Classic and Contemporary Creepy Fiction
Halloween has not historically been my jam.
I mean, I dressed up in drug store costumes with the rigid face masks that provided slits for eyes and a super thin elastic band to keep it in place when I was a kid and I went trick-or-treating for the free candy, but that summed up my participation. I was in it for the goods.
As a teenager, I think I visited two haunted houses with my best friend, Michelle, before I cried uncle and decided that paying someone to scare me to death wasn't my thing.
So it made sense when I had my own children that we didn't really celebrate Halloween. Knowing that kids enjoy playing dress-up, I was thankful that so many area churches offered alternatives to the neighborhood kids on Halloween. For years, my kids enjoyed playing dress-up on Halloween night as various animals, brave knights or pretty princesses, Biblical characters & characters out of our favorite novels, alongside a handful of other non-scary variations. It was fun and I loved making those memories with our kids.
A few years ago, I had a hankering to try a creepy classic. After all, many classic novels would make the perfect Octobertime read without leaving me feeling fearful of every sound I hear at night. I enjoyed that experience so much that I have repeated it every year since. (If you, too, are interested in reading a classic with a creepy - but not terrifying - vibe, check out this list.)
That want of a creepy classic in October is the inspiration behind my selections this time of year inside the Monthly Book Box - through which I have learned that my fellow member and friend, Heather, has an undying affinity for the harder stuff. If you, too, lean toward the harder-hitting Halloween-themed books, check out Heather's list of both Classic & Contemporary Creepy Fiction.
Classic & Contemporary Creepy Fiction
A Guest Post by Heather Qualman
Happy October all!
Oh, and Happy Halloween! October is my absolute, hands down, favorite month! In my neck of the woods, the leaves are changing colors and we’re waking up to temperatures in the 40s. Neighbors have been setting out mums and pumpkins, and some even have spookier decorations out. I’m a little behind this year but for good reason. In the past, our weather has gotten a bit unpredictable. In the last few years, it’s even snowed on Halloween!
But I do currently have a lavender mum out by my porch regardless.
From the time I was a small child, I remember my grandma and mom getting creative and making our costumes for Halloween. They went all out with decorations (not just for Halloween, but for every holiday - Halloween is just when it all started).
I remember ghosts made from white sheets hanging from our trees.
Cute pumpkin knick-knacks.
Halloween-themed animated Disney shows played on the TV at all times (like Lonesome Ghosts c.1937, and Trick or Treat c.1952). My grandma was really into recording shows onto VHS tapes with her VCR for us.
When I was growing up, we didn’t live close enough to town for just anyone to stop in and Trick-or-Treat, so our closest neighbors and family that lived in town would come out to the house to show off their costumes and grab whatever goodie bag my grandma had made up.
Halloween dinner consisted of creepy cuisine like Severed Fingers (aka pigs in blankets with almond slivers for fingernails and ketchup "blood" at the “severed” end), Skeleton Bones (aka french fries), and grandma-baked cakes. She had all the Wilton cake pans, cookie cutters, and piping supplies you could ever want! (I still have a lot of her original stuff from the 1970s.)
I try to continue all these traditions (and more!) for my own family.
Some of my best and happiest memories were made during the “Scary Season”! I want to create those lasting memories for my own kids. I still receive messages from family and friends gushing about how my grandma did this or that when we were kids to celebrate. How we remember those times!
All this is what makes Halloween - and this section of the wheel of the year - Hyggelig (aka warm and fuzzy) for me!
And since I have what Ericka calls an undying affinity for the harder stuff, I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorite Octobertime reads (in no particular order).
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (1972)
I recently discovered this short novel because of September's Banned Books Week (and Pretty Literate’s Banned Book Box in September featuring Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451). In The Halloween Tree, Mr. Bradbury takes you on a fast-paced, eerie tale explaining the origins and influences of Halloween and what it means to be true friends.
Bonus: Ray Bradbury serves as the narrator for the Cartoon Network's 1993 animated fantasy-drama by the same name!
Put Out to Pasture (Farm Table Mysteries #2) by Amanda Flower (2022)
Browsing my library's new releases, the cover art of Put Out to Pasture by Amanda Flower is what first grabbed my attention. This little murder mystery is the second in a series, but I think it could read as a stand-alone (in addition to having definite Hallmark movie potential!).
‘Shiloh is trying to make a go of running the family farm and has drummed up some business by organizing and executing a fall festival on the property. All seems to be running smoothly until a prominent townswoman is found dead underneath a scarecrow in a nearby field.’
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1819)
I hope you have read this one, but if you haven’t - let this be the year for you! The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was last year's October book inside the Monthly Book Box and I may have squealed with absolute delight when I opened it!
