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’ve put together a list of thirteen scary stories 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?
#4 The Thing on the Doorstep, and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
‘The Thing on the Doorstep’ is Lovecraft at his finest – in my opinion, this is one of his creepiest stories, and it’s a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s work, because it will give you a good idea of what to expect. The protagonist, Daniel Upton, narrates the woeful tale of how he came to murder his best friend… or did he? If you’re familiar with the Cthulhu mythos universe of horror fiction, then the idea of a body-snatcher that may look, sound and move like us but contains something much darker may be expected – admittedly, none of Lovecraft’s stories have happy endings.
He has, however, credited as the godfather of horror, and modern writers like King and Barker offer Lovecraft’s work much acclaim, even going so far as to say that horror as we know it would never have existed without him. Whether you believe that or not, it’s hard to deny that Lovecraft’s stories are imaginative, sinister and deeply unsettling. After reading a few of these, I would challenge anyone not to look twice at that funny-looking shadow in the periphery of your vision…. then again, I’m one of those people that would never run upstairs if a killer was after me. That is partly because I live on the ground floor, but mostly because I learn from these stories.
So, just remember this Halloween: if it walks like your friend and talks like your friend, its probably a demon occupying your friend’s skin and you should get out of there, quick, before you suffer the same fate!!
*ahem* Better safe than sorry. 🙂
#5 The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Admittedly, I am a little bias, as this is one of my favourite books (OK, it has a lot of company on that list, but it’s still a favourite) – however, I think I can fairly say that Banks’ novel is truly a work of modern horror. Forget ghosts; forget werewolves; forget vampires – Shakespeare figured out early on that the demons are all here, On Earth, because the real demons are us. That’s a lesson not lost on Banks. Frank, his central character, is isolated from the world, fearing how it sent his brother mad, and resenting them because he is impotent (after what he believes was a childhood castration in a vicious dog attack).
Frank lives on a rural Scottish island and occupies his time undertaking a series of sadistic rituals – one of these involves the ‘Wasp Factory’, referred to in the title, which is a huge clock face encased in a glass box and salvaged from the local dump. Behind each of the twelve numerals is a trap which leads to a different ritual death (such burning, crushing, or drowning in Frank’s urine) for the wasp that Frank puts into the hole at the centre within tubes. Frank believes the death ‘chosen’ by the wasp predicts something about the future. There are also ‘Sacrifice Poles’, upon which hang the bodies and heads of larger animals that Frank has killed and other sacred items. They define and ‘protect’ the borders of Frank’s territory – something which he guards with an array of weapons (from a catapult to pipe bombs and flame throwers) – and allow him to effectively control his part of the island.
The horror is his novel is not created by something that goes bump in the night – that, perhaps, is what is most unsettling about it. If you’re unfamiliar with Banks’ work, I would thoroughly recommend this book. If, however, you prefer science fiction, he also writes in this genre under the name Iain M. Banks, and his stories are just as unsettling.
#6 Dracula by Bram Stoker
Well, you can’t really have a Halloween reading list without Dracula on it, can you? Don’t let a few dodgy films and Stephanie Meyer novels put you off the vampire genre – vampirism taps into an almost instinctual fear we possess (the fear of being neither living nor dead – something unnatural and limitless, like a God), and no work of fiction has explored that better than Stoker’s work.
Is it dated? Yes, of course it is, it was written in 1897! Does that matter? I really don’t think so. The approach taken to the storytelling – a combination of diary entries, prose, and newspaper cuttings – remains to this day novel and intriguing. Although the format has been copied several times (King, for instance, attempted something similar in ‘Salem’s Lot and openly acknowledges Dracula as his inspiration), no one does it better than Stoker. For the academics out there, Stoker’s text offers a rich demonstration of colonialism in action, and when read in this light, it is difficult not to sympathise with the vampires (even if their culinary tastes are somewhat primitive). Stoker also offers an interesting portrayal of womanhood, particularly with Mina, who meets all the standards for a Victorian heroine.
Basically, Stoker’s work has plenty to offer, and it’s a perfect choice for a good read this Halloween. What more do I need to say?