Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Best Reads for Halloween

As we get farther into the month of October I find myself in the mood for a good old Halloween book, one full of ghosts, vampires, or eerie mansions.   I'm not one for murder and gore, so a Gothic nineteenth-century text fits the bill for a Halloween-inspired read.  Therefore, I have compiled, in no particular order, a short list of book recommendations appropriate for this autumnal holiday.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Illustration from a 1902 edition of the book

This Conan Doyle novel features the immortal team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.  Most of the narrative takes places on the gloomy moors haunted by escaped convicts, mad scientists and what appears to be a demonic hellhound intent on eliminating the remaining heirs of the Baskerville family.  The descriptions of the area are moody and atmospheric, but at the same time this is a fun, fast-paced read.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Many literature students revel in The Turn of the Screw analysis (myself included).  James's succinct novella is a classic example of literary ambiguity.  Is this isolated estate haunted, or is the nameless governess merely mentally disturbed?  Looking at it from the angle of a ghost story, however, I think it's a great one.  I'm always a sucker for the spectral figure who stands outside a window, eerily gazing at the inhabitants within. Plus, it concludes with a bang.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

What kind of a Victorian Halloween reading list doesn't include Poe?  He epitomizes the Gothic short story.  I was petrified for weeks after reading 'The Tell-Tale Heart' in middle school.  Most are at least somewhat familiar with that narrative, so I shall also suggest 'The Fall of the House of Usher', 'William Wilson', and 'The Cask of Amontillado.' These are all particularly Gothic in tone.  I think my all-time favourite Poe tale is 'Ligeia': the story of a man who is haunted (literally? metaphorically?) by the memory of his first wife.  

Dracula by Bram Stoker 

As portrayed by Bela Lugosi

Apart from noting that Stoker's Dracula is much different from the icon's pop-cultural reincarnations, I'm not sure what else to say about this classic.  Instead, I would like to share my own Dracula reading experience which ended up being unexpectedly terrifying.

Several years ago I was house-sitting while my parents were in Last Vegas.  It was midnight.  My little brother and sister were fast asleep.  I was happily spending my time reading Stoker's novel, which I had only recently begun.  Jonathan Harker was just taking note of the strange goings-on of the Transylvanian castle.  He thought he had seen the count climbing up the castle wall like a bug.  I was properly immersed in the mysterious narrative events and was consequently feeling a bit spooked.

Then the power went out.

Ten seconds later, both of our dogs, who had been soundly slumbering in the kitchen, began barking at full volume.  While neither of them are the silent type, it's quite unusual for them to howl so loudly at such an hour -- and in unison no less!  I felt my way downstairs but couldn't see a thing as the pooches continued their uproar.  Anything could have been on the other side of our glass kitchen door, and I wouldn't have had a clue.  It was a vulnerable, defenseless feeling.  I was compelled to phone my parents for help in locating a flash light, and all appeared to be well on the home front.  The power eventually came back on, and I finally fell asleep watching National Geographic documentaries accompanied by full lighting.  Dracula was put on hiatus until my parents returned.  And that, my friends, is The Case of the Vampiric Power Outage.

I've since misplaced my copy of Dracula, but I'm dying to get my hands on this gorgeous Penguin cloth cover edition, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

 What are your go-to Halloween reads?  I'd love to hear your thoughts, as I'm searching for new Gothic tales this month!


Liz said...

My personal favourites are anything by Poppy Z. Brite, Interview with the Vampire, The Shining or It by the king (Stephen). I definitely agree with yours though especially Dracula!

John McLendon said...

I'd say the scariest read I ever encountered was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Might re-read on Halloween night! The first time I read it; I was scared out of my mind by the end of the night. But I guess it doesn't really count, as it is not fantastical!

Diana said...

Liz: I really need to read some Anne Rice. I'm sort of ashamed I haven't yet done so. Pretty sure I don't have the guts to make it through 'It' though. Clowns and I don't mix.

John: 'In Cold Blood' definitely counts! I just usually stick to the fantastical, because I'm such a wimp. The threat of being attacked 'in cold' blood by a serial killer in one's home is much greater than succumbing to the whims of a thirsty vampire. You know?

John McLendon said...

Diana: Yeah, I see your point. IF you do end up reading the book at some point, watch the movie Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's about the murders, and his writing of the book. Fascinating!

Liz: I hate clowns, dead lights and all =P. But very good suggestion.

Diana said...

Someday I'll summon the courage to read 'In Cold Blood.' But it will take a while. I'm not a Gryffindor.

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