I was looking for a post to inspire me on Halloween and didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so I decided to post my own. And 13? Of course! The spookiest number there is in Western culture. Here are 13 must-read classic novels for Halloween.
1. The father of them all, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. The first of all Gothic horrors, it tells the tale of Manfred, Lord of Otranto. If you ever wanted to know where the Gothic truly starts, this is it.
2. Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis The Monk. Written by a 19 year old (yes, really!) in 1796, this novel about a wicked monk. Ultimately, the Devil comes to claim him and punish him for his transgressions.
3. Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. The first heroine of the Gothic novel, Ann Radcliffe’s series of Gothic fiction caught breaths and caused such a stir that Jane Austen ended up doing her own parody of the Gothic in Northanger Abbey. In 1794, the novel on everybody’s lips was The Mysteries of Udolpho. Cruel fathers, absent mothers, wickedness and supernatural terrors abound.
4. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Not unlike Matthew Lewis, publishing at the tail end of his teens, Mary Shelley wrote her most famous novel at the tender age of 18. Inspiring a series of spin-off movies starring terrifying monsters, Frankenstein is more a novel about the abuse of science and about creation than it is about terrifying monsters. This classic is coming up on its 200th birthday soon.
5. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher along with other tales such as Ligeia, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart form the mainstay of many a Simpsons’ Halloween special. Published in 1839, it is still just as creepy.
6. Dracula by Bram Stoker may not have been the first vampire novel, but it is undoubtedly one of the most famous. Forget Sookie Stackhouse or Twilight, this is the novel that launched a thousand careers. Published in 1896, it’s one of the reasons Whitby will have so many visitors this Halloween.
7. Henry James’ short story The Turn of the Screw published just after Dracula picks up on the American Gothic and introduces us to a ghostly world. If you feel like a story about being haunted, this is definitely the one for you.
8. Back over the Atlantic, another writer was specialising in short stories, often with a supernatural element – M.R. James. Though he himself loved Sheridan Le Fanu, another great Gothic short story writer, Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad is a great supernatural thriller.
9. The first of my modern choices published in 1974 is The Bloody Chamber by the doyenne of the grown-up fairy story, Miss Angela Carter; it is a creepy retelling of the infamous story of Bluebeard. Both beautiful writing and a magnificently eerie story combine to make this a classic Halloween must-read.
10. As for full-length modern horror novels, the first of which is by the epic Stephen King with his 1975 vampire story Salem’s Lot. I first read this at fifteen and it kept me awake for the best part of a night. If Dracula came to America, Kurt Barlow is who he’d be.
11. Published only a short time after Salem’s Lot, the first of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles goes a long way into romanticising the vampire and giving them a voice, not least because the vampire gets to tell his story in this one.
12. A twisted, psychologically bewildering story, Iain Banks’ 1984 story The Wasp Factory is a modern day Frankenstein tale. The Irish Times called it a novel of “unparalleled depravity” which is one reason it’s placed firmly in my top 13 Halloween reads.
13. My final story is a very well-known one: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. With many classic gothic motifs, it’s like the final piece in the gothic jigsaw – perhaps not a madwoman in the attic, but a crazy man in the basement.
Hopefully, my thirteen choices will give you a slice of the Gothic, a few chills and a lot of nailbiting tension this Halloween. Enjoy!