susan!

      “The Wasp Factory” does sound mixed. I agree that “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” — which of course predates the Banks book — has quite a bit of charm in addition to being rather macabre. And, yes, we want animals treated well even in creepy fiction!

      Like

    • Read “The Wasp Factory” maybe a dozen years ago– quite the little turnaround at tale’s end…which I felt stretched the bounds of the old credulity.

      I was fascinated by the description of that ‘factory’, however; obsessive and minutely particular as it was. Given the narrator, not surprising.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. My preference for the spooky tale resides in short fiction, Here are 9 worth seeking out.

    1)”The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, possibly one of the greatest ghost stories ever, unless it isn’t, yet it might be, though maybe not.

    2)”The Lovely House” by Shirley Jackson– this one may be irreducibly mysterious, as to who exactly is who and who sees who,past a certain clarification that comes by way of rereading.

    3)”A Wicked Voice” by Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) —Operatic in its emotional pitch and setting– mysterious, misty Venice– and reads a bit like a prosaic Browning dramatic monologue, written by the only author here who had her portrait painted by John Singer Sargent.

    4)”Ancient Sorceries” by Algernon Blackwood. Ghostly cat people charm the unwary! You’re getting sleepy!

    5)”Smarra, or The Demons of the Night”, by Charles Nodier. Spectral beings from several times cohabit and terrorize the same place at the same time. Dreamy!

    6)”The Haunted and the Haunters” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He is the unfortunate creator of the phrase “it was a dark and stormy night’– which I learned on the interwebs was also and later employed by EA Poe. I like this story because it features a spell cast ages past and kept working by being placed in a hidden room, from whence it works its evil on generations of inhabitants, till broken at last.
    https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/14195/pg14195-images.html

    7)”Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad” by MR James Just because you found a whistle, you don’t have to, unless you want to encounter the uncanny.

    8)”Hochi the Earless,” by Lafcadio Hearn . A blind basho player is led away from his monastery for several nights and unknowingly sings the “The Tale of the Heike” to the clan’s spectral remains.

    9)”A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family” by Sheridan Le Fanu. Eerie and unforgettable, this is not so much a ghost story as a story of demonic possession– or two. Has been cited as an inspiration for the mad wife in Jane Eyre, but this wife, claiming to be the first and only, carries far more menace, at last in the form of an upraised knife.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Howdy, Dave!– would you please remove the word ‘from’ now residing under 6) in the phrase “I like this story because it features a spell cast ages past and kept working from by being placed in a hidden room,..”

      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      That’s an intriguing list of nine works (of which I’ve only read the first), coupled with engaging/compelling descriptions.

      Interesting how one of the authors — Edward Bulwer-Lytton — has gotten a bad rap for that hackneyed “dark and stormy night” phrase, which of course might not have been hackneyed, or as hackneyed, at the time. Picked up by Snoopy in addition to Edgar Allan Poe. 🙂

      Like

    • Thank you, Maggie!

      A coincidence that you’re currently reading “Frankenstein.” 🙂

      As for “Dracula,” I guess it would partly depend on the age of the kids. But, in general, I’m all for kids trying to read anything — including “Dracula” — that they want to try reading, whatever their ages. 🙂

      Like

  5. How good are shorts stories! I have a beautiful collection of Great Short Tales of Mystery and Terror which includes The Cask of Amontillado. I’m also making my way through a list of short stories that I found online. These include The Lottery, The Most Dangerous Game, The Yellow Wallpaper and Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder about the butterfly effect creating a world where a despicable man wins the presidential election.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susan!

      Great that you’ve been reading short stories lately — and superb ones, at that. I’ve read all the ones you named. They’re so different in theme, but all memorable, and haunting.

      Like

    • Thank you, Cynthia!

      Horror is not one of my favorite genres, either, but I do like some of it. 🙂

      As for Lovecraft’s writing and Lovecraft Country, my history is the opposite — reading the author but never watching the TV series. 🙂 Glad you found it compelling!

      Like

  6. HI Dave, I am trying to think of books that scared me, as not much does. I am far more scared by books about war than fiction. I did appreciate the language and story line of Dracula very much. Bram Stoker’s depiction of the three female babies and their behaviour of the baby was pretty horrific. Salem’s Lot and The Shining scared me to death when I first read them [I was in my 11th year and had to stop reading at 6pm or I couldn’t sleep]. Stephen King doesn’t really scare me, but I am enthralled by his writing and word building. Some scary scenes: Regeneration by Pat Barker, the scene with Dr Yealland and the treatment of the man who couldn’t speak; Brave New World – actually that entire concept was appalling, but the scene where the deliberate brain damaging of the babies occur and the scene where the babies are trained in their likes and dislikes are pretty awful and memorable; the rat scene from 1984 by George Orwell; the scene in To the Last Man when Lufberry jumps out of his plane without a parachute to escape burning to death; and some of the war scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front especially the one where the tanks ride over the injured men.

