It’s my favorite time of year: Fall. Samhain. SCARY MOVIES AND BOOKS. In honor of all things creepy, I’m counting down my thirteen favorite horror stories, listed by category. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
- Favorite Classic Horror: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Forget everything you know about the spinoffs and mishmashes of Frankenstein. Shelley’s original is absolutely horrifying. Frankenstein’s monster becomes the embodiment of fear, revenge, intent to take everything from his creator.
Runner Up: The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
- Favorite Scary Books Growing Up: Christopher Pike and RL Stine’s Fear Street
By the time I was in middle school I’d graduated to Stephen King, but before that, I DEVOURED all the Fear Street books, and anything by Christopher Pike (who, by comparison, was just a little bit dicier, and I was all about dicey). I was a few years too old for the Goosebumps books, but my sister read them.
Runner Up: Some of those Choose Your Own Adventures got pretty real, y’all.
- Favorite Horror Fantasy Story: Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
The story goes, King wrote this for his young daughter who thought his other books were too scary for her. The result is something that is half-fantasy and half-absolutely terrifying. It may have been written for his daughter, but the undercurrent of evil running through this story has stayed with me all these years, and remains one of my favorite books of his.
Runner Up: The Silmarillion. Arguably not horror, but some of those stories really mess with your head.
- Favorite Horror Story of 2010s: N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
So, I find it really interesting (and maybe unfair) that Stephen King’s son has a talent for spinning a scary yarn as well. Even more surprising is that he is FAN-EFFING-TASTIC at it. He writes unlikeable characters and makes them sympathetic and relatable, and heroes you’ll be thinking about for months. But he also craps all over them. My kind of author. In fact, the hardest part of this post was trying to decide which of his books to pick for this category.
Runner Up: The Vines by Christopher Rice
- Favorite Ghost Story: The Mezzotint in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James
The Mezzotint is one of a handful of short stories in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James. Touted as the non-fiction of an antiquary, all the stories within the collection are unique, but none so much as The Mezzotint, which involves a picture that, shall we say, changes each time you look at it. Not in good ways, either.
Runner Up: Beloved by Toni Morrison. This one deserves its own category, honestly.
- Favorite Stories About Witches: Mayfair Trilogy by Anne Rice
This series changed my life, both as a writer, and as a reader. Anne’s mythologies around her witches are rich and carefully woven, bringing forth a contemporary family of witches you secretly wish you were related to. But with a tantalizing past, and a family ghost that is not the protector he claims, it’s not all fun and spells.
Runner Up: Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy
- Favorite YA Horror: The Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Trilogy by Ransom Riggs
If you’re not familiar with these, Riggs came across a collection of ridiculously creepy old photos, and spun a story around them about “peculiar” (read: supernatural) children under the protection of time loops and powerful female avian shifters. The stories and approach are unique, riveting, and just so different from anything else out there. And despite being for children, there’s no shortage of scary.
Runner Up: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
- Favorite Supernatural: The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
Rice has a gift of language (another family with talent running rampant), and storytelling. Together, this makes for compelling work in any genre he operates in, but his first supernatural book, The Heavens Rise, was a damned masterpiece. Equal parts terrifying, gothic, lyrical, and devastating, this book has stayed with me since I read it.
Runner Up: The Talisman and Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub
- Favorite Scary Novel That Kept Me Up for Days: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
This is not even in my top 10 of my favorite King novels, but it shows the power of the storytelling and imagery here that I did not sleep for days. No exaggeration. These are not sparkly vampires. They are not moody, or interesting. They’re unrepentant killers, they’ve done this before, and escape is looking like less of an option. Oy.
Runner Up: It by Stephen King. In fact, this one might even be tied, because, clowns.
- Favorite Scary Story Involving A Building: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I think the most interesting thing about Jackson’s story is that it isn’t overtly scary. Everything that happens is subtle.. from the nuances of the house, to the slow decline of the inhabitants. The ending feels tragic, and inevitable. Her beautiful use of storytelling and language brings this one home for me, and you don’t even realize until after you’ve put it down what she’s done.
Runner Up: The Shining by Stephen King.
- Favorite Gothic Romance Horror: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Strange category, I know. But there are books you won’t find in any horror category that are terrifying, nonetheless. Rebecca is one of those books. The mood throughout the book never allows you to put your guard down. Every word keeps you dangling. As with Shirley Jackson, du Maurier plays on subtleties to the extent you don’t realize you’ve arrived until you’re there.
Runner Up: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (In another category, such as classic romance, this would actually win for me).
- Favorite “This Could Happen, OMG” Horror Story: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Dude. We all know this level of raw savagery exists in all of us. Its at the core of our species. And, in the right circumstances, it may be forced to the surface. A whole ‘notha level of horror exists when it plays out among children. Just give him the damn conch already!
Runner Up: Run by Blake Crouch
- First Adult Horror Story I Ever Read: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
My very first horror books were the Fear Street books, and Christopher Pike. But those were aimed at teenagers. My mother was a huge King fan and had a stack of his paperbacks. She was a fantastic storyteller, my mom, and would often tell me about the books, leaving me more and more curious. But could I handle that level of scary? I picked up Pet Sematary and my entire life changed. I was horrified, and addicted all at once. When I finished all her King books, I moved on to John Saul, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub. I’ve had a love affair with horror ever since.
Sound off in the comments with your own favorites!