Reading Into Horror: Examining The Finest In Terror Literature, Part 1.

Literature is the timeless, most moving form of expression mankind will ever be blessed to possess.

Horror writing has been around for as long as ink has known paper.  Cited as having “ancient origins” with a Gothic persuasion dating all the way back to 1764 (THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO), there hasn’t been a shortage of incredible minds penning terror since.  From Shelley and Lovecraft, Poe and Blackwood, Stoker and Barker to King and Rice, Stine and Koontz, Jackson and Campbell, the days of paperback books may (arguably) be coming to a close in the future, but the tales of the macabre never will.

While horror has reached mainstream for as long as people have had an appetite for sleeping with the hall light on, there is just as much incredible work being done on the independent scene of horror literature.  Authors such as David Youngquist, Lori R. Lopez, Nathan Squiers, Elizabeth Kolodziej, Eric Brown and a haunted boatload of others are keeping the scares fresh and relevant.

While most of the world has slowly turned towards the path of eBooks and mobile devices to get their reading fix, I am proudly still slowly cracking open book spines and burying my nose deep into the middle of any given book to inhale that unique new book fragrance.  It tickles the senses and immediately pulls you in.

With that being said, let’s step into the library, dust off a few classics and also introduce some newer material to all of you horror fiends.  In the first part of a two-part piece celebrating horror literature and the best the genre has to offer, all I ask is you take your shoes off and please, no food or drinks in the library…

scary book

Jason Thorson (blogger, author, horror encyclopedia)

I guess I should start this with a bit of a disclaimer.  Books, like movies, are incredibly dynamic.  Even books within the same genre are varied by era, culture, gender, voice, narrative perspective, and on and on and on.  So I’ve never been one to pick a single favorite, but rather I have a fluid, constantly evolving list of several books that are essentially tied for first place.

So without further ado, here are some of those books:

From the old school, I enjoy Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN; OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS, which as an experimental bit of meta-fiction written by a 19-year-old English woman in the pre-Victorian era, its mere existence is remarkable.  And its impact on global pop culture over the past two centuries has been as emphatic as anything else ever written.  H.P. Lovecraft’s THE DUNWICH HORROR came almost a century later and it’s far more obscure, but it’s one of Lovecraft’s most complete narratives and one of my favorites from any era.  There are others, too, like Henry James’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW, which inspired several creepy kids/ghosts films including The Innocents and The Others.

From the intermediate era, I really dig Flannery O’Conner’s A GOOD MAN IN HARD TO FIND, which is actually a short story and one that’s ahead of its time by an incredible distance (think of it as the Last House on the Left-archetype).  Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is another outstanding book that’s way ahead of its time and was, as most of you are aware, the impetus for our modern conception of the zombie as interpreted by George A. Romero.  I’m also a fan of Stephen King’s IT, which I enjoy more for its coming of age story than I do its horror elements.  I’m fascinated quite a bit by Clive Barker’s visionary BOOKS OF BLOOD collections which yielded several great movies and I’m a big fan of his novella, THE HELLBOUND HEART, which gave us the mighty Hellraiser movie and its resident Cenobites.

From more recent times, I enjoy DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC, AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA by Erik Larson.  It’s the true account of serial killer H.H. Holmes and the atrocities he committed in his “house of horrors” during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  It’s written as fiction, though it’s entirely nonfiction which I think is a neat approach.

And one of my absolute favorites from any era is a book from a couple years ago called THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin.  For serious lack of an efficient way to describe it, I suppose you could call it a vampire novel, but don’t give that too much credence.  Either way, THE PASSAGE is unlike anything you’ve read.  Cronin is not a genre writer so he brings real, wonderfully-developed characters to our dark little corner of literature and this first entry of his proposed trilogy twists the form in some mind blowing ways.  The second installment of the trilogy comes out on October 16th of this year and it’s called THE TWELVE.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you jump aboard this series while it’s still developing.

I’ll leave it there because if I were to write this piece two weeks from now, the odds are good that it would include different books.  That’s just the way I’m wired…

Don't act like this image didn't terrorize your childhood dreams.

Don’t act like this image didn’t terrorize your childhood dreams.

Lori R. Lopez (author and blogger)

I don’t think any novel has topped the impact of FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley for me.  I read it in the fifth grade, and no book had touched my emotions like that one.  Not only was there a riveting horror story within its classic Gothic prose, but I encountered a depth of humanity in the guise of a monster and was deeply moved by his plight, his sorrowful existence and yearning for justice.  I still marvel at the book’s power to this day.  I like to think that my own writing contains at least a spark of its life and feeling, as well as its frightening possibilities.  True horror, in my estimation, is more about the terror of all things possible than about killing and bloodshed.  When we write or read or watch Horror, it is in part because we crave a glimpse of The Unknown to help push back the shadows of our fears.

I’d like to thank Jason and Lori for sharing some exceptional reading material with our creepy world!  If you are ever inclined to pick up a horror novel, look no further than the titles listed here in this article! 

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this piece, when several other horror fanatics share what books give them the willies!!

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