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The 7 Classic Horror Novels You Must Read before You Die

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Here are 7 Horror Novels You Must Read

Spine-chilling stories of supernatural creatures and terrors from beyond the third dimension have been thrilling readers for centuries. Whether you are a fan of frightening fiction, or a lover of literature, here are seven must-read horror novels that have stood the test of time to take their place with the classics.

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is the enduring tale of scientific hubris. In a gloomy gothic setting, Dr. Frankenstein pursues his goal of animating a man of his own making. His efforts produce a terrifying monster so grotesque that it is shunned and driven away by the humans whose companionship it craves. Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are bound together for life in a nightmare of hatred, anger and desperate regret.

Equally well-known is the story of Dracula as told by Bram Stoker. Despite all the vampire stories that have been written since, “Dracula” is the original and the best. It tells the tale of how the unsuspecting Jonathan Harker meets the Count in Transylvania. He is puzzled by the strange psychological effect Dracula has on the villagers, as they seem to find him creepy, and even suspect him of murder. Jonathan unwittingly draws the Count back to his home where Lucy, a young woman of his acquaintance, becomes the focus of Dracula’s attentions. The suspense builds until finally Van Helsing reveals that Lucy’s terrifying illness is the work of a vampire that must be destroyed.

The third classic frightful story with which many are familiar is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. This tale is a scary exploration of the dark side of a seemingly normal personality. Dr. Jekyll is a bright young man interested in science and the psychological duality of the human mind. He compounds a drug that causes him to become possessed by the vile side of his nature. At first he experiences this as a lark, a way to free himself from the conventions of his time. However, as Mr. Hyde’s actions escalate to murder he seeks the asylum of his stable personality, Dr. Jekyll. Eventually he must make a choice between the best and the worst of himself.

“The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James is a classic ghost thriller in the gothic vein. It is a work of supernatural literature that allows suspense to build from a sunny, innocent beginning. A young governess is given the charge of two small children at a beautiful country estate. She soon develops the haunting feeling that all is not as bucolic as it seems. She learns that the previous governess had a dalliance with another employee which left her in a compromised state. There is the suggestion, although not explicitly stated, that the pair may have also taken illicit liberties with her young charges. Both lovers ended up dead through unclear circumstances. The new governess begins to see apparitions of the two, and she is horrified to realize that the children are aware of and welcoming to these ghastly presences. Have the children been possessed? Is it too late to save them?

The fifth title on the list is Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.  cters know what they are getting into and do it anyway. Dr. Montague is an investigator of the paranormal. He invites a number of people to spend the summer at the supposedly haunted Hill House to determine if the supernatural stories are true. The townspeople tell stories of family hatreds, suicide and the ghost of a sister. Two women, Eleanor and Theodora, accept his invitation, along with the nephew of the owner of the house. Creepy occurrences begin almost immediately. Doors close by themselves; loud banging sounds are heard at night; soft patterings are heard outside locked bedroom doors. The guests begin to realize that someone, or something, is trying to separate them. The house seems to have the strongest effect on Eleanor. When the others decide to send her home, whatever is in the house makes a decision of its own.

“The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells is not a ghost story, but it is definitely horror fiction. A man survives a shipwreck and is offered asylum on a small private island. The island is owned by Dr. Moreau, a scientist involved in mysterious biological experiments. The man is told that the island is rarely visited by outsiders, and it may be a year before he can return to his everyday life. As he rests in his quarters, he hears the piercing howls and screams of an animal in agony. The sounds become intolerable, and he flees the compound to walk about the forest. He catches glimpses of grotesque creatures that seem to be half man, half beast. Dr. Moreau confesses that his life’s work has been the attempt to humanize lower animals. Although some of his attempts are initially successful, all eventually revert to their animal natures. The dread of being trapped on the island as the doctor gradually loses control of his creations drives the rescued man to take desperate actions.

The last and most modern entry on the list is “Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin. This is the story of Guy and Rosemary. They unexpectedly have the opportunity to rent an apartment in their dream building, but as they settle in and plan to start a family the dream becomes a nightmare. At first, everything is too good to be true: the neighbors are friendly, Guy is doing well in his career and Rosemary finds herself pregnant with the eagerly anticipated baby. On the other hand, a young woman in the building commits suicide, Rosemary finds an odd connecting door between her apartment and the one next door, and her pregnancy occurs only after eating a dessert with a strange aftertaste. Rosemary begins to understand that something is very wrong, and that she may not be able to turn to Guy for help.

As you scan through this list of frightful selections, there are a few questions that may spring to mind.

Q: What about the horror master Edgar Allan Poe?
A: Poe is known for his short stories and poems, not novels. A couple of other notable writers of short stories in this genre are Guy de Maupassant and Ray Bradbury.

Q: Are there any titles in this category that are considered modern classics?
A: There are many very scary selections that have been written more recently, such as “The Amityville Horror” and “Pet Sematary”.

Q: Should I read the books, or just watch the movies?
A: Read the books. You can catch the movies later, but what your mind can create is more complicated and more frightening than anything Hollywood can put on the screen. 

This list of seven classic horror novels to read before you die includes selections from early gothic novels to terrifying tales set in contemporary culture. Reading these books will give you a sampling of monsters, ghosts and a demonic baby. Reading these books will also give you seven examples of outstanding writing by authors who were not only masters of the genre novel, but of the written word.