Last week I talked about my favorite scary movies, but of course I love horror in all mediums so this week I’ll talk about my favorite creepy books and stories. While I typically read lots of books in an authors repertoire if I’m especially fond of them, I’ve limited myself to only one book by any given author. That being said, almost anything by Poe, Lovecraft, Matheson and Hill are worth reading. I’m only doing a top five instead of a top 10 because I’ve found that I have too much to say about each story and if I wrote about my top 10, I would quickly fill up this whole newspaper.
1. “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson: This novel is a cornerstone of horror, influencing genres that feature zombies, vampires and pandemics. The story follows Robert Neville, the only human left on a planet overrun by people who were turned into vampires by a virus. He spends his days killing vampires he finds and his nights besieged in his house as vampires try to break in and kill him. It’s a great exploration of loneliness, survivor’s guilt, evolution and what it means to be a monster.
You may already be familiar with Matheson’s work if you’ve watched “The Twilight Zone,” as he wrote the screenplay for the episodes “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “The Invaders” and “Little Girl Lost” among about a dozen others. He also wrote the novel “What Dreams May Come” upon which the 1998 movie of the same name was based.
2. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Like “I am Legend,” Shelley’s novel explores what it means to be a monster. While lots of people view “Frankenstein” as a cautionary tale about trying to manipulate forces of nature through science, my favorite interpretation of the book is that it’s an exploration of what happens when a man attempts to have a baby without a woman. It’s a feminist novel at its core as Frankenstein attempts to subdue and control nature (which he has gendered as female) and in rejecting the role of woman in reproduction he creates an unnatural being, and then denies that being a female partner out of fear that his female creation might make her own decisions, might reject Frankenstein’s monster as a romantic partner or might end up so ugly that Frankenstein’s monster will reject her– he refuses to create a “monster” that doesn’t fit his sexist notions of what a woman should be like and that, along with his violation of nature, dooms him.
3. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill: My first ghost story on this list, “Heart-Shaped Box” follows Judas Coyne, an aging rock star who collects macabre curios. He gets an email about a haunted suit that’s for sale: Buy the suit and get a ghost. Of course he does it, and it turns out the suit is actually haunted. Hill’s description of the ghost is the most chilling I’ve ever read and, as the novel progresses, we learn that the human the ghost once was may have been a greater monster than his spirit is now.
4. “The Whisperer in Darkness” by H. P. Lovecraft: How could I make a horror story list and not include Lovecraft? “The Whisperer in Darkness” is my top story of his because the ending was totally unexpected. A lot of his stories have to do with cosmic horrors and merely perceiving them causes insanity, but “The Whisperer in Darkness” takes his usual formula and adds elements of gruesomeness that I frankly wasn’t expecting from him. The novella follows Albert N. Wilmarth who exchanges letters with a man from an isolated farmhouse in Vermont named Henry Wentworth Akeley. In the letters, they discuss extraterrestrial sightings in Vermont and Akeley says he has proof of their existence. The start of the story focuses on these sightings and letters, but then Wilmarth goes to visit Akeley in Vermont to learn more about the aliens Akeley claims he’s met. It’s a short read and if you take a look at nothing else on this list, find “The Whisperer in Darkness” for free online and give it a read some chilly dark night this month.
5. “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James: Who doesn’t love a 19th century gothic ghost story? The story follows a young governess hired to take care of two children whose parents have passed away and whose uncle wants nothing to do with them and doesn’t want to hear from the governess about them, either. The governess is charmed by the estate where she now lives and its grounds, and the children are sweet and adorable. Beneath this facade of “Jane Eyre” perfection, though, lies something unsettling that the governess can’t quite grasp. The boy has been expelled from school for a reason he won’t talk about, unfamiliar people begin to appear on the grounds and the previous governess is revealed to have died. The new governess convinces herself something supernatural is afoot, but is it? Or is her fear getting the best of her?