With spooky season upon us, it’s time to take a look at some classic horror books. Whether the author dreamed up their story in the 1800s or recently, a good spooky story takes time and commitment to write.
From Frankenstein in 1818 to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked Comes This Way over a century later, horror books share a commonality—they put you on the edge of your seat in anticipation and cause you to glance over your shoulder as you turn the page.
In this article, we discuss some of the classic horror books, and while this list is by no way exhaustive, it will likely put you in the mood for a hot cup of cider, a warm fire, and a chilling story. Which of the following titles put you on the edge of your seat?
Check out these classic horror books to really get into spooky season:
Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897
Bram Stoker is credited with creating one of the first masterpieces of the horror genre, and arguably the most recognizable vampire novel in the world. Imagine yourself as the protagonist, Jonathan Harker, journeying to Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a house in London.
Sounds like an easy beginning, however, when Jonathan discovers he’s not working with a normal client, his life takes a massive turn. Take your imagination to England an experience the following events through the pages of this story:
- A shipwreck off the coast of Whitby
- A young woman with strange puncture marks on her neck
- And even a wolf attack
Since its original publication in 1897, Dracula has grabbed readers and kept them turning pages.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1818
Author Mary Shelley took on many roles:
- English novelist
- Short story writer
- Dramatist and essayist,
- Biographer and travel writer
However, she also edited the works of Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was her husband. In addition, her father was a political philosopher and mother was a writer, philosopher, and feminist.
With this background in mind, enter Frankenstein, the story of a creative (but mad) scientist whose twisted plans created a man from leftover parts. Frankenstein straddles genres, fitting nicely in the horror genre while also being considered the first science fiction novel ever published.
The Shining, Stephen King, 1977
Leave it to Stephen King to bring in the fall season with a shiver. In his classic horror, The Shining, his protagonist, Jack Torrance, takes a new job at the Overlook Hotel. He sees his job as a great chance at a new beginning with his family, however, things take a sinister turn.
Jack wants to reconnect with his family, write, and simply work his job as the hotel’s off-season caretaker. The winter season comes, locking Jack into his job and his environment, as well as into proximity with his son, Danny Torrance, a very uniquely gifted five-year-old.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, 1820
If you’re a teacher eager for the Christmas holidays, you may realize your day-to-day is less stressful than you think after reading Irving’s classic horror story. Ichabod Crane is Washington Irving’s protagonist of choice, a simple Yankee schoolteacher living in Sleepy Hollow on the Hudson River.
However, Ichabod is not just a teacher; he is a sponge who has soaked up the ghost stories and tales he learns about. When he discovers the tale of the headless horseman, he never dreams he’ll meet a ghosty, headless horseman on his way home one night.
Unfortunately for Ichabod, the headless horseman pursues him, throws something at his head, and the Yankee teacher…well you’ll have to read it yourself if you don’t know the ending. Just be glad you don’t teach in Sleepy Hollow, on the Hudson, with a headless horseman prowling around.
The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux, 1909
It’s the 1880s, in Paris, France. You enter the Palais Garnier Opera House, knowing it is believed to be haunted. However, on this one, the Opera’s lead soprano is sick, and a young woman—Christine—steps up to take her place. Little does she realize, her life is about to change.
Successfully filling in for the lead singer, an audience member happens to recognize her. His name is Vicomte Raoul, and Christine and Vicomte used to share a childhood together. Vicomte was also Christine’s childhood love.
This seems like a happy ending, but it happens that the Phantom is also part of the Palais Garnier Opera House, and he and Vicomte enter into a battle for her heart.
Something Wicked Comes This Way, Ray Bradbury, 1962
If you want a timeless American classic, Ray Bradbury’s well-known and popular novel can be one of your top choices. Not only is it loved by readers, but it has influenced both culture and genre over the years.
Halloween comes a week too soon, courtesy of a carnival that enters town sometime after midnight. Follow the experience of two young friends who encounter all the spooky adventures:
- Promises of dreams
- Mazes and mirrors
- What some wishes cost
- Nightmares come alive
Noted as an unparalleled literary masterpiece, Ray Bradbury wrote a timeless classic that readers will go to year after year.
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson, 1954
Vampires might be fun in books and movies, but what happens when they enter real life?
Richard Matheson’s New York Times bestseller is the story of Robert Neville, the last person alive on earth. Unfortunately, he is not on Earth alone.
The other humans left have turned into mutant vampires. And they’re after Robert.
When the sun rises, he enters the abandoned city hunting these mutants. When the sun sets, he hides alone, hoping he’ll live to see another sunrise.
With the world in ruins, surrounded by human vampires, and on his own, Richard must learn to survive. If he doesn’t, he will enter a living death and become one of them.
What’s Your Go-To Horror Story?
Do you prefer reading classic horror books or contemporary ones? Any good horror writer has studied the classics as well as more contemporary stories in order to fully understand the expectations of the genre and what it takes to make a book a terrifying read.
If you want to write a horror story or short story, draw inspiration from the examples above and the articles linked below:
Many of the stories start with an ordinary person but transition into extraordinary events. For example, teaching school is a job many people work every day as they equip the next generation with knowledge and prepare them to lead our world. Being followed by a headless horseman is not normal, to say the least.
As you consider writing your own horror story, try pairing the normal with the abnormal, the every day with the unique, and the ordinary with the extraordinary. Just as the above stories show, this simple matching exercise can create classics that stand the test of time.
You never know what you might dream up or how it may impact your future readers. Who knows, you may even write the next bestseller!