If you’re new to reading horror stories or just feel that you haven’t been experiencing horror novels to the fullest, this article contains recommendations of various stories and books within the horror genre that fans of the macabre or dreadful may find interesting. It also explores the various ways you can find horror tales tailored to your interests without reading book lists or going inch by inch through your local library’s horror section. Many people will mention classic horror tales, and while Jekyll and Hyde and Frankenstein are important to the horror genre, the classics are not the only volumes that will be mentioned in this article.
Beginning horror readers may cringe at the thought of reading said classics, but I feel that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not only important to horror novices, but a highly entertaining and insightful read. Dracula is one of the few earlier ventures into horror that I feel shows a clear path to what is today’s horror. It is an example of real horror – not horror created through blood and gore, but psychological and instinctive horror written in a way that intrigues the mind and not a thirst for blood and violence. Being one of the books that is looked to as an authority on vampires and vampire myth, it is crucial for those interested in vampires to read. For readers who are not familiar with antiquated English colloquialisms and vocabulary, a copy with footnotes and various other resources may be useful (though I must mention that finding a copy without such resources, as I have tried, is more difficult).
Another slightly antiquated writer of the macabre I would recommend is none other than Edgar Allan Poe. Some of his writings do not fall directly into the horror category, but many of them feature events or settings which might be considered horrific. We may remember that Poe wrote The Raven, but he is also the writer of such fascinatingly terrifying tales as The Black Cat. And what middle school student has not been fascinated by The Telltale Heart? If nothing else, reading Poe’s most popular works may give you a greater appreciation for the horror genre in general and how many of its authors have been inspired by Poe’s works.
Many vampire or horror fans may also enjoy Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. It consists of (in order) Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil, The Vampire Armand, Merrick, Blood and Gold, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle. It was the inspiration for the films Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned, but the books are much more detailed, a bit different regarding the plot, and feature lush and descriptive writing. They feature such interesting and memorable characters and barely qualify as horror, but nevertheless, I have never spoken to a horror fan who did not enjoy at least one of the books in this dark and rich series. Rice has also written many other novels that may be of interest to horror readers.
There is hardly a chance that anyone has not heard of Stephen King, especially a horror reader. However, many may cast aside his name because he is a popular writer and it is easy to consider him overrated. I have had many friends who did this, only to read a novel later and be shocked that he is actually an author in possession of a great imagination and good writing skills. Though King’s prose is not fancy or showy, what he does have to offer is great dialogue, fascinating storylines, and a truly fascinating basic understanding of the human psyche. To any reader who may have thrown the idea of reading one of his novels out the window, I would recommend they read either It or The Shining. It, while rather lengthy, taps into most of our childhood fears and quite a few of our adult ones. The story encompasses so many different lifestyles and secret dreams and fears that nearly everyone can relate to it. As for The Shining, it is a bit of a different story than the film starring Jack Nicholson was. The Shining is a very good read and an interesting concept that raises many questions; many horror readers would enjoy this for the point of view, as well – it happens to be that of a child a lot of the time, and no one experiences horror more fully and intensely as a child.
Shirley Jackson is another writer horror lovers should look into. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House tells the story of a man who rents a haunted house in order to try and scientifically prove the existence of the supernatural within it. He brings two young women, the heir to the home, and himself to the house and the house nearly immediately begins terrifying the inhabitants, and eventually begins to possess one of the young women. This novel uses suspense and relates events in the house to the characters’ past experiences. It is believed by many to be one of the best horror novels of the 20th century and for good reason – it is quite a good read.
The Silence of the Lambs may not widely be considered a horror novel, but as a winner of a Bram Stoker award and a book I have noted many horror readers enjoy, I believe it deserves a place here as well. The novel’s premise is well known and its films probably better known. Despite this, it is a well written suspense story and the events within it are most certainly horrific.
H.P. Lovecraft is a renowned and fantastic author of horror fiction. His short stories are some of my favorites – they are quick reads, but show an insight that is rare in any author and a flair for choosing original plots. Lovecraft drew many comparisons to Edgar Allan Poe, especially with his early works, and has inspired many horror writers after him with the worlds and ideas that he created.
If I did not mention Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then I would be leaving out two very important novels in early horror fiction. I first read Stevenson’s novel when I was in elementary school, and found it quite enjoyable despite the complexities in the prose. I was at the time amazed that the story was so different from the countless adaptations of it I had seen and heard of, but was far more impressed by the original story than its imitations. I am of the opinion that fellow horror fans will feel the same way. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though easier to read as language goes, can be a bit slow in spots. Again though, it is well worth the read, especially for those who are interested in the origins of horror fiction.
It might also be ridiculous if I did not mention Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. Both inspired films that terrified millions, and have become household names. Many people have forgotten the novels that the movies were based on, however. William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist was written about an actual exorcism that he heard about, and has quite a few differences from the film. These differences make the novel more than worth reading and again, a must read for huge horror fans. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby is well-written and highly entertaining – for me there was barely a stopping point.
Of course, for people interested in some other early horror fiction, there are always fairy tales. Fairy tales have been so watered down for children’s reading and watching, but originally they were very gruesome and actually quite disturbing by even today’s standards. Read in their original form (or as close as can be found; it can be very difficult, for example, to find The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales from their first volumes), they can be entertaining for even adults, and many of today’s most popular horror themes can be seen in them.
One last thing that must be remembered is that horror fiction cannot only be found in the horror section of the bookstore or library. Horror fiction often goes hand in hand with Gothic fiction, and for true fans of the genre, these things are not solely defined by what belongs in the horror section. A horror book may be defined simply by the fact that it contains horrific events or ideas, which are different for everyone. For some, a crime novel may be a horror novel. For others, a biography may qualify. Fans of horror may also want to explore themes they are interested in that they come across in other novels, without discounting any other genre. Science fiction and fantasy often feature events that horror fans may find interesting. Often I browse the regular fiction section in my library and look for stories that look interestingly terrifying – I have had quite a bit of success just by looking specifically for paperbacks colored a deep red or sapphire blue (which is not to say this might work for everyone). The key is that horrific events do not exist solely in books marked “Horror,” and any true horror fan will enjoy their scares where they can get them.