Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because I can finally go around to strangers houses and demand free candy. The other reason I love Halloween so much is because people ask me for all kinds of scary book recommendations, which are my favorite kind of books to recommend. I’ll just be standing in line for coffee when a friend will approach me and ask me which literary work will keep him from sleeping at night or make him paranoid about what might be lurking in his closet. If you’re looking to get into the spirit of Halloween (get it? Because it’s like ghosts!), give these books a shot.
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
If you know anything about me, you knew this one would be on the list. In 1897, Stoker gave the world what would become the quintessential vampire story. “Dracula” is an epistolary novel told through the perspectives of several human narrators: Jonathan Harker, a real estate agent; his wife, a schoolteacher named Mina; Dr. Seward, a psychiatrist; and Lucy Westenra, a wealthy aristocrat. The novel also features news articles and ship logs in order to give a complete picture of the story.
Count Dracula, a Transylvanian boyar, or noble, prepares to move to England. He enlists the assistance of Jonathan Harker to find a piece of property where he can live comfortably. Harker agrees to stay as long as the Count needs, but soon finds himself a prisoner within the old man’s castle and the victim of the Count’s three wives.
Eventually, Harker makes a harrowing escape and confronts the Count in London. He and his group of vampire hunters enlist the help of Abraham Van Helsing, which leads to a lethal clash between living and dead, the mortal and the immortal.
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson
The ultimate tale of inner turmoil and split personalities, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” tells the story of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. As a novella, it manages to squeeze as much suspense, terror, and mystery as one might find a regular-sized work.
The case opens with Gabriel Utterson taking a walk with a family member who tells him about an odious man named Hyde, a man who once trampled a small girl while walking. As matters unfold, Utterson discovers that Hyde and Jekyll are linked…somehow. Hyde is listed as Jekyll’s beneficiary and Utterson assumes Hyde must be blackmailing the philanthropic aristocrat. However, matters turn darker when Jekyll begins displaying unusual behavior. He stops seeing visitors and generally isolates himself from the public. Then a member of parliament ends up dead, beaten bloody by a cane Utterson remembers giving to Dr. Jekyll.
It turns out that Jekyll is not the virtuous man he pretends to be and that, in order to fulfill certain “vices,” he created a potion that would alter his appearance thereby removing the risk of harming his reputation. Only, the physical changes had side effects that affected Jekyll’s mind and gave birth to the violent Mr. Hyde. The ending scene shows us that no one can escape his or her darker nature.
“Carrie” by Stephen King
King’s first novel, and arguably one of his best, tells the story of Carrie White through interviews, magazine articles, segments from newspapers, and book excerpts. Carrie, an overweight girl with bad acne, is bullied at home and at school, but eventually discovers her unusual power to move things with her mind. The novel starts with Carrie getting her first period while showering in gym class and freaking out because she thinks she’s bleeding to death. Then her classmates begin throwing tampons at her. It only gets worse from there.
While some remorseful students try to befriend Carrie, other students plot a bloody prank for her at the senior prom. The prank, which involves pig’s blood, catalyzes a mass murder in the small Maine town. “Carrie” is very much a story about how bullying can have deadly consequences and how evil lurks even in the most mundane places.
“The Exorcist” by William Blatty
The story that inspired the infamous movie is, somehow, even more frightening. Blatty takes an embodiment of innocence, a young girl, and transforms it into a figure of terror. The novel follows the complete demonic possession of Regan MacNeil and the priests who sacrifice themselves to save her soul.
Regan, the daughter of actress Chris MacNeil, becomes mysteriously ill as her mother finishes filming. As Regan’s illness worsens, her psychological and physiological states alter into something almost unrecognizable. At first, Chris thinks the girl is acting up because of her recent divorce, but she eventually reaches out to a priest, Father Damien Karras, who doesn’t think Regan is possessed–until he meets her. After enlisting the help of Father Lankester Merrin, the two men face off against the diabolical force that has taken residence inside Regan’s body.
