With Halloween fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to dust off some classics—or add them to your Kindle—and read something a little spooky.
While they might not have the jump scares or special effects of modern-day horror movies, these great works are the original narratives that paved the way. You’ll find that reading horror can actually have a greater overall scare effect, as you’re fully immersing yourself in the story and using your imagination to create horrors much worse than any screen can show you.
Also reading these classics on your own time will impress your English professor. It’s really a win-win.
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Check out these 6 Halloween-appropriate classics and their infographics to learn about their histories, authors, and more!
While the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein isn’t the same as the big green Universal Studios version you may picture, we’d argue that her story is actually more terrifying. Humankind’s troubled relationship with nature comes under fire as Shelley illustrates the consequences of meddling too far. And this was before we knew about global warming.
Bonus Fun Fact: Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1815 at poet Lord Byron’s home in Geneva, Switzerland, during her boring summer. Forced inside by awful weather, Shelley and friends had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. We’re not sure who won that night, but Frankenstein has surely stuck around since then!
Dracula is another no-brainer, though the story itself might start a little slower than you’re used to if you’ve only seen vampire movies. An epistolary novel, which means it’s written in the form of letters or correspondence, Dracula is kind of a slow-burn story that begins with Jonathan Harker’s visit to Count Dracula to attend to some real estate matters and works its way toward the Count terrorizing everything and everyone Harker holds dear.
A far cry from sparkly Twilight vampires, Count Dracula continues to fascinate readers more than a century later—in part because some think the character was based on Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia, charmingly nicknamed “Vlad the Impaler” after he killed 40,000–100,000 people in the 15th century.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella, but that’s not the reason you’ll get through it so quickly. The tale of Gabriel John Utterson investigating the strange occurrences between his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and his evil young apprentice Edward Hyde is so fascinating you won’t want to put it down.
Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” used to describe someone who is two-faced or whose character switches depending on the situation. Now you’ll truly know what that means!
While Hamlet is Shakespeare’s beloved and more-often-referenced play of a murder most foul, Macbeth seems like it’s straight out of Game of Thrones. Like Hamlet, it’s also centered around a murder, AND it has three witches. So, obviously Macbeth is way more Halloween than Hamlet. That’s just math.
Macbeth also has a creepy history all of its own. Legend has it that a coven of witches cursed Macbeth after its early performances, ostensibly because they didn’t want their secret incantations going public. Whether or not this story is true, a superstition took hold in the theater community that forbade performers and crew members from speaking the play’s name aloud. Even today, many performers refer to the work as “the Scottish Play” in an effort to keep the curse at bay. Why Scottish and not English like Shakespeare? It’s because Macbeth takes place in Scotland! The more you know.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
This one might not seem like it fits with the rest, but there are three witches present in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which brings it all the way into Macbeth territory. The fantastical elements of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel make it a Halloween-appropriate—but more upbeat—read for the whimsical month of October.
Oh, and actually there’s a scary forest and a big terrifying castle at the end—and if you’ve ever see the movie version, you know those flying monkeys are actually pretty terrifying. So, depending on your fears, this might actually be the scariest book on the whole list!
A Rose for Emily
This macabre short story might be less familiar to you than the other, often-referenced works on this list, but A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner has definitely stood the test of time since its original publication in 1930.
Without giving too much away, the tale begins with the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson, an elderly woman living in the post-Civil War South. As we start to understand more about the dynamics of the town, we learn there is more than meets the eye to the legacy of Miss Grierson.