Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” He used that theory effectively in his films, causing us to be more frightened by what we imagined than what we actually saw on the screen.
A well-written novel can achieve the same effect. In the hands of a skilled writer, we can stay up all night with our minds running wild on what a character looks like, sounds like and acts like.
Although there are many fine “scary” modern novels, some of the best are the classic old ones. If you have only seen film versions of these fine books, you owe it to yourself to read the real thing. And, since most of them are in the public domain and are therefore available to read free online, there is no better time to do so.
However, if you delve into one of these classic horror stories tonight, be sure to leave a light on.
Classic Books – Dracula by Bram Stoker
Irish writer Bram Stoker did not invent the idea of the vampire, but he certainly is credited with popularizing the creature that transforms from human to bat form. First published in 1897, Dracula tells the story of a young British solicitor, Jonathan Harker, who becomes involved with a series of terrifying incidents after he visits a castle in Transylvania.
This exciting tale of the supernatural has been recreated many times onstage and onscreen, and it continues to find new fans today. An interesting side note: Bram Stoker (whose working title for the book was The Dead Un-Dead) did not follow proper copyright procedures, and his novel has been in the public domain since its original publication.
Classic Books – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley was only 20 years old when she wrote her famous novel about a young college student who creates a monster. Although many people associate the name Frankenstein with the grotesque creature, it is actually the last name of the student who creates the monster.
Shelley, who was the wife of Romantic poet Percy Shelley, revealed that the idea for her memorable novel came to her in a dream. She first published Frankenstein anonymously in 1818, and her name did not appear as its author until its second edition in 1823. Hollywood versions of this thought-provoking book do not capture its themes of life, morality and virtue.
Classic Books – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Best known as a playwright (The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance) Oscar Wilde’s only novel is a tale of suspense and horror that also examines the shallow society in which he lived and worked.
Dorian Gray is a young, handsome aesthete living in England in the late 1800’s. In a startling illustration of the adage “be careful what you wish for,” Gray stays youthful while his portrait ages. As time goes on, the portrait begins to reflect Gray’s life of corruption and debauchery. This gripping novel allows us to examine our own reliance on appearances and how deceiving they can be.
Classic Books – The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Call it a psychological thriller, a gothic horror story or just a good old-fashioned ghost story, The Turn of the Screw is guaranteed to get the hair standing up on your neck.
First published in 1898 as a series in Colliers Weekly and then later the same year as a book, this novel is written mostly as the journal of a governess. When she comes to care for two children at an English country estate, the governess finds herself locked in a battle with two evil spirits. James called his classic novel a “fable” and he gives us just enough detail – but not too much – to create our own visions of the ghosts and their ghostly deeds.
Classic Books – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote this memorable tale of the struggle between good and evil over the course of only two days. It was first published in 1886.
Your probably know the premise. The gentle and well-mannered Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that turns him into the treacherous Mr. Hyde. As is the case with several of the other novels on this list, however, the film versions do not give an accurate depiction of Stevenson’s story.
The book isn’t simply a horror story. Rather it is a fascinating examination of who we really are as human beings opposed to who we appear to be. It is a masterpiece that has well stood the test of time.
So why not do something a little different this Halloween. After the trick or treating is done, spend some time curled up with a good scary classic.