    Liked by 4 people

      • Thank you, Robbie!

        Yes, books about war are some of the scariest books of all. So much death and destruction, plus of course war in fiction is based directly or indirectly on war in real life so we can’t get any comfort that it’s make-believe like certain horror novels and such.

        What’s depicted in “Brave New World” is indeed appalling — obviously in a different way than in “1984,” but appalling nonetheless.

        And I appreciate the mentions of those other disturbing books and scenes — and your describing them so well! Like you, I’m seldom literally scared by a novel, but a number of them haunt me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • HI Dave, you have expressed it very well. Some scenes and depictions just haunt you because they are so utterly awful [or beautiful in other cases]. Another creepy scene I always remember is when Pip rows Magwitch down the river to the German steamer in Great Expectations. I honestly found Brave New World much more disturbing than 1984. The idea of deliberately brain damaging babies so they will be uncomplaining in their future jobs is beyond horrific for me.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, that IS horrific, Robbie. 😦 In general, the repression and control of the population in “Brave New World” is somewhat more “benign” than in “1984,” but of course it’s not really benign, as the example you gave indicates.

            Dickens could be VERY creepy when he turned his mind to it.

            Liked by 2 people

  7. Out of your big choice of creeping stories, Dave, I would choose Albert Camus’ La Peste, because I think it would suit best to reread in this period. We, my husband and me, are reading “Die Druiden” by Jean Markale ( I couldn’t find the title in English so far). This seems to be a very well researched book about the highly developed spiritual doctrine of the Celtic Druids. This book is a counterweight to the many Zen, Buddhistic or Sufi doctrines. It creates a very respectful connection with Christendom and shows the readers in the west that even here there “were “doctrines and knowledge and not only in the east.
    Many thanks for your, as always, challenging topic:)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Martina!

      “La Peste” (“The Plague”) definitely would be a VERY relevant read or reread during this pandemic time. Or any time, for that matter. 🙂 😦

      “Die Druiden” sounds like a really interesting and educational read about a topic I would guess few people know a lot about. Excellent description of it!

      Like

      • I really agree with your opinion, Dave:)(first paragraph)
        We consider it highly interesting to learn more about that secret society? or sect?, or Druids, which said f.e. that they were for equal rights, but only accepted certain people within their group!
        The Celts in Ireland of forechristian time thanked during Samhain for their harvests and the beginning of the cold period and they also believed that contact with the empire of the deaths could be made. This tradition was later – it seems- transported to the USA and changed into Halloween!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. You have indeed mentioned many books and stories that I would agree with you on. Also I never found the Turn of the Screw scary. I liked the premise but found the book a bit of a yawn. I like a lot Poe’s short stories and that one the lottery by Shirley Jackson has that kind of quiet unfolding horror. I liked a lot of M.R. James’s short stories at the time I read them–still got a book of them and some of Skai’s macabre ones.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne!

      “…a bit of a yawn” is a great description of “The Turn of the Screw.” I know some people love it, but it’s probably my least favorite of the 10 or so Henry James novels I’ve read.

      Yes, many of Poe’s stories are SO good. And Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” does indeed offer “quiet unfolding horror.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So much to choose from! From H.P. Lovecraft, I guess the scariest is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” I find most of his other stories to be interesting rather than scary. From Stephen King, Pet Sematary is truly scary. And yes, Peter Straub. Ghost Story is good, as well as a weird sort of trilogy consisting of Koko, Mystery, and The Throat. Those feature some of the same characters in different situations that overlap in ways that don’t quite line up. And my personal scariest ever story is Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows,” maybe because I first read it at age 12 or 13.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Dave ,Bebe here, The Strange case of Dr. Jakyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
    I remember decades ago when in Kansas City , PBS showed the movie acted by Jack Palance, it was black and white.
    There was a scene where the Dr. was caressing his wife in front of the mirror.his face slowly changed to Mr. Hyde.
    It was so horrific, I could not sleep for several nights.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bebe!

