It’s midwinter, which means it’s time to curl up with a good book. For me, this often means curling up with something spooky or scary. While the Autumn months are my favorite in terms of coziness and spooks, there is something about the dark of Winter that makes me want some darker spooks. If you also like to be spooked in the Winter months, or if you’re just looking for something a little more thrilling, here is a list of my favorite spooky books, stories, and authors so far (have I said “spooky” enough yet?).
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
I love Wharton’s short stories because they have such simple plots and not very complex characters, but what is set to be complex is the darkness and looming memories that might just be living ghosts. I love the idea of staying in an old house in the middle of nowhere, and knowing you are in the middle of some terrific secret. Most of these stories were are set during the time Wharton wrote them, maybe a little earlier, which gives much more tangibility to the stories. So, if you like old, gothic houses full of ghosts and distant memories of the past, then this is the spooky collection for you.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House shows the insecurities of a woman, Eleanor, magnified in a house that may be alive, that wants her to stay there forever. Her new companions in the house are trying to determine the supernatural nature of the house, but Eleanor’s connection to the house may tell them all they need to know.
This book, and really anything else by Shirley Jackson, are the most subtly spooky stories I have ever, and likely will ever read. Just as with Edith Wharton, Jackson’s stories focus on the mundane, and how the mundanity gets interrupted by something supernatural, or even preternatural. The fact is, though, no one, characters and readers included, are sure whether the supernatural elements are real or merely a figment of the imagination, and, in my opinion, that is the scariest part of all.
Children of the Corn by Stephen King
I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s shorter works, and I prefer them to his longer works. Children of the Corn is no exception. The short story has a more sinister ending (in my opinion) than any of the movies do (in which, oftentimes, the main characters survive the evils). In the story there is a primeval, eldritch being controlling the children of a small town, and feeding on them when they reach the age of 19 — it will also feed on anything or anyone that goes against it. The story ends with the age limit decreasing by one year, so that everyone who was 18 must now be given to the being in the cornfields.
What I love about this story is that you don’t really know what is going on, what the being is. All you know is that it is something from deep within the earth, and that fact, the fact that something so evil and terrifying could be lying right under your feet, is utterly horrific and wonderful.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
This is a short story featured in Carter’s collection, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, however, I am only focusing on this one story. Based on the fairy tale of Bluebeard, we get the same amount of terror and gore featured in the original tale. However, Carter features women as characters much more prominently, and also makes these women have connections with each other, connections that ultimately defeat the wife-killer. The main character, who marries our Bluebeard, goes through similar trials to the original tale: she must not go in the forbidden room, but ultimately does, finding within the corpses of Bluebeard’s other wives. The main character is to be killed too, but because of her close connection with her mother, she is saved and she and her mother live well ever after.
Carter does a fantastic job keeping the terror of the original story, while giving the women a sense of autonomy and strength. Even if you know the fairy tale well, you will go into this story feeling so much terror and fear for the main character, wondering what she will find in the rooms of the secretive castle.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
This is the most perfect autumnal, spooky story I have ever read. A carnival comes into town, and the kids go see it after hours, but they discover that the people running the carnival are not what they seem. There is something terrifying about the carnival, something primeval and eldritch in the way it causes fear. Can the kids and their allies solve the mysteries of this carnival, and defeat it before it causes any harm?
What I love about this book is that it makes you feel Autumn in all definitions of the season. The coziness of reading a book, the crispness of an Autumn night, the spooky feeling that something unknown is lurking. I think the quote below captures the entire feeling of the book:
“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
We all know this classic story: mad scientist creates monster, monster kills, people kill monster, etc.? Well, not exactly in the book. Mary Shelly’s classic horror story is not just creepy, but it is also quite philosophical in the way that it approaches the monster. Victor Frankenstein (not even a doctor yet!) is a college dropout who wants to find the secret of conquering death after the death of his mother. Of course, he creates the monster, but refuses to care for the creature as his own. From this comes a chase and a dialogue between Frankenstein and the monster, with the monster discovering who he is and what kind of person he should be based on his environment, and based on the actions of his creator.
This is not a terrifying story, but it does make one think deeply about death, life, and the consequences of playing god. What could be more fearful?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Another classic story, Rebecca is about a young woman who marries Max deWinter, a wealthy man from an old English family, whose wife, Rebecca, died the year before under mysterious circumstances. The young woman enters Max’s life and home, meets his family, friends, and colleagues, but cannot shake the feeling that Rebecca’s never-dying spirit follows and mocks her, as she is compared to the dead woman by everyone she meets. Eventually she solves the mystery of Rebecca’s death, but not without disruption to her whole life.
This is a more modern take on the classic, gothic story of a woman who marries a man with a wife in the attic, metaphorically speaking. Regarding Rebecca’s character, we know she isn’t a ghost, we never see her, neither does the young woman. And yet, Rebecca is always there, a lurking memory in the shadows of Manderly. While this isn’t the spookiest of stories, you get a creeping sense of something as you read.
This post is also featured on my Medium publication, The Horror Hollow.