Yeah, it’s pretty weird: one i09 article and suddenly everyone on my Facebook newsfeed is an expert on The King in Yellow.
Anyway, yeah, okay, let’s do a list of horror fiction. But first, a caveat:
This list is by no means meant to be definitive or even exhaustive. I readily admit that there are gaps in my reading experience, so I am sure people will have tons of “you forgot”s for this list. No, man, I didn’t forget anything*, but feel free to reblog and add to the list if you would like. This is just a list of the flavor of horror that is bouncing around inside my personal, individual head. Your horror mileage may vary.
*It is possible I will forget something
For one thing, I don’t read a lot of modern horror and science fiction and I swear to GOD that is not meant as the humblebrag it sounds like. I don’t consider the fact that I haven’t read Heart-Shaped Box a strength, believe me. One reason besides personal taste that I read a lot of older fiction is that it is public domain and readily available for free thanks to sites like Project Gutenberg. So there’s that.
Second, there are gaps in my knowledge of weird fiction that’s neither public domain, nor readily available in print. Despite my best efforts, I have not yet been able to find works by Manly Wade Wellman. Others might complain that I’m missing some mainstays of early 20th century horror; I promise it’s not on purpose.
When possible, I will link directly to the stories and books mentioned, if they are available in the public domain. Otherwise, I will link to their Amazon page.
HERE WE GO
The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. Let’s go ahead and start with this one since it’s what started the whole discussion. Yes, this is the book that True Detective is referencing. Yes, Lovecraft references it. It’s one of the earliest examples of cosmic horror such as Lovecraft would later popularize.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James. MR James is pretty widely considered the master of the ghost story. Here is a collection of them. If you want an individual story to start with, here is a pretty representative one from a later collection.
And now some things by Ambrose Bierce. Bierce is probably best known today for his satirical Devil’s Dictionary, but he was also a fantastic writer of short fiction, including horror and fantasy tales. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is probably his most famous story, but I don’t know that I would call it horror, per se. You could also read An Inhabitant of Carcosa (near the end of that story collection) and see where Robert W Chambers got the name of his eldritch planet. The Damned Thing is more representative of Bierce’s normal style than the intentionally antiquated language of “Inhabitant.” Hmm, let’s do one more: how about Beyond the Wall?
I mean, I probably don’t have to tell you about Edgar Allan Poe. But just in case you haven’t read his work before, here’s a few to get you started: The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Raven, of course.
I know you already mentioned Lovecraft, but maybe some people don’t know where to start with him? Here are some suggestions to ease into HP Lovecraft: The Shunned House, The Thing on the Doorstep, The Rats in the Walls, The Dunwich Horror, The Call of Cthulhu.
That was bleak. Here’s something more fun: Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson. This book is a collection of short tales about Carnacki, the great paranormal investigator, and his adventures. Sometimes it’s a real ghost, and sometimes it’s not! Try to guess before Carnacki finds out with his fucking awesome electric pentacle. (P.S. I love Carnacki.)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This is, like, the main literary ghost story.
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. If I am completely honest, I have not read this yet, but both HP Lovecraft and Stephen King have called it the scariest book of all time, so that seems like a pretty good recommendation.
The Mark of the Beast by Rudyard Kipling. Though probably best known for The Jungle Book, Kipling wrote stories in a number of genres, including the supernatural. Here is a good example.
An Eddy in the Floor and The Vanishing House by Bernard Capes. (Two stories, both collected in the same book. You’ll have to ctrl-F for them.) Here are two spooky stories told in completely different styles. One about torture and madness, one about drunken street musicians. You’ll have to find out which is which!
I mean, you’ve probably read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, right? You should probably read Frankenstein. You’d be shocked how different it is from the movie.
Here’s a modern one, not in the public domain: House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski. You’ve probably heard of it? It’s pretty crazy. It’s about a house that’s bigger on the inside. Definitely for casual fans of Doctor Who.*
*this is false
Did you know that besides writing The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne also wrote tons of stories in the vein of the supernatural? Here are some that I like a lot: The Minister’s Black Veil, Young Goodman Brown, The Birthmark, Rappaccini’s Daughter.
My favorite poet is Robert Burns. My favorite poem by him is Tam o’Shanter. It is kind of more funny than scary, but it is a warning about the dangers of short skirts. Also the devil.
One of my absolute favorites is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. He wrote psychological horror that is ambiguous and haunting. Here are some to get you started: The Ghost and the Bone Setter, Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter, Green Tea.
Oh shit, who wants fucked up dreams? Then definitely read The Sandman by ETA Hoffmann. Although he is possibly best known for writing The Nutcracker, Hoffmann wrote tons of weird stories, including this one, which influenced Freud to create his theory of the unheimlich.
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant. A super influential story by a guy literally considered the master of the short story.
The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs. You’ve probably seen this spoofed or referenced, but here’s the actual source.
Fuck, I’m getting tired. Here’s a couple of quick hits if you like haunted houses:
Okay, let’s wrap this up. How about the chronological progression of the literary vampire, huh?
The Vampyre; A Tale by John Polidori (basically gay Lord Byron fanfiction; written or at least begun at the same party at which Frankenstein was written)
Varney the Vampire by Thomas Preskett Prest. Super readable penny dreadful. Trashy, but fun.
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Big influence on Dracula, basically responsible for the lesbian vampire subgenre.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. A modern book that links the literary Dracula with the historical Vlad Tepes. A favorite of mine.
If all that’s too much for you, maybe just get Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I mean, it’s for kids. How scary could it be?