To celebrate Halloween and all things supernatural, we look at some of our best-loved pieces of horror fiction. From Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece to the vivid terror of Stephen King, these reads are certain to keep you awake all night.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
By Rose Morris
As a nineteen year old, it shames me to admit that I am yet to publish a work of literary genius, yet in 1817 nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley could claim such a feat. Frankenstein remains not only a vital staple within the canon of Gothic Literature, but a thought provoking and nuanced depiction of the human condition.
On the surface it contains many of the elements you’d expect from such standard spooky fare: a mentally unhinged scientist, epic gloomy landscapes, and a hideously deformed monster out for revenge. But don’t be fooled. Within her complex and layered narrative Shelley considers what it truly means to be human, and what we as a race will really do in the name of science. The iconic monster that Victor Frankenstein constructs chills the reader with its deformed appearance and unpredictable behaviour, and provides a heart wrenching depiction of an outsider rejected by society and forced to resort to the monstrous behaviour that those around him expect.
Over time the novel has spawned so many adaptations and interpretations that Shelley’s initial vision has perhaps been distorted and diminished, but this Halloween why not return to Frankenstein, and appreciate it in all its original, ghoulish glory?
By Ellen Bao
Imagine encountering a dark, looming shadow, which upon close examination turns out to be a monstrous living-being patched together from the bits and pieces of the dead collected from the graveyard…
A horrific fantasy born out of a spine-chilling nightmare of the eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley, Frankenstein has never lost its appeal since it was first published in 1818. It recounts the deadly experiment of Victor Frankenstein, a zealous young scientist whose obsession with the secret of resurrection eventually gives birth, or more precisely rebirth, to a hideous and misshapen monster. Unable to face the ghastly presence of his own creation and deal with the inevitable consequences, Victor, in a state of frenzy and horror, abandons the creature who appears to be too repulsive to behold. He flees the crime scene, which marks the beginning of things going downhill. The unnamed monster, determined and filled with rage, embarks on a journey of revenge that haunts the rest of the novel. His existence therefore becomes a walking reminder of Doctor Frankenstein’s impious wrongdoing as an act of self-destruction.
Deeply fascinating and disturbing, Frankenstein is undoubtedly a must-read Gothic classic to get you in the mood for Halloween!
By Alex William Leggatt
Shelley’s Frankenstein still resonates with a modern audience for its exploration of broad themes: the creation and termination of life, mankind subverting religious norms to obtain Godly status, creating sympathy for a monster that is abhorred. Shelley deftly merges primal terror with contemporary specifics – especially when invoking the Promethean legend in accordance with experiments conducted by Giovanni Aldini where he reanimated frog’s legs. Doctor Frankenstein steals the fire of life from the God’s and creates life himself by “galvanising” his corpse and birthing a “daemon”.
Critics have drawn parallels between the overarching heroes of Percy Shelley’s poetry (and indeed in his own strident atheism), and the “lofty ambition” of Victor in triumphing over God. In this sense, Mary Shelley employs the romantic notion of the sublime to remind Frankenstein of the inferiority of his existence in relation to divine creation. Shelley, being well read in Milton, invokes Paradise Lost at a time of mass political and religious upheaval similar to Milton’s experience in the 17th century. The epigraph to Frankenstein contains a fragment from Adam’s lamentation of his own existence: “did I solicit thee/From darkness to promote me”, which can be applied to the monster’s own existential contemplations. Frankenstein’s monster not only identifies with Adam, but also feels the pain of being an ‘other’ like Satan; he is “solitary and abhorred”.
In creating a morally ambivalent narrative through contrasting both the actions and speech of the creator and his creation, Shelley’s Gothic classic continues to challenge, thrill and excite readers to this day.
IT by Stephen King
By Natalia Falacinska
The satisfaction which comes with any finished book is magnificent. Even though, as per, it does make me feel a bit empty inside, because what am I supposed to do now that Pennywise the Clown has been defeated and I can attempt to resume a normal sleeping pattern?
The most frightening thing, perhaps, is that King is particularly brief in the description of his creation and thus the horrors are coming from us. King’s vagueness can be seen through the monsters which IT takes the form of, such as; a mummy; a big bird; some blood and voices; a clown. This simplicity is the scariest of all because these fears are so highly relatable that at least one of them will surely hit home with the readers. Similarly, they are relatable due to the origin of these fears such as a past traumatic experience or an on-going problem that the characters all experience in one-way or another. This is also what makes the novel still relevant some 30 years after it was first published, even though today our fears may have broadened or further advanced, the basic fears remain.
So, really, King has hit a horror jackpot.
The Shining by Stephen King
By Tanvi Pahwa, Deputy Books Editor
A classic horror novel- and perhaps one of the author’s best works- is Stephen King’s The Shining. It is a skilfully nuanced and utterly frightening story of a family who moves into the Overlook Hotel. The father Jack is hired as caretaker there and The Shining tells the tale of how Jack goes mad with cabin fever, haunted by his own traumatic past and alcoholism. It leaves his wife Wendy and their six-year-old son Danny to face the consequences.
We discover during the novel, amid torrents of blood, a chilling imaginary friend, and Jack’s slow decay into a crazed killer, that Danny has special powers, which the hotel wants to consume. The Overlook feeds into the novel, with the hotel mirroring the sinister themes of the book; it seems to be alive with malevolence and the haunted memories of those who were killed there in the past.
King’s artful writing grips you till the very end, weaving a captivatingly horrifying story of Danny’s fight to escape the sinister hotel alive. The perfect Halloween read, The Shining leaves its impression, carving King’s vivid imagery into your memory and ensuring that you forever remain wary of large hotels and imaginary friends.
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
By Rachel Ng
In this masterful concoction of spook and sorrow, Stephen King unites realms of the familiar and the unknown and of life and death and life beyond death. He breaks down the doors we have all been knocking on but few dared opened: what if you could bring someone you loved and lost back to life?
Cushioned in an ordinary domestic setting, the Creeds are a happy family who lose it all when they lose their son to terrors on the road. This leads distraught parent Louis to seek the supernatural forces of the burying grounds which harbour more secrets than it does corpses. But in his painful desperation, he brings back more than just his son’s body from beyond the grave.
In this twisted spin of the age-old Frankenstein, King uses his terrifying prowess to prove that sometimes, the corpse that never wakes again is infinitely scarier than the corpse that does.
After all, fear is never so real as the moment you realize that it can and will happen to every last one of us.
The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
By Jamie Murphy
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart might be short in length, but its few words are more than enough to send a shiver up your spine and to curdle your blood on a dark night. Indeed, its success lies in its brevity. It exposes the reader immediately to a shocking and macabre scenario explained in a paranoid mania by the person responsible. And by traversing the entire story in a few hundred words, you are left breathless by the escalation of events, not to mention by the fact you will probably be holding your breath as the tension mounts.
Told as a confession by the narrator who tries to justify only their sanity and not their innocence, Poe’s seminal short-story packs in a captivating tale with novel-quality suspense and intrigue. It might be too late to start Dracula, but spare a little time for this quick read. Because vampires and Frankenstein’s Monsters and killer clowns are all very good as costumes, but what is truly terrifying is the potential lunatic within all of us. Mwah-ha-ha!
Image: Shane Gorski via Flickr