Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Best Horror Novels, for Writers

An article by Robert Weinberg, who I've met btw, in On Writing Horror lists and blurbs the 21 horror novels that every aspiring horror writer should read. There are some obvious ones on here, Frankenstein, Dracula, Rosmary's Baby, The Exorcist. There are also some I didn't expect to see on the list, including Burn, Witch, Burn! by Merritt, and The Ghost Pirates by Hodgson, niether of which I've read. The biggest oversight on the list is Ghost Story by Peter Straub, which is still the scariest book I've ever read.

I’ve seen such lists before, of course. I think Stephen King had one in Danse Macbre. Such lists always get me thinking, which is the fun of them. It seems to me, though, that any list that goes beyond about five books will start to reflect more upon the list writer’s personal reading history than on THE MUST READ books. Think about it this way. You are going to become the official horror writer for NASA, and are going to be sent to a primitive world to introduce the populace to the joys of horror fiction. Space is limited and you are allowed to select five horror novels to take with you as your personal “lesson” library. What do you choose? What should you choose?

Here are my selections:
1. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. THE monster book, and still a good read.

2. Dracula, Bram Stoker. There are a lot of good vampire books out there (and plenty of bad) but this one set up the themes for them all. And many of its scenes still carry a lot of horror today. THE vampire novel.

3. The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty. Rosmary’s Baby got there first, but The Exorcist is still the most powerful vision of the devil that we have. THE devil/demonic book.

4. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson. THE ghost story book, and the second scariest novel I’ve ever read.

5. The Body Snatchers, Jack Finney. THE alien invasion book, and you get paranoia in addition.

And now, because I’m a reader and I know myself, I would personally throw away my watch and billfold, pull the metal buttons off my jeans, and even take the cushions out of my shoes to reduce weight so I could get a sixth book on board. And that would be: Ghost Story, by Peter Straub. It’s not actually a ghost story at all, of course, although the movie made it into one. This one had just about everything.

Anyone else up for a list?

16 comments:

Steve said...

I was reading your list going, "yes...yes... YES!"

Now I've got to bump GHOST STORY up to the top of the pile. I picked it up at a library sale months ago, and since then it's languished in the waist high to-be-read pile.

I could do with a good frightener, too...

Sidney said...

I've always heard "The Ghost Pirates" is a must-read too, and I own a copy, but I haven't read it. Need to do that. I've also always heard "The Monk" is a must and I have an e-book of that one but haven't read it either.

I've wracked my brain to come up with others as worthy as those but you've named some good ones.

Does Something Wicked This Way Comes count as horror? The language is so fabulous I would think it would be a good choice to keep handy for multiple readings because you can find new nuances on each visit to its pages.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Simon Clark's "Blood Simple". Not a great writer, but damn...once you start you can't stop. And some of his images stayed with me for weeks afterward. Few authors have had such an effect on me.

I agree with Ghost Story. It's an amazing book. Another horror novel for writers? I hate to mention King..I really do. I recognize what a talent he is, but so much of his work has bothered me. Still, "SALEMS LOT" "THE SHINING" and "PET SEMETARY". Why? Because he is a master at engaging the reader, of jumpstarting plot and mood. He knows how to run dialogue and set the pace.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

THE MONK, THE CASTLE OF OTRONTO, FRANKENSTEIN, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and, c'mon, let's let the new people on the blog find this one out for the first time, Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND.

Charles Gramlich said...

The Monk and Castle of Otronto are really good. If you wanted to go back into the history of the genre you couldn't do much better. Carmilla is worthwhile too, by LeFanu. An early vampire work. You can download all three of these for free online, which is how I read them.

The list in the HWA book had The Stand and Salem's Lot by King. I would pick Dracula over King's vampire work for it's originality but I did like Salem's Lot quite a bit.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oh, and Something Wicked This Way Comes was on the HWA book's list. I would certainly include it in my top ten. It was chilling and so beautifully written.

Clifford said...

Oh man, that's hard. Your list is great, Charlesland if I were in a Lazy(er) mood, I'd just say 'ditto'. Anyway, here's a rough stab at this:

Picture of Dorian Grey (0. Wilde)
The Vampire Least (A. Rice)
The Stand (S. King)
Blackwater 1-6 (M. McDowell)
The Ceremonies (T.E.D. Klein)

Close calls: Silence of the Lambs/Red Dragon, Dracula, Rosemary's Baby, Cold Moon Over Babylon, The Elementals, Control, The Shining, Carrie, A Manhattan Ghost Story, Katie, etc.

P.S. I just ordered a copy of "Cold in the Light" so I reserve the right to ammend this list.

Basil Ratbane said...

"The Monk" is hilarious, about a monk who finds out the secrets and thrills of the flesh. One of my favorite lines: "Ambrose rioted in delights," and then it goes on. It's really a spoof of the Gothic--or else it's inept and therefore very funny. I think it's a spoof, or at least I thought so when I read it as a college sophomore.

Michelle's Spell said...

Charles,

Totally agree with your list! I love The Exorcist especially. And the movie is brilliant -- what's not to love about hard-drinking, cigarette smoking priests who are fighting the powers of evil?!

Sidney said...

I will put the e-text of The Monk on my iPod. I like LeFanu, but I thought mainly of "Green Tea," which is a great horror short story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cliff, thanks for getting a copy of "Cold." And I'd almost forgotten Klein's "Ceremonies." That was a tremendous book, and then Klein did "Dark Gods," I think, and I haven't heard much else since.

Sid, "Green Tea" is a good one. And Basil, I don't think "the Monk" was an intentional spoof because there really wasn't much "gothic" stuff out to spoof when it appeared. It is certainly over-the-top, however.

Michelle, yes, priests can be great characters when they play against stereotypes.

Danny Tagalog said...

4. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson.

I must confess my ignorance - I've never even heard of this. Another thing for the list...

Stewart Sternberg said...

I am Legend was magnificent. I love Richard Matheson.

I didn't include "Something Wicked This Way Comes" in my list because I'm not sure it's a horror story. I think it had some horrific elements, but I never thought of it as horror. Maybe dark fantasy.

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent list. Very scary stuff. Turn of the Screw as a bonus scare?

Lucas Pederson said...

How about Necroscope, by Brain Lumley? Now here's a twist on the whole vampire thing. The first book, above, was great, and the others, although strange, are just as good. If you haven't read Necroscope, Vamphri, and the rest of the series, please give them a try. Good stuff.

word lord said...

"House on the Borderland", by William Hope Hodgson. Very Scary...