With less than a week to go before spooky celebrations get underway, I’ve got Halloween on the brain. I love the idea of Halloween, because I love scary stories… and let’s face it, All Hallows Eve is the perfect backdrop for them. Think about it: the wind’s howling like it’s being beaten, there are autumn leaves strewn everywhere, the streets are lost to the shadows, and there’s that ever-present chance that just around the corner, something awful is going reach out and touch you…
Yes, okay, that ‘something awful’ is most likely to be a small child in an elaborate costume who would very much like some sweets, but that’s not the point. Halloween, for me, is all about embracing the deliciousness of fear – it’s a night when anything can happen, and you think twice about ignoring that strange bump in the night.
In honour of the occasion, I’m putting together a list of thirteen scary stories (in instalments) that are well worth a read this Halloween. If, like me, you love a fright, why not give one of these a try and spook yourself silly?
#1 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
If you’re looking for a story to give you the chills, then look no further… Shelley’s Frankenstein is a classic for a reason. Inspired by a challenge to write a short ghost story by the great Lord Byron, the then-18 year old Shelley claims to have subsequently dreamt of a scientist who galvanises life from the bones he has collected in charnel houses. She famously stated that: “I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”
She takes the same eerie approach shown here to the narration in her novel, and the results are breathtaking. The reader soon comes to realise that the creator of this patchwork horror, the scientist Victor Frankenstein, has unleashed forces far beyond his control. Shelley’s story follows the long and tragic chain of events that are set into motion by the ‘birth’ of this monster, in which Frankenstein must watch his creation destroy everything he loves, bringing him to the brink of madness.
This is a tale of friendship, hubris and horror – an oldie, but most definitely a ‘goodie’. The book embodies qualities of both Gothicism and Romanticism, subverting the Biblical myth of creation to create something both beautiful and terrible. Shelley is credited by many as the producer of one of the first great works of science fiction and, after reading her debut, I am sure you will be inclinced to agree. If you’ve never read it before, why not give it a try this Halloween?
#2 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Ah, another classic. Jackson’s archetypal story of the creepy, old haunted house on the hill might sound cliché, but you can let her off for that, given that this story is, in fact, the original that inspired oh so many copies and adaptations! There’s a good reason so many people have copied it – Jackson is a master of tension and suspense, and certainly knows how to tell a good ghost story. There are quite a few moments reading this book where every hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Jackson has certainly earned her title as the creator of one of the most unnerving ghost stories ever written!
The novel follows four characters in search of a paranormal experience wherein, at first, all seems to be well. However, soon enough, strange things start to happen. Interestingly, it never really becomes clear whether any of this is really happening or simply is a product of their imaginations. Due to the unreliability of the characters and the unwavering presence of the place, Hill House (the setting for the novel) becomes practically a character in itself, and it is perhaps here that Jackson really works her magic – whilst you’re reading it, the quirks of your own surroundings suddenly become a lot harder to ignore… is that really rain on the window, or the gentle tapping of fingernails? Is the house creaking because its old, or is there really someone up there?
Anyone who can get me thinking like that is a genius in my book… I don’t scare easily. If you think this might be your kind of thing, I would thoroughly recommend it!
#3 The Collector by John Fowles
In his debut, The Collector, Fowles weaves a sinister tale of obsession and abduction, told from the perspective of loner and butterfly collector, Frederick Clegg. Clegg develops an obsession with a beautiful Art student called Miranda and, not wanting to be lonely anymore, one day decides to “collect” her. You probably think you can guess the rest, more or less, but Fowles still has a few plot twists up his sleeve…
What is so impressive about this book is the way in which Fowles portrays his central character – even Miranda, as his captive, views him with both scorn and pity, although she is unable to love him in any kind of real way. Miranda, too, is far from perfect – in the series of philosophical essays that follows this work, The Aristos, Fowles himself declares that she is an “arrogant… liberal-humanist slob”. Subsequently, what follows is a story wherein the lines between victim and attacker become blurred, and where nothing is quite what it seems. If you’re in the mood for a horror story that is simultaneously tense, frightening and sad, then this book is well worth a read.