It’s officially Halloween season, which means scary movies, trick-or-treating, and costume parties. If you’re a book-lover, then it might also include picking up a spooky novel to enjoy around a fireplace while sipping a warm beverage (pumpkin spice latte perhaps?). Lucky for you, we have some suggestions on which books might be perfect for that. Let’s take a look at some of the most hair-raising classics to get you in the Halloween spirit.
Boasting one of the most recognizable horror titles of all time, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is regarded as the first true science fiction novel. Written in 1818, Shelley initially brainstormed the novel during a competition with Lord Byron to see who could write the best horror story. It would be hard to argue that Shelley failed to win this competition given the staggering success of the work.
The well-known plot centers around a mad scientist named Victor Frankenstein (the name Frankenstein is often misattributed to the monster instead of the scientist) who creates a sentient being out of fresh corpses. Several narratives told from the perspectives of Frankenstein and the monster form the bulk of the work and offer the reader a unique perspective into the minds of both the creator and the creature.
The popularity of Frankenstein is attested to in the hundreds of movies, T.V. shows, plays, and video games that have been spawned from it. Even today after 200 years, Frankenstein’s monster remains one of the most famous, or infamous, characters in popular culture.
Written in 1897, this blood-chilling tale quickly became the quintessential vampire legend, influencing the genre like no other work. It is likely that when a modern-day reader conjures an image of a vampire in their mind, the image is heavily influenced by the aesthetics of Bram Stoker’s classic. The novel was inspired by Transylvanian folklore, and Stoker included the region in the setting of the novel. His main villain, Count Dracula, hailed from Transylvania as well.
The plot focuses on a few key characters, namely Jonathan Harker and famed vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, as they attempt to track down and kill Count Dracula, who has chosen the sleepy English coastal town of Whitby as his newest target. Dracula’s unique ability to hypnotically control his prey while clinging to the shadows makes him a formidable foe.
Upon publication, some reviewers found that Dracula was simply too frightening and couldn’t be recommended to the weak-willed. Even today, as the horror genre has continually “upped the ante” in the scare department, Dracula remains a terrifying read. The opening chapter of the novel remains one of the most frighteningly well-written pieces of prose in all of English literature.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
A deeply psychological work, Oscar Wilde’s dark novel explores the disastrous effects of unrestrained hedonism on one’s mind and soul. First published in 1891, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only novel that the poet and playwright ever wrote yet is perhaps his most famous work today.
The tale centers around the quest for ageless beauty, as the protagonist Dorian Gray hopes to preserve his good looks by swearing a pact with a painting of himself. As time goes by, the portrait ages while Dorian himself remains pristine. Dorian’s self-indulgent lifestyle soon gets out of hand, and the image displays his every sin. The painting serves as a visual reminder of his selfish choices and reflects the inner state of his deviant soul.
Even after a century, The Picture of Dorian Gray still retains its popularity. Though less of a classic horror story than some others listed in this article, the novel is unnerving to say the least. No ghouls or monsters scare unsuspecting victims, but readers are presented with the villainy lurking within the human mind.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
First published in 1886, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by the prolific 19th-century author Robert Louis Stevenson is a defining work of Gothic fiction. This horror classic explores the duality of man’s nature and the lines between good and evil, or rationality and instinct, within each person.
The novel follows a lawyer names Gabriel Utterson who investigates a murderous criminal named Mr. Hyde and his relationship to his dear friend Dr. Jekyll. As Mr. Hyde becomes more emboldened and his crimes more severe, the ties he possesses to the respectable doctor are shown to be closer than imagined, and Utterson is confronted with a horrifying truth about his friend.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a hit upon initial publication, and has continued to captivate audiences since its inception. The work has inspired countless movies and other popular media, and even forms the basis of a popular comic-book and Avengers character: The Hulk. The Hulk was inspired by the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic in combination with the Frankenstein monster. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an excellent quick read to get you in the mood for Halloween season.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Though more of a mystery than a horror novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle contains many spooky elements. Published in 1901, the work is part of the ultra-popular Sherlock Holmes canon. Doyle had “killed” Holmes in a previous novel, but resurrected him for this classic, a move that surely paid off.
The book takes place in boggy Dartmoor along the west coast of England, the perfect setting for a frightening tale. A ghostly hound is said to be menacing the residents, part of a curse that has haunted the Baskerville family for generations. Holmes and his assistant Watson are on the case, tracking the foul beast deep in the moor and uncovering the perpetrator behind the recent terrors.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is often listed among the best of all Sherlock Holmes stories. The novel was ranked 128 on the BBC’s poll of “best loved novels” in 2003. The book is hugely popular today and often part of school reading lists for English and Literature classes. Any horror buff would enjoy this read due to its ghostly subject matter and intriguing mystery.
Edgar Allen Poe Works
No respectable classic horror list would be complete without including any additions by Edgar Allen Poe. To pick just one out of his extensive collection would surely be an injustice, so instead I will list three of his short works that will get an interested reader started.
The Cask of Amontillado: A tale of revenge told from the murderer’s point of view. The setting takes place during the festivities of carnival season in Italy, providing a stark contrast to the dark machinations of the murderer’s mind.
The Masque of the Red Death: This eerie tale follows a prince as he tries to avoid a deadly plague. The prince and his nobles shut themselves in a castle as they enjoy a masquerade ball, however an uninvited guest haunts the prince and spoils the party.
The Tell-Tale Heart: One of Poe’s most famous works, this short story explores the mind of a murderer who, having recently committed the crime, begins to question his/her sanity. The narrator’s grip on reality is tested when the police come knocking.
This list should be beneficial for any horror-lover looking to dip into the classics, or any classic-enthusiast looking for a scare. Let us know what classic books you enjoy during the autumn season in the comments below.