I hope you’ve all gotten a chance to check out Jeremy’s 13 Movies You Must Watch Before Halloween post earlier this week. It’s a good one and I’m looking forward to the second half! So, you’ve started binge-watching those and have our Halloween Playlist on repeat. How else should you be filling your time in the days before All Hallow’s Eve? Reading, of course!
I’m happy to recommend novels, short stories, and poetry all year round, but today, let’s talk literature of terror. Here are ten of my favorites.
Side note: I highly encourage you to borrow or buy a physical copy of each work you’re interested in. Clicking each image will take you to that particular copy on Amazon. However, if you’re unable to buy or borrow, I’ve linked to those that are able to be read online for free.
A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
If you’re looking for a quick and creepy read, this is perfect for you. A Rose for Emily begins with the funeral of Emily Grierson, an elderly, aristocratic Southern woman.
It then goes back and forth in a rather nonlinear style to tell the story of her descent into insanity following the death of her father and subsequent relationship with a man of much lower status than her. A relationship she really, really doesn’t want to let go of. What happens next is startling and gruesome and, had this been a work of non-fiction, Emily would have most certainly made an appearance on Deadly Women. | Read it here.
The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Again, if you’re looking for some shorter reads that are just as unsettling as what you’d get from a full-blown novel, then Edgar Allan Poe is your man.
Chances are, you’ve already read (or skimmed) a few of his works for your English courses in the past – The Raven, Annabel Lee, The Bells, and The Tell-Tale Heart are all incredibly popular and quite disturbing. Dive a little deeper, though, into pieces like The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Premature Burial, and you’ll find that all of Poe’s stories have a way of making you second guess those harmless little sounds and shadows you see at night – and your own sanity. | Read more here.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Often when I go antique shopping, I see carefully painted portraits of people (kids, mostly) that give me the heebie jeebies. There’s just something about those old, intricate paintings that seem a little off. They always look to be a bit sad, or mad, or sometimes, in a way, trapped. Perhaps, however, it’s because I can’t help but think about the story of Dorian Gray.
In this uncanny work, Dorian has his portrait painted by a man who is so struck by his beauty and youth, it elicits a new passion for his art. As a result of this, and being introduced to a man – Lord Henry Wotton – who is fixated on solely outer beauty and sensual fulfillment, Dorian becomes obsessed with the thought that his youth and beauty will one day fade, and makes a deal to sell his soul so that the picture will age and die out rather than his physical body. Once his wish is granted, he goes on to live a life filled with immoral decisions, and his portrait, in turn, records each sin, growing more and more hideous. | Read it here.
Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Think Dracula was the start of vampire stories? Think again. Carmilla was published nearly three decades before Bram Stoker released his work, and is one of the earliest recorded works of vampire fiction.
The story begins with the narrator, Laura, describing her life as a child being raised by her widowed father in a castle. At the age of six, Laura has a dream of a beautiful young girl visiting her room. Following this, she longs for a childhood companion, but remains an only child. Years later, Laura and her father are surprised when a carriage accident occurs on their property. From the carriage, a girl of Laura’s age emerges. Her name is Carmilla. Instantly, the two recognize each other from the dream they had as children. Carmilla’s mother says that she’s on urgent business and asks that Laura and her father take Carmilla in until she returns. Before she leaves, though, she sternly reminds her daughter not to share anything about their family or their past with anyone – which Laura and her father find odd, but shrug off. Carmilla and Laura become very close friends, but Carmilla’s attitude seems unstable – she occasionally makes romantic advances towards Laura, refuses to share any information about herself whatsoever, does not join in prayer, sleepwalks at night, and sleeps much of the day. Things get even stranger when young girls in the area start dying mysteriously, and Laura finds a portrait from decades before that resembles Carmilla in every way – down to the mole on her neck. From there, Laura begins to fall victim… | Read it here.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This story begins with a group of people gathered around a fire, telling ghost stories. The narrator, Douglas, decides to step it up and tell a true story about two children. He claims the story was written by his sister’s governess as an account of her previous job caring for two children, and he reads it directly from her manuscript.