“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe
While only a short story, Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” encapsulates the full horror of disease and the terror of infection.
A plague has taken over the land. It starts as red pustules on a person’s face and ends in death thirty minutes later. Prince Prospero gathers himself and a thousand of his friends into a castle physically remote from the dead and dying. He has enough provisions and entertainment to keep his guests in the castle for an indeterminate amount of time.
About six months later, Prince Prospero decides to throw an elaborate masquerade. He decorates a suite of rooms in a multitude of colors like blue, purple, green, etc. However, one room is much more nefarious than the others: the black room. The black room has a red glass window with candles behind it, so haunting red light illuminates the room. Very few people go into the black room.
Everyone is dancing and having a good time until the clock strikes midnight. That’s when everyone notices a figure that had gone unseen before. He’s wearing a mask that mimics the face of someone suffering from the Red Death. By morning, everyone is dead.
“A Sicilian Romance” by Ann Radcliffe
Don’t let the title fool you. While there is romance in the novel, it takes a backdrop to the harrowing adventures of Radcliffe’s heroine, Julia.
The story focuses on the Mazzini family and its ultimate downfall. The Marquis of Mazzini marries the beautiful Maria de Vellorno and they have two lovely daughters together: Emilia and Julia. However, Maria falls ill and apparently dies of mysterious reasons. The Marquis takes a new wife, who turns out to be a hateful stepmother and attempts to murder Julia. Julia falls in love with a handsome young man, Hippolitus, but her father insists on her marrying the tyrannical, power-hungry Duke de Luovo. Julia, a strong-willed girl, runs away with Hippolitus.
The couple escapes into a series of underground tunnels which will lead them to another territory out of Italy. However, the Marquis and the Duke find them. They imprison Julia and tell her they’ve executed Hippolitus. Julia manages to escape her prison and the Marquis must start another manhunt to find her. Eventually, Julia makes her way to the southern portions of her father’s castle. It’s old and disused, but has apparently been repurposed as a jail. It’s here and that Julia finds her mother, Maria, who’s been a prisoner the entire time.
While the story ends happily, the fact that a woman could be imprisoned for almost 20 years and no one even blinked an eye is enough to make this story truly gothic.
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte brings us a story of ghosts who never let go in “Wuthering Heights.” The novel follows a homeless boy named Heathcliff who’s brought into the Earnshaw family. The daughter, a girl named Catherine, soon becomes friends with Heathcliff, though her brother becomes jealous of the new boy.
Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love, but Catherine sacrifices this “true” love for a safer one with Edgar Linton. Heathcliff is of low social status and the Lintons are not. In an effort to be worthy of Catherine, Heathcliff leaves to earn money.
He returns a few years later having amassed a large fortune. He begins a relationship with Isabela Linton, Edgar’s sister, but only as a means of revenge against Edgar. Jealousy consumes Catherine and she falls ill while she’s pregnant. Later, Catherine gives birth to a daughter and dies shortly after.
Though, Catherine is dead, she remains a main character throughout the novel, influencing Heathcliff and fueling his anger. Her ghost is said to haunt the upstairs of Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff finds himself waiting for her spirit to appear.
“The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole
Walpole gives us the first known gothic novel with “The Castle of Otranto.” It is eerie and disturbing in equal measures.
The story opens on the wedding day of Conrad and Isabella. However, Conrad is killed before the actual wedding by a giant helmet that falls from the sky. Manfred, Conrad’s father, takes this ominous event as a sign that his family’s curse will soon kill the entire family. Manfred then divorces his wife and tries to marry Isabella in an attempt to stop the curse.
However, Isabella would rather not marry the father of her former almost-husband. A monk helps her escape the king and hides her away under the church. This monk is then imprisoned, though, it turns out he has a secret identity that will change the fate of Otranto forever.
Halloween is the spookiest time of the year, and we at Literally, Darling hope these books help make it even spookier.