By Lizzie Shannon-Little
What better way to send shivers down your spine this Halloween than to curl up with a spooky tale? These Classics have been putting the frighteners on people for quite some time, and we’ve got the collywobbles just thinking about them. What have we missed? Let us know in the comments.
Collected Ghost Stories by M R James
Some of these tales are just downright terrifying, partly because they tell of the supernatural that lurks in everyday events. There are cloaked figures at crossroads, haunted dolls’ houses, venomous spiders, and things with teeth under pillows. We recommend sleeping with the light on after reading these.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
You can’t really move for the various incarnations of vampires these days: Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Being Human, True Blood, not to mention The Lost Boys (personal favourite), Blade, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and – who can forget – Sesame Street’s Count von Count. But it’s the work that spawned the myth that wins out for us. Now, this is a horror story.
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
Written by Lewis in just ten weeks when he was nineteen years old, this work both celebrates and parodies the romantic horror. An intricate tale of murder, seduction, rape, temptation, and witchcraft, the violent and scandalous plot makes it a must-read for fans of the Gothic genre.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
A governess hired to care for two children at the house of their disinterested uncle sees ghostly apparitions that threaten her charges. It is the ambiguity of the story that makes this such a spine-chilling tale. Is the narrator slowly going insane? Just how malevolent are the children? And what is the nature of the evil the ghosts represent?
Selected Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
These creepy (and sometimes weird) stories deal perfectly with the misconceptions that can lead to the mysterious, achieved through the balance of detective and horror fiction in the work. Stories that include the dead returning from their graves, the appearance of death at a masquerade, and a murderous orang-utan have got to be worth a read.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
No list would be complete without this work of a crazed scientist and his misunderstood monster. Shelly’s creation is often hailed as the first science fiction novel. This, coupled with how the work deftly tackles big themes like forgiveness, human hubris, and revenge, make it a truly great piece of literature as well as a real horror classic.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
This story has it all: a haunted castle, an ancient prophecy, a dastardly protagonist, and a beautiful heroine. Precursor to the Gothic novel, this melodramatic work is a wonderful read. By turns entertaining and scary, it is packed full of catastrophes, romantic entanglements, and ghostly goings-on. Something for everyone there.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Billed as the first (and greatest) ‘Sensation Novel’, this detective-esque tale of mystery and suspense gets the hairs on the back of your neck tingling from the very beginning, with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter with a woman in white. It’s gothic and creepy, and perfect for our list.
The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
Although it has nothing in the way of ghosts or ghouls, The Italian is definitely a sinister read. Dark and mysterious, this work depicts the shadowy interwoven worlds of religion and criminality, playing out the story of the imprisonment of a girl in a nunnery, an assassin priest, and the workings of the Inquisition.
If you want your flesh to creep and toes to curl, this collection of Victorian tales will definitely tick the boxes. It includes horror stories from the pens of some of the greats of the time: Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and Jean Lorrain, to name a few.
Lizzie Shannon-Little is a Community Manager at Oxford University Press and is totally petrified by horror movies.
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Image credit: Frankenstein’s Monster, as played by Boris Karloff. By Universal Studios [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.