Literary historians will tell you that the horror story in its longer form is a relatively recent phenomenon. While there might be some truth in that assertion, it cannot be denied that the gothic novels of Radcliffe and Walpole were popular in the 1700s and no-one can deny the influence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein during the Victorian era.
However, for most of the 1900s horror fiction was confined to short stories and novellas within literary periodicals. It was only in the 1970s that horror novels became more popular due in no small part to the influence of the great horror writer Stephen King.
Below you will find five excellent novels of the genre, best read alone on a dark night…
The Shining by Stephen King
Stephen King is the yardstick by which all future writers of the genre will be measured. He achieved great success with his first novel Carrie, and everything he has written subsequently has been a bestseller.
Many of King’s fans have argued over which one of his numerous books qualifies as his Magnum Opus. Some say it has to be The Stand, others are drawn to It and yet more side with the Dark Tower series, which King himself feels is his most important work. While all of these works are excellent, I have chosen The Shining to take pride of place on this list.
The Shining tells the story of recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance as he takes up a winter caretaker position in the empty Overlook Hotel deep within the Colorado Rockies. He is accompanied by his wife Wendy and their son Danny. Danny is a Shiner, a telepath capable of reading minds and detecting psychic energy. Snowed in for the winter, the family learns of the hotel’s dark history of violence and fear, and soon sinister happenings begin to plague the family.
Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
A beautiful, evocative and disturbing work, Melmoth the Wanderer follows the life of its titular character, a man who has pledged his soul to the devil in return for extended life, through the narratives of various men and women who encounter him on his journey of sin. Realising his damnation, he searches the Earth for a being willing to take over his unholy pact.
With an Irish clergyman as the narrator, the reader will be whisked through remote monasteries, visit the dungeons of the Inquisition and learn much aboutf madness, fear and pain. Melmoth the Wanderer is a classic whose status is well deserved.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
In 1845, Sir John Franklin commanded two fine ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and sailed off into a mystery. His goal was to finally crack the fabled Northwest Passage, a hypothetical waterway via Northern Canada that would lead to the Indies. But he vanished utterly and it was only in 2014 that one of the ships was found.
Dan Simmons maps out what happened to the crew of both ships in his masterful book The Terror. It makes for uneasy reading. Opening in 1848, the crew of both ships have spent two winters stuck in ice, contending with boredom and the relentless and exhausting glacial cold. But that is not all. Some beast or demon is hunting the crew members, taking them on the ice or on deck at night. Hunting expeditions against it have failed and it seems to be toying with them. Perhaps some hint to its motives can be found with the strange Inuit woman that has come onboard the ship. But she has no tongue with which to speak…
You can find the works of Dan Simmons on bidorbuy.
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Some will cry out in rage because I give this “ghost” story higher place than Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but for all the literary merit of Jackson’s work I found it to be a very tame experience.
Hell House is a far weightier monster. A wealthy millionaire on his deathbed hires four people to investigate the possibility of life after death. To do so they must enter the Belasco House, the most haunted house in the world…
Named after its owner Emeris Belasco, the house has been termed Hell House for the terrible atrocities and perversions committed within its walls. The protagonists enter the house eager to discover its secrets, all the while knowing that almost an entire group of scientists died while investigating it thirty years before.
Penpal by Dathan Auerbach
Horror stories that start their life online are a recent phenomenon. Termed Creepypasta by internet users, many have managed to be genuinely frightening, and some have even become iconic, such as the Slender Man. However only one story has grown to be a fully fledged novel… and that story is Penpal.
The story follows a narrator who is struggling to make sense of the strange and sinister events of his childhood. It all starts when, as a young boy, the protagonist takes part in a pen pal programme. Along with other members of his class, he lets loose a balloon with a return address and a request for whoever finds the note to write him back as a pen pal. All the other children end up receiving replies – except for him. At least that is what he thinks. Soon it becomes apparent that someone definitely did receive his letter and his stalking him constantly as he grews older.