3 spooky classics even scaredy-cats can handle
I am a complete lightweight when it comes to all things scary. If I happen to watch a movie or show that skewed a bit too scary, intense, or gory, I will be up all night thinking about it. I don’t make the rules. This is just how it’s always been.
Because of my aversion to spookiness, I have never been the biggest fan of Halloween. When my friends ran giggling up to the front steps of the scariest house on the trick-or-treat route, I waited patiently on the sidewalk. Not even candy could persuade me. I was that serious about it.
Naturally, I always thought that because I didn’t like Halloween or scary movies, I certainly wouldn’t like scary books either. Over the years, however, I’ve figured out that I can enjoy a scary book from time to time, particularly if I read it during the day and never when I’m home alone. Is this what growth looks like?
Anyway, I digress. As we begin the Halloween weekend, I wanted to recommend three classics that even the scaredy-cats like me can probably handle. I’m sure you’ve at least heard of two of the three and, if you’re like me, stayed away because they’re too scary for you. I encourage you to give them a go this Halloween weekend. Bonus points for buying them from your favorite local indie bookstore.
Now, you may be picturing black and white movies of a pale vampire in a cape, sleeping in an open casket. Bram Stoker’s original work, however, actually has much more to say about the societal norms of his day, particularly the way sexuality and femininity were viewed and manipulated. (Fun fact: Commentary on sexual norms is still a big part of modern vampire stories!)
If Dracula has felt too scary for you in the past, try approaching it from the social commentary angle. It’ll help shift your focus and probably improve your reading experience too. Don’t get me wrong, the giant vampire climbing down the walls of the castle “just as a lizard moves along a wall” is still terrifying, just more palatable when you’re focused on other things in the narrative.
There are also lots of great audio productions of this book, so if you prefer audiobooks, give this one a go.
If you love fairy tales but are looking for something creepy for Halloween weekend, give The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter a try. Coming in at just 126 pages, this short story collection includes 10 fairy tale retellings with a gothic horror twist. If you’re someone who avoids scary books, this would be a nice introduction since each story is short, which means you can dip your toes in and then chase it with something light-hearted before you go to bed (in the fall, my chaser of choice is an episode of Gilmore Girls, just FYI).
Though many of the stories in this collection have familiar source material (e.g., Little Red Riding Hood, the Snow Child, etc.), Carter brings an immersive and dark twist to each. A couple of the stories are a bit gorier, but not gratuitous. Plus, if one story’s too much for you, just jump to the next one instead.
Like Dracula, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend has become inextricably linked to the 2007 Will Smith movie with the same name. These are two very different stories though. Set in the 1970s (20 years after the book’s publication), Matheson’s story follows the sole survivor of a pandemic that turned the majority of the human race (both living and dead) into vampire-like creatures as he attempts to overcome the infected, stay safe, and look for a cure (though he’s not a militaristic scientist like in the movie).
Other than the sole survivor set-up, the book differs in basically every plot point from the movie (bonus points that there’s no dog murder in the book either, though a dog does still die). Similar to other vampire stories, I Am Legend deals heavily with sexual norms (e.g., the infected female “vampires” try to lure the protagonist out of his home with sexual gestures) and changing societal expectations (I won’t spoil the ending, but you’ll see what I mean). The book is tense and, yes, a bit scary, but totally worth a read for those who like a compelling plot with something interesting to say about the world we live in.
Do you read scary books? What’s the best spooky book you’ve read during the Halloween season?