For this month’s Gateway Drugs, I bring you a sampling of some influential horror novels. These are good books to read if you want to try the genre out – they are also good books if you want to understand the genre. I tried to pick books that had a lasting influence on genre. I’ve also steered away from most horror/sci fi and horror/vampires and werewolves and zombies (oh my!). But I made a couple of exceptions, and of course a lot of horror crosses over into other genres. For instance, Frankenstein is easily as much science fiction as it is horror. So dive under the covers with a flashlight and celebrate Halloween with:
Any collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Frankenstein: by Mary Shelley
Dracula: by Bram Stoker
Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde: by Robert Louis Stevenson
These stories include gore and purely psychological horror. They are a vital influence on not only horror but all literature that came after the Victorian Age, including thoughts on sex, death, gender, science, and religion. Honestly, even if you have zero interest in horror, if you want to be well-read, you have to read these – I’m sorry, but that’s the deal. I’m sure it’s a law but I’m too busy reading to go look it up. And read some H.P. Lovecraft, too!
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This is a ghost story/haunted house story that combines scares with psychological horror. I also recommend We Have Always Lived in the Castle but it’s not as widely influential as Hill House.
I am Legend: by Richard Matheson
I’m purposely avoiding a lot of vampire stuff (we’ll have to do a whole separate Gateway edition about vampires one of these days). I made an exception for Dracula and for I Am Legend because they influenced literature beyond the depiction of vampires. In the case of I Am Legend, which is a remarkably unpleasant but important book, Matheson made a mark not so much on vampire stories but on apocalyptic stories in horror and in science fiction. It’s also notable for having an anti-hero and a twist that reveals just how anti the hero actually is.
The Shining by Stephen King
I’m hard pressed to pick one Stephen King book but I think The Shining made a broader mark on literature in general than any of his other work. There’s plenty of gore in this book but the scariest moments tend to involve the mind. Few things can top the impact of finding out just what Jack has been typing all this time. And it’s not just a scary story but a true tragedy, as in a Greek style tragedy. Stephen King never lets you forget the human impact of what happens.
John Dies at the End by David Wong
This book is new enough that I guess I can’t say whether it will be influential or not, but when I read it it felt new – like the first horror novel of the Internet age. It’s gross and crass and scary and funny (and really gross- I have to confess that I skipped some bits). It’s not for the faint of heart. But it feels like a crazy book that reflects horror from a uniquely modern standpoint. And did I mention that it’s funny?
A Great Book About Horror
Danse Macabre by Stephen King
A perfect primer for horror including all the mediums (a particularly horrible radio show is mentioned). Fantastic.