Happy October folks! We have officially transitioned to what only the Wisconsinites call “fall,” rife with pumpkin spice lattes, a multitude of other pumpkin cliches and the countdown towards what will be my first official Halloween! I did not grow up dressing up in costumes to celebrate Halloween or go trick-or-treating; therefore my experience on that front is abysmally little.
However, I did grow up reading too many—as if there can be such a thing—scary books for my own good, which helped me morph into someone who’s far from being a rookie within the realms of horror literature. Which is precisely why I decided it’d be a good idea to enlighten you with books to put you in the Halloween mood. And because there’s nothing more pleasurable and spine tingling than a book that paints images of absolute and sheer terror in your mind.
We begin by James Tipper’s epitome as master of setting and atmosphere in “Gods of the Nowhere: A Novel of Halloween.” What begins in ancient Ireland—the land where Halloween incidentally was born—is a tale that introduces the possibility of everything that we associate with Halloween, leaking into our world from somewhere else
Unlike Disney princesses and the Avengers, “Nowhere” plays by its own rules, has its own agenda and its own brand of terrifying species. The veil that separates that world from ours is hence thinnest and most vulnerable on Halloween, the night where anyone can move through it. A book that respects the true spirit of the holiday without making it juvenile, Tipper offers you Halloween as it’s meant to be: dark, mysterious and primitive.
Edgar Allan Poe, the master of madness and deranged emotions, is next on my list, with his short story “The Black Cat.” Although admittedly this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Poe’s delightfully gruesomeness writing is very Halloween appropriate, and so is the black cat reference. A story that allows you to delight in the protagonist’s descent into violence and insanity, Poe drags you to the very dregs of despair and forces you to witness the morphing of good into something truly heinous. Poe’s subliminal and sly suggestions of substance abuse, not creating evil but bringing out the horror that was always innately present there anyway, is unimaginably chilling.
Next, Anne Rice, the queen of paranormal terror, reigns again with “The Witching Hour,” a tale of witchcraft and the occult spanning the length of four centuries. One of Rice’s lesser known books, this story weaves an intricate legend of evil that was unleashed in 17th century Scotland, which manages to bleed through time and bring its chaos to the present day (the book came out in 1990). We meet a dynasty of witches and witness one of them being confronted with her true heritage and powers, and the ultimate resonating bedlam that results from it.
Unapologetically horrific, “The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill is a true testament to words having the capacity to instill in you a fear like no other. The ghost genre has become nothing but a trite joke in recent years. However, this novel may somewhat redeem the neglected genre in your eyes. While the element created for the purposes of our fear—the woman in black—does the least in this book, the vivid imagery that she is described with while standing in the marshes with her face wasting away is enough imagination fodder for you to be looking over your shoulder for quite some time to come. You follow the story of the young protagonist, traveling to the English countryside to settle the affairs of someone’s death; he soon stumbles upon secrets and horrors more terrifying than anyone could possibly conjure.
Agatha Christie, the lady of thriller and mystery, also rises to the occasion with “Hallowe’en Party,” which as tradition would have it, investigates multiple murders at a Halloween party itself. Christie, as we all know, has a way with writing about murders and an even better ability of writing about multiple murders and their twisted investigation. Christie doesn’t underestimate the importance of shock value and immediate drama by opening with a premise that is quite deliciously macabre, with the death of a little girl—who had just announced she witnessed a murder—by drowning in a bucket meant for the obvious Halloween game. The novel’s winning element though is the atmosphere Christie weaves that invokes real emotions of you possibly witnessing the entire ordeal.
Concluding with another story set on the day of Halloween itself, “Dark Harvest” by Norman Partridge will creep up on you and suck you in so fast, it’ll truly be poetic and in tune with all that is frightening. Although a fast-paced thriller for this wonderful holiday, the book also contains coming of age themes. Though, their presence can be easily overlooked by the rituals described that have the power to reach inside and squeeze your heart with an ice cold grip. Witness Halloween in 1963, where every year Ol’ Hacksaw Face rises from the cornfields in a Midwestern town and makes his way to town where teenage boys eagerly look forward to confronting this walking nightmare.
Do you have any spooky books to suggest to Maham? Send her an email at email@example.com.