      “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is definitely creepy and psychologically fascinating. I’ve never seen the movie version you mentioned, but I can understand how it would scare the heck out of a viewer. That sounds like quite a scene. 😱

      Liked by 1 person

          • Dave Jack Palance was one of the best !
            “Robert Louis Stevenson (born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson; was a Scottish novelist, essayist, poet and travel writer. He is best known for works such as Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and A Child’s Garden of Verses..
            A celebrity in his lifetime, Stevenson’s critical reputation has fluctuated since his death, though today his works are held in general acclaim. In 2018 he was ranked, just behind Charles Dickens, as the 26th-most-translated author in the world. “

            Liked by 2 people

  11. I confess I like psychological horror much more than tales of monsters, ghosts, ghouls et al. Although I must say I read the annotated Dracula by Leslie Klinger, and found it extremely interesting for example: had a recipe for paprikash hendl (link below) a dish that Harker orders at the local tavern on his way to Drac’s castle. As far as psych horror, Robert Bloch’s Psycho based on Ed Gein, serial killer. I found Joyce Carol Oates short Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? based on serial killer Charles Schmid truly frightening primarily because it starts off so innocently. I am including Harvest Home and The Other by Thoma”s Tryon (what a hunk as an actor *sigh*) er, uh, sorry I got carried away there, ha! Nice halloween theme, thanks Dave Susi Enjoy:
    https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/mm-paprika-hendl/

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Susi!

      Yes, psychological horror can be VERY interesting when done right.

      Thomas Tryon definitely had two successful careers as an actor and an author. I liked his novel “Lady” a lot.

      Nice when novels include or inspire recipes. Fannie Flagg did that with at least one of her great books. She of course also successfully did acting as well as writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I enjoyed and was scared/unsettled by Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story.” It’s a story of elderly friends with various strange things in their pasts, I believe, that lead them into some frightening events. “Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King scared me so much I could barely finish it! “Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe scared me silly when I was a kid. I rarely read horror these days but can always read Shirley Jackson. I like her subtle style…even her light stories about family life have an undercurrent of menace, at least in my mind:)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I have always had a fascination for authors who write scary books and readers who thrive on being scared. In general, I tend to stay away from these types of books because I become immersed within the story. After reading these types of book, I imagine that I will turn the corner and meet up with Dracula or a werewolf. Even the seemingly innocuous Dracula played by Frank Langella scared me to bits. However, one must take the plunge just to experience what appears to entertain many readers. A few months ago I read (actually listened to the audio which was even more scary) Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which was hailed by the Los Angeles Times Magazine as “the greatest epic in the history of comic books.” The Sandman changed the game with its dark, literary world of fantasy and horror – creating a global, cultural phenomenon in the process. How could I not read this after this opening? I learned a great deal reading this book – Neil Gaiman’s ability to spin a story is exceptional. And then a couple of months before, I took the plunge and read The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P.Lovecraft and learned about the Cthulhu Mythos. Travel will never be the same for me. Never stop in a town that looks suspicious! YIKES. You never know what you will encounter. And then I will digress….what is the most fun for me is learning the backstory of the author. I learned that H.P.Lovecraft was a friend of Robert E. Howard, the writer of the Conan the Barbarian series. Can you imagine listening in on their conversations! Happy Halloween Dave – another wonderful post and fabulous follow-up conversation.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca!

      Yes, horror fiction and the like can be a fright to read and fraught to read but also weirdly satisfying. Maybe part of the appeal is getting scared but not being in actual danger.

      Neil Gaiman is indeed a compelling writer; for instance, his “American Gods” novel is quite a unique read. And it’s interesting the way he has a foot in the comics world, as you mention.

      A shame H.P. Lovecraft didn’t have much renown when alive but he certainly has that posthumously.

      I’m enjoying the follow-up conversation, too!

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Appropriate theme, Dave. Tradition is meant to be unoriginal! My sister reminded me a couple years ago that I relished reading Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” in order to scare her. I don’t much care for overt horror stores or movies, since I can’t get the images out of my head. What really unnerves me are novels which have a subtle and eerie feel to them, like those of Roberto Bolaño, Don DeLillo, and even Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake.” A dystopian novel, because it usually parallels contemporary situations, can be very unsettling. The ideas cling, rather than the images. Some of my kids enjoyed the “Goosebumps” stories by Stine.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo!

      “Tradition is meant to be unoriginal” — that’s an excellent and astute quote!

      “The Tell-Tale Heart” is indeed a grim study of guilt, anxiety, and hysteria. Good for scaring a sibling. 🙂

      But I hear you about how we can regret reading or watching horror; some of the images do haunt us.

      “Oryx and Crake” definitely leaves one with an eerie feeling, even as Atwood’s superb dark humor and wordplay here and there give the novel an added dimension.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Donna!

      Three excellent mentions! “Dolores Claiborne” is a King novel I haven’t read, but the other two works you named were indeed creepy and haunting, respectively. Daphne du Maurier was also quite disturbing in “My Cousin Rachel,” “The House on the Strand,” “The Birds,” etc.

      Liked by 4 people

  15. I’m amazed that you didn’t find The Haunting of Hill House that scary, Dave! However, I was a teenager when I read it and when I also saw the 1963 screen version “The Haunting” starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom. I remember being so frightened that I had to stop reading and pace the floor for a few minutes before I could pick up the book again. Maybe being so young made the difference!

    Liked by 7 people

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