Halloween is perhaps my favorite holiday. Really, I love all the fall and winter holidays. But Halloween? What’s not to like? Horror movies, marathon readings of Edgar Allan Poe, perhaps a little Lovecraft.
I compiled a shortlist of my favorite creepy books that are perfect for this time of year. Some of them fall within the umbrella term of “weird fiction.” Others are classic ghost stories that I highly suggest you check out if you haven’t read already. And yeah, they’re all old books – like, really old.
Here’s my list:
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
The short stories of H.P. Lovecraft don’t need much of an introduction. Even people with a passing acquaintance of horror fiction seem to know who Lovecraft is. Much like Edgar Allan Poe, he’s a towering figure.
Unfortunately, Lovecraft was also a gigantic racist and all-around hateful person. Lovecraft Country, the new HBO series, is a recent creation that tries to reconcile the author’s brilliance and his horrid worldview.
A few years ago, I downloaded a cheap Kindle e-book that collects all of his short stories. It took me about a year to get through it. Some people may see Lovecraft as over-hyped because, well, he’s a bit of a cult hero. But it’s worth it to check out his stories, and they’re perfect for Halloween season.
Lovecraft was an obscure write published mainly in pulp magazines during his lifetime, and he didn’t become super-famous until after his death (much like Kafka). Many of his stories share common themes, such as forbidden knowledge.
One of the most remarkable things about Lovecraft’s stories is the intricate mythologies he created, such as the Cthulhu Mythos, which originated in the story “The Call of Cthulhu.”
If you haven’t read Lovecraft before, you can find most of his works online for free, or get a cheap Kindle e-book. Some of my favorites of all his stories include “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is another classic I’ve read recently that’s great for Halloween season. Though Emily Brontë’s only published novel doesn’t contain much supernatural horror, it does contain the real-life horrors of mental and physical abuse.
The famous story centers around tragic, dangerous, and twisted love. The main character (or villain) is Heathcliff, a haunted man who’s possessive and filled with rage. Heathcliff ruins the lives around him and ends up a bitter old man.
I won’t go into the plot because it’s a rather complicated series of events. It’s mostly centered on a forbidden love affair. Emily Brontë’s writing is incredible in the book, and her descriptions of the moorland paint a starkly gothic picture. And the ending is perfect!
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving
This is an obvious pick! Irving’s story is one of my all-time favorites. It’s the type of ghost story you can read to your kids – not too scary, a kind of tale to tell around the campfire. Plus, there’s a good deal of history behind it.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (along with “Rip Van Winkle”) are some of the earliest pieces of American fiction that gained widespread acclaim and popularity. “Sleepy Hollow” was published in 1820 and contained in a larger book of Irving’s essays and short stories.
“Sleepy Hollow” is a short story, not a full-length novel, unlike some of the other books I included on the list. The story is about 39 pages in the Kindle edition I linked to, so you could realistically read it in one sitting (or listen to the audiobook version), perhaps on All Hollow’s Eve!
The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories by Arthur Machen
If you stumble down the rabbit hole of horror and weird fiction history, you may eventually discover Arthur Machen. It’s actually a pen name for Arthur Llewellyn Jones, a Welsh author of the 1890s and early 20th century.
I’d seen his name quite a few times and decided to read a collection of his stories about a year ago. They’re pretty strange! The Great God Pan is a novella and his most well-known work, which Stephen King once proclaimed as one of the greatest horror stories in the English language.
The Great God Pan is indeed an excellent story and a very creepy one. The novella has themes about the occult and dark arts, and it centers around a mysterious and sinister woman named Helen Vaughan. The narrator of the story keeps hearing about this Helen woman, who travels in London’s high society. Rumors abound that people have died in her house of “sheer terror.”
A menacing vagueness hangs over the story, allowing the reader to use their imagination. The story also conjured some images that stuck with me – mostly the strange and diabolical Helen woman.
Critics widely denounced the novella in the 1890s because of implied sexual themes. And recently, reviewers have said the novella has stark misogynistic themes. Much like Lovecraft, it can get complicated when reading the really old writers.