This year marks the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein. The famous story of a creature stitched together from dead bodies, and brought to life with electricity, was written by a then-teenaged Mary Shelley. The 18-year-old was on holiday in Switzerland with her future husband and some friends and, because the weather was so bad – dark and stormy, as in much of her story – they decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. (Guess who won …)
If you didn’t know that Frankenstein is actually the name of the scientist who created the creepy, green-faced monster many people dress up as for Halloween, maybe it’s time to read the classic. It may be two centuries old, but many of the themes – such as the dangers of messing with nature – remain relevant today. Plus, some of the quotes – “the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open” – are perfect for the scary season.
If you’ve already read Frankenstein, and you got your Halloween partying out of the way at the weekend, why not spend your night diving into one of these other spooktacular reads? Bonus: they’re all out of copyright, so you can legally find them online!
This was not the first vampire novel ever written, but it remains one of the most famous and influential, more than 120 years after its publication. Bram Stoker’s story follows the famous vampire’s journey from Transylvania in Romania to England, and his attempts to find new blood and spread the “curse of the undead” there.
All the typical “vampire” symbols appear: garlic, crucifixes, stakes through the heart, and a vampire hunter; add to those the descriptions of creepy woods, shadowy castles and the three horrifying “brides of Dracula”, and you’re in for a terrifying night.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
If you’ve ever heard someone described as having a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality, this story is why.
Robert Louis Stevenson tells a terrible tale of a man with dual personalities – one a friendly doctor, and the other a terrifying personification of evil. Dr Jekyll is aware of his condition, and tries to control it with medicine, but his wicked alter ego becomes too powerful. The scares in this story come largely from Stevenson’s expertise at building suspense; while as modern readers we know Jekyll’s dark secret, the other characters’ slow discovery of this will keep you on the edge
of your seat.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Sherlock Holmes was the inspiration for many a fictional detective. Plenty of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Holmes’ adventures involve a murder or two, but very few of them deal with the supernatural. Hound is the exception, and it is tremendously frightening.
A man is found dead in the grounds of his country estate, with the paw prints of a gigantic hound nearby. His family, the Baskervilles, was supposedly cursed hundreds of years earlier – and it’s this curse which is believed to have killed Sir Charles.
Now, there are fears that his heir will also fall prey to the curse, and be killed by the giant beast. If descriptions of flickering lights and inhuman screams in the pitch-black countryside don’t scare you, the tension as you wait for any sight the monstrous creature will.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Edgar Allen Poe was famous for his short tales of horror. Many of them are written in the first person – I said, I saw, I felt – which makes them even more chillingly personal.
One of Poe’s best known stories is The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s only a few pages long, but, because it’s told from the narrator’s point of view, we only know his version of events. The event he describes also tracks his slow descent into madness; while the crime he admits to is horrifying, what’s truly frightening is the build-up to the reveal. Spooky.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde’s only novel caused a scandal when it was first published in 1890. However, this wild read has since become a classic. The story focuses on one question: what price would you pay to stay young forever?
Dorian Gray is a handsome, wealthy young man who slowly turns to a life of evil – but remains as beautiful as ever. Instead, the marks of his misdeeds show up on a secret portrait he keeps of himself, becoming more ugly and old with every sin he commits. It’s one thrilling read.