Scary books and literary classics for Halloween

Reading a classic scary novel is bound to put yourself in the Halloween spirit. (Modifications by Papa Lima Whiskey)

Reading a classic scary novel is bound to put yourself in the Halloween spirit. (Modifications by Papa Lima Whiskey)

Halloween is the time to indulge in scary things. Hollywood may think it has cornered the market on scares, but I declare there are plenty of literary sources that can scare your pants off! I also offer my Halloween book suggestions of short stories, classic books, modern literature and graphic novels that will make you shiver. I dare you to read them late at night in a dark room by yourself!

Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe. Of course, master of the macabre Poe would be on my list. Rather than his classic Tell-Tale Heart, which involves a mentally disturbed man hearing strange noises, my selection is far scarier. Cask of Amontillado is a revenge story so nonchalant yet calculated, you can barely believe what you’re reading. Put yourself in Fortunato’s shoes and imagine the terror of being bricked up alive inside a wall! Cringe at the last frantic wail, “For the love of God, Montresor!” 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. This is a famous short story about a small town that conducts a yearly ritual with horrific consequences. Believe me, you do NOT want to win this lottery. While the story does not offer graphic details, the ending is subtle as you slowly realize what is happening… or what is allowed to happen. Why are they still holding the lottery in the twentieth century? What do they hope to accomplish with the lottery?

In the article, “The Lottery,” in The World and I, February 2013 found on Questia.com, Michael Timko quotes Jackson’s husband Stanley Edgar Hyman as saying: “Her fierce visions of dissociation and madness, of alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror, have been taken to be personal, even neurotic, fantasies. Quite the reverse: They are a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times.”

Cujo by Stephen King. Master of fright King has given us classics like The Shining, but for me Cujo is more frightening because it could really happen. Devoid of supernatural intruders, the story focuses on a beloved St. Bernard dog who is bitten by a bat, contracts rabies and terrorizes his family. Think of your pet who sleeps on your bed going rabid. How sad it would be to have to kill him to save yourself.

The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. No list of scary books is complete without something from the imaginative British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. His lengthy graphic novel series offers fright, drama and fantasy set in the dreamworld. Part 1, Preludes & Nocturnes, may be the most violently graphic of his collections, but it introduces the series’ tone, story structure and unnerving character of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This book, by one of the great women science fiction writers, actually gave me nightmares! In a dystopian near future when the government has collapsed (!), the last vestiges of civilized people gather in high-walled neighborhood enclaves to fend off the rampaging gangs. The environment is ruined, water is scarce and a new drug makes people start fires. It’s a too-close to home social commentary on where civilization might be headed.

World War Z by Max Brooks. This modern tale, which spawned a big-budget movie, delves more deeply into the social, political and environmental consequences of the zombie war. Zaki Hasan wrote in “Zaki’s Review: World War Z” June 28, 2013 in HuffingtonPost.com: “It manages to take a globe-spanning, reality-based approach to the (by now) well-cemented notion of what a zombie apocalypse would entail… The book compiles the recollections of various participants throughout the ordeal, making for a fascinating oral history of a fictional war. It’s riveting stuff, made only more so by the heaping helpings of social commentary and you-are-there immediacy Brooks brings to the genre.”

Recommendations

In Entertainment Weekly’s “Halloween: Scary book picks from EW staffers,” October 30, 2012, Stephan Lee recommends:

Off Season by Jack Ketchum – a psycho killer novel recommended by Stephen King and Clive Barker (get the unedited 2005 edition).

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – a modern retelling of Dracula about the discovery of vampires among us.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – more graphic in its psychological and physical elements of demonic possession than the classic movie.

Pleasant Dreams by Robert Bloch – a collection of macabre and twisted tales by the writer who inspired Hitchcock’s movie Psycho.

What is your favorite scary book or story?

For Halloween, Questia.com has selected some scary offerings in its Free Book Section. You can read for free The Vampyre, and Other Tales of the Macabre; Dracula; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Japanese Gothic Tales and more spooky stories. Check out more Free Books from Questia.com.

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