I’m a year round reader of horror of many kinds, as I’m sure you can tell, so to make my October reading special, I’ve made a tradition of fitting in at least one golden oldie of horror literature each year. I’m on my fifth year now and running low on the obvious choices, so I’ve been asking around for recommendations. If you’ve got one, leave me a comment! The more the merrier. I’m always planning for next year!
If, on the other hand, you’re just starting to brush up on your Halloween classics, you’ve come to the right place for that too.
Be warned, Dracula has a hell of a beginning, which makes it all the more disappointing when it falls apart with a lot of pages left, right around the time Van Helsing shows up, kicks Mina out of the action for being a woman, and proceeds to pilot the plot around in creeping circles as self-insert characters tend to do.
Considering Call of Cthulhu? It may look short, but it doesn’t feel that way when you realize that only the briefest glimpse of Lovecraft’s iconic monsters is allowed to interrupt this story about a group of dignified English gentlemen asking each other, “So, there is something weird going on, right?” in various dignified, English, gentlemanly ways.
Here are my top five personal recommendations for the best classic Halloween reads:
It’s a little more rambling than most of my recommendations, but this is Oscar Wilde rambling, which is hardly the same thing. It’s also got a deeply unlikeable protagonist and not much in the way of beacons of human decency along the way, but if you’re up for a well-written, horrifying trip through utter spiritual destruction, you could do a lot worse.
A lonely governess tries to keep her charges safe in a haunted mansion. Or is it only her mind that’s haunted? If that’s your kind of book, this is the must-read standard, with enough subtle satire of the whole Victorian governess subgenre to amuse between scares.
My classic Halloween read for this year. It’s more recent than the others, published in 1959, but its reverence for its Victorian influences is clear. It’s a subtle, almost bloodless slow burn, but it’s a short one with gorgeous prose, and it’s perfect if you like a good Shining-style descent into madness in a creepy set. I know I do.
I’ve written before about why Frankenstein has one of my favorite hero/villain dichotomies of all time. That dynamic has a lot to do with how great the book is overall. It creates a powerful building inevitability of doom. It’s also the boldest, most grisly story on this list, especially for its time, with the highest body count. It’s okay. You’re allowed to care about that. I won’t tell anybody.
This is my one mandatory every year Halloween read and my favorite poem of all time, in eerie, perfectly constructed trochaic octameter. You can do this one in just a little more time than it took you to read this blog entry. If you’ve got more time but not enough for the novels listed, it’s hard to go wrong with his short stories. Admittedly, I haven’t read them all, or read them as recently as I’d like, but I personally recommend The Cask of Amontillado and Ligeia.
Sweet dreams, everybody!
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