‘The story takes place in 1790 in the countryside of a Dutch settlement. It’s the tale of Ichabod Crane, a school teacher, a little too gullible when it came to the townsfolk’s ghost stories. Until one night, he finds that maybe they’re not just ghost stories.’
This story has been a love of mine since I was very young. I don’t remember a Halloween passing by without some form of this story being told. When my teenage son was four, I made a Headless Horseman costume for him, and I dressed in black, wearing a horse mask that I paper-mache'd on my head to serve as his steed.
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories by Roald Dahl (1985)
Roald Dahl was always fascinated by the classic ghost story. He chose 14 of his favorites by authors such as Edith Wharton, E.F. Benson, and Rosemary Temperly, to name a few, for this anthology.
"Spookiness is, after all, the real purpose of the ghost story," Dahl writes. "It should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts."
All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn (2008)
With Mary Downing Hahn, it is so hard to choose just one book, so I’m going with the first book I ever read by her.
"Travis and Corey, brother and sister, are spending a long boring summer with their grandma at her quiet Vermont inn, 'The Fox Hill'. They learn of the inn's past and decide to play haunting pranks on the guests. They soon realize they aren’t the only 'ghosts' haunting the inn. Now they have to put back to rest what their thoughtless games have disturbed."
Mary Downing Hahn has been writing young adult novels since she was young. At the age of 41, she finally got her first book published. That was 1979, and she hasn’t slowed down. Her newest release, What We Saw: A Thriller just came out last month. (I haven’t had the pleasure of reading this one yet, but I’m not steering you in the wrong direction by telling you about it.) She usually publishes a new book every year. They are quick reads, and you can’t go wrong with any of her ghost stories, horror, or mystery titles, in my opinion.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)
Frankenstein might arguably be the first true science fiction story and, as a Gothic Romance, it is much longer in length than the previous titles I shared.
Some of the inspiration for Frankenstein came from Shelley’s travels along the Rhine River and the Frankenstein Castle located in Odenwald, Germany. And the rest of the inspiration is thought to be the result of a little friendly competition with Shelley's husband, Percy B. Shelley, and their friends, Lord Byron and John Polidori (see below). While on holiday, the friends lodged together and decided to compete to write the best scary story. Shelley imagined a scientist who created life but is horrified by what he has made.
The Vampyre by John William Polidori (1819)
As mentioned above, John Polidori was one of the friends that Mary Shelley held a friendly competition with to write the best scary story (along with Mary's husband, Percy B. Shelley, and Lord Byron). The Vampyre was, interestingly, built upon Byron's story in that contest and became known as the forefather of the modern romantic vampire myths and, as such, it has inspired many authors - Bram Stoker (Dracula), Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire) and Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse novels). Through the pages of his short story, Polidori has scared readers & caused many sleepless nights for over 200 years.
IT by Stephen King (1987)
Stephen King is an amazing author.
In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with any of his novels. When I think of IT, I think of seven-year-old me and the made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry as Pennywise and him opening his mouth wider than humanly/monsterly(?) possible to show his sharp pointy teeth. He was the thing of my nightmares as a child. When the new movies came out as an adult, I dove in - both with the movies and the book!
IT isn’t for the weak-hearted. It’s definitely a blood and gore book, and it covers some hard-hitting topics - themes that have become staples in King’s writing like
- the power of memory
- childhood trauma and the echoes of that trauma in adulthood
- the malevolence lurking beneath the idyllic façade of small-town America
- overcoming evil through trust and sacrifice
‘A promise made twenty-eight years ago calls seven adults back to Derry, Maine. Where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children.’
IT Tip: This book is very long and heavy, so aim for reading it in paperback or an e-reader. Your arms and wrists will thank you.
Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allen Poe (1966)
Poe's works have been in print since 1827 and his name is sure to conjure up images of murderers and madmen, premature burials, and mysterious women who return from the dead. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Masque of the Red Death are among my favorites and the first stories that come to mind when I think of Poe's writings.
The Hollow (trilogy) by Jessica Verday (2009)
These are somewhat young adult paranormal reads. The Haunted and The Hidden are the other two books in the trilogy. I was drawn to these stories because of the promise of ghosts and the tie-in with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. While I haven’t found any good reviews about the books, I remember enjoying them when they were first released.
‘Abby’s going through the motions of mourning her best friend's mysterious death when a strange boy shows up seemingly out of nowhere. Now he’s the only person who seems to make Abby feel normal again. But he has secrets of his own and Abby learns her late friend had secrets too, secrets that possibly led to her death.’
Do you like to read creepy fiction, too?
You can connect with Heather in the comments below. And while you're there, share your own suggested titles.