We see a lot of horror online and in fiction. Short stories, novellas, and PDF files float around the internet without issue and reach tens of thousands of people at a time (even more if you have a name for yourself or happen to land a reading in a podcast, etc.). There is an endless stream of murky, dreadful horror stories flowing through the world wide web every single day. But a few creepy stories stand out above the others. A few have survived the test of time.
Which is why I bring you my top 5 Horror Novel Classics!
5) The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This classic ghost tale, written in 1898 has been one of the (as weird as it sounds) classic contemporary stories. This novel set a brilliant pace for the horror writing we see today. It allowed for twists and turns, with a protagonist that you could identify with in her confusion around her new employment at “Bly”, a large estate of which she is to care for the children of the owners within.
We read the retelling of the story in the novel (nobody does meta quote like horror!) as it is made clear that something is off about the young man our protagonist is meant to look after. In case you didn’t know already and happen to be brand spankin’ new to horror, here is a list of reasons why this is never a good sign in scary novels. Through a few series of events we find that some of the old employers of the house might not have exactly left after death. It is difficult to say more without spoiling too much if the book (if you haven’t read it yet), but by the end of classic, you are left who who is at fault, which is something I still struggle with to this day!
4) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
This story was on that I really had a hard time figuring out where to put on the list. I knew immediately that would end up in this top 5, but was unsure as to how high it should sit. On one hand, it is one of the most popular children’s tales in horror. There have been so many re-workings of the play between books, movies, television, theatre – even radio shows – that nearly every person who has ever had any interest in the horror scene knows the words “Sleepy Hollow”.
On the other hand, I felt as though the story was a bit saturated and was more cautious, seeing as how far separated the tale was from the original writing. With the other novels on this list, the stories are set in stone, this 1820 piece isn’t even an actual novel, but rather a short story written by Washington Irving after the American Revolution – one of 34 stories in his collection.Now, this is not to say “it is not long enough to be of merit”. If I said that, I would be so pompously wrong (again, the reach this story has had in 200 years is insane!). But it did make me question if it should sit higher on the list that our top three, which I think really take the classic horror lit cake, if such a delicious cake existed.
Long story, without any fear of spoilers, Ichabod Crane, disheartened from his failure to earn the hand of the lovely Katrina, heads home after a harvest party, only to find himself running face-to-face…well, rather face-to-shoulders with the phantom of a Major in the Revolutionary War.
If you don’t know the rest, I obviously will recommend you give it a read.
3) The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This next work is another seen across all mediums. In fact, let’s go ahead and say that the rest of this list falls into that category, just to save me from having to type out the obvious. If they’re in the top three, you have heard about them somehow in someway. That’s a promise.
Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the masters of classic. With other novels and stories such as Treasure Island, The Body Snatcher, and The Bottle Imp, there is no denying that R.L.S. is a man of the ages when it comes to not only horror, but to fiction in general. This work, arguably his most popular and well-known piece, tells of the fights between good and evil inside of a man. The duality of man has always been a questionable topic, but Stevenson took that idea and moved it forward in this work.
The name “Hyde” has become synonymous with the evil within a man and has left a lasting impression on the way we understand the human mind (at least in the literary world, that is). The ongoing, everlasting battle between good vs. evil in the brain of genius/madmen owes itself heavily to the text in this amazing selection.
2) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Also known as Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, this tale was written by a rather young Mary Shelley, having started at the age of 18.
Now, before we dig into this, throw away the idea of the giant green man with the flat-top head, please. Yes, we know that is the popular image of Frankenstein. Yes, we know that that is how most people see it. Yes, we know you dressed like that for Halloween 2 years ago. Please, we get it.
But even though that character may be on the windows of folks every October, this character – or more so this story – is the one that inspired it. Shelley’s classic tale of a young science student who goes off on an experiment to resurrect a stitched man made of numerous cadavers. The story is told by Frankenstein to Captain Walton in the North Pole, which is told by Walton to Margaret Saville (that’s double meta!). When the creature becomes alive as a hideous, disfigured beast, Frankenstein (who is the doctor/student, NOT the monster) dismisses the creature, who after a series of more events, flees to the North Pole, where we find Victor (Frankenstein) and Walton, where this story began. I’ll leave out details and the end for spoiler sake, as is tradition.
This beautifully crafted tale has done much for the horror scene and has created a famous monster, a ton of stereotypes (both good and bad) for horror, and even it’s own genre within the realm of horror itself. It is one of the greatest works of all time, but only second, possibly, to our number one pick…
1) Dracula by Bram Stoker
There has not been a most prominent figure in the world of horror – and possibly in all of literature – than Dracula. The vampiric, terrifying killer is known worldwide, even allowing the writer to have one of Horror’s greatest writing achievements to be named after him for all of his contributions to the genre!
Telling the story of Dracula and his attempt to move to England from Transylvania in order to find more victims, and the rise and hopeful stopping of such an attack by Professor Van Helsing (amongst others). What makes it even more horrifying is that the character of Dracula was loosely based (or believed to be so) on an actual man who would torture and kill many people under his rule in what is now Romania, Vlad the Impaler – or better known as Vlad Dracul.
I cannot even begin to say how widespread Dracula and the modern day vampire has reached (insert Twilight joke here, please), but this is one of the few stories that, even if you aren’t familiar with the classic story itself, you know enough of the details and characters to piece it together. We know who Dracula is, we know what he did, and because of this, Bram Stoker gets his name at the very top of this at #1.