In it, she tells of how she interviewed for her position and met the two children. She first meets eight-year-old Flora and is told that ten-year-old Miles will return from school in a few days. Just before he arrives, the governess receives a letter from his school stating that he is not allowed to return after the summer. When Miles returns home, the governess finds him to be just as well-behaved as Flora, and doesn’t bring up the letter. For a period of time, both children are incredibly well behaved. Here’s where the story takes a “turn” (ha.) The governess is taking a walk outside and sees a stranger on a tower of the house. He stares her down until she looks away. She’s worried – but assumes it was a trespasser who wanted a good view from the tower and doesn’t say anything. Until she sees him from a window days later. She runs outside to confront him and he’s gone. She describes the man to the housekeeper who instantly knows who he is – a former valet, Quint – who is dead. She shares that he and Miles were very close and finds it odd that Miles has never mentioned Quint. Later, the governess senses the presence of another spirit – a woman – on the property who the housekeeper suggests might be the former governess, who is also dead. The governess grows more and more uncomfortable and believes the children are communing with the ghosts in secret, and begins to sense (and see) more of them herself. | Read it here.
Scary Stories Trilogy by Alvin Schwartz
These books are so much fun to read, for kids and adults! And the illustrations by Stephen Gammell are some of my all-time favorites in children’s literature.
Each short story contains pieces of folklore and urban legend, which Schwartz collects and adapts. And bonus! There’s a documentary that goes a little more in-depth about his process and academic side of his work. | Read them here.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Somehow, I was required to read this masterpiece four times during my college career. And I didn’t mind doing so at all. I think the first time really had me feeling uncomfortable, not because of the story itself, but because I was totally oblivious to the facts that 1.) Frankenstein is not the Monster in the story, but rather, the doctor that creates the Monster and 2.) The Monster (who many assume is Frankenstein) is not the bright green dude with heavy makeup in the purple suit that Halloween and cartoon adaptations have made him out to be.
The novel is written as a series of letters back and forth between Captain Robert Walton and his sister. Walton happens upon the Monster and its creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, during a voyage to the North Pole. Frankenstein then recounts his life story as a warning to Walton and his crew. This includes the details of his studies as a student, where he discovered a way to impart life into non-living matter. This leads to his creation of the Monster, and the series of horrible consequence that follow its coming to life. | Read it here.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Ever had those dreams where a certain part of your body is deformed, or your teeth have fallen out, or you’re otherwise not in the same body you’ve grown to know and be comfortable with? Then you wake up and feel a huge sense of relief that you’re still you, even if it takes you awhile to shake the feeling.
Imagine waking up as a giant bug. And then trying to wake yourself up because surely it’s a dream. But it’s not. That’s what happens to Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphisis. The story follows his attempt to adjust to his new insect-like body and the weight he carries in having become such a burden to his family – who are all disgusted by the creature he’s morphed into. | Read it here.
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
In The Great God Pan, Dr. Raymond is consumed with the idea of devising a method to open the human mind so that people have the ability to experience the entirety of the world at once. He coins this experience as “seeing the great god Pan.”
Following years of study, he settles on an experiment that involves a minor brain surgery. He performs the experiment on a young woman, Mary, who wakes up mentally crippled and absolutely horrified. Later, we meet Helen Vaughan. It is believed that Helen is responsible for a series of mysterious occurrences in the places she lives – including leading people to hospitalization and suicide. Even her husband, who is found as a beggar on the streets, claims his state is a result of being corrupted “body and soul” by Helen. In the end, it’s discovered Helen was the child of Mary – and Pan, who was able to enter Mary’s body when Dr. Raymond performed the brain surgery years prior. | Read it here.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
I know, I know… you could just watch this one, right? I have to admit, my love for the Walking Dead began with the TV show, but when I picked up the comics a few months after I watched the first season, I was hooked.
I doubt I have to provide much of a summary here, but just in case you’re totally out of the loop: Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma in an abandoned hospital to discover that the world has been turned upside down as a result of the zombie apocalypse. He later finds his wife and son, and they try to keep moving forward as they encounter other survivors. The comics are much different than the television series and I’d highly, highly recommend you supplement the show with a few nights of binge-reading these for some alternate plots, characters, and surprises. | Read the first issue for free here.
Looking for more?
I wish I had the time to share a hundred more scary stories perfect for Halloween, but these were the very first to come to mind!
If you’re looking for even more options, you might consider: The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, What Was It? by Fitz-James O’Brien, The Amityville Horror by Jay Anderson, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Great Expectations or Bleak House by Charles Dickens, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Macbeth by Shakespeare, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or anything by Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft. Also, I hear the Reddit Board “No Sleep” has a lot of great user-written content!
Happy (and horrifying) reading, friends!
Image sources: All images via Amazon.