Classic Novels and Short Stories
there are plenty great authors in modern times or even in the
intervening years, but if you're a horror fan, it's incumbent upon you
to go back
to some of the source material that went on to define the genre.
your history and see how we got where we are. There are plenty of
surprises! Here are some of those novels and my thoughts on
Frankenstein; or, The
Modern Prometheus (1823) by Mary Shelley. Regarded as the
first science fiction novel, it had spawned numerous adaptations
(plays, films) both before and after the iconic 1931 film version
starring Boris Karloff. While the Karloff depiction (beneath Jack
Pierce's make-up) influenced all that followed, the characterization in
the novel differs markedly in everything from appearance to tone and
motivation. Additionally, the plot of the story (beyond its most
fundamental premise) follows a completely different arc that bears
little resemblance to the more familiar film.
Full text online: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/84
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Again, the premise and
character(s) is(are?) familiar to everyone, but the story is very
different and is presented as much more of a mystery in the vein of
Edgar Allan Poe or Arthur Conan Doyle. Further, the Mr. Hyde of
the original novel is surprisingly different than the hulking (or
Hulk-like, obviously) incarnation usually found in film.
Full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/42
Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker.
may be heresy, but I wasn't thrilled with this novel in terms of
plotting. It seemed that the characters spent more time waiting
and talking than actually taking action against a known threat.
However, it is worth reading for two main points. As with the
two classics covered above, the title character is very different
than the Bela Lugosi performance from which all else has followed to
some extent. And on top of that are the powers associated with
vampires, as outlined in the novel. It is interesting to see
which components from legend were incorporated into the novel and have
continued in horror media to this day.
Full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/345
The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G.
Wells. Unlike The Time Machine, I didn't find this work as
engrossing. It's very much the story of the title character over
a short period. I was expecting more in terms of scope or at
least that it might touch more explicitly on broad themes the way other
Wells' stories/novels did (Note: many of his stories are lesser-known
but excel at this). However, one of the most exciting segments of
the novel provides a fairly convincing explanation of how the
invisibility was achieved. It is remarkable how well it holds up
for a lay reader in the 21st century!
Full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5230
The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells.
a relatively short work, this is actually a very compelling
story. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, even after
having seen three different film adaptations (meaning there was
absolutely no mystery about where the plot was going). If you are
interested in exploring Wells' works, I would highly recommend this one
as a place to start.
Full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35
At the Mountains of Madness (1931) by
H.P. Lovecraft. While this remains the only story (I can't
even call it a novel, though it is sometimes found as a stand-alone
publication) on this list that has yet to receive a film adaptation
(though Guillermo del Toro has tried for quite a few years to get one
together), it's a great "novel" that is now officially regarded as a
classic (e.g., it has actually been printed as part of the Penguin
Classics series). The story is well-told and thoroughly
engrossing. Additionally, I recommend you read an annotated
edition if possible, as that helps place the events in the story in the
context of the contemporary events that inspired the fiction.
(See my Lovecraft library page
Rather than list individual stories, I'd rather just give an overview
of some general impressions of these authors. I think that's more
convenient since anyone seeking out stories will likely end up with
short story collections that will contain the author's "greatest hits."
Edgar Allan Poe.
There is certainly some variety in Poe's work, but I didn't
particularly enjoy reading works written his now much-parodied
style. It's somewhat distracting when all too often there's the
first-person narration full of melodramatic emphasis. All writers
have their signature devices, but many of Poe's works rely on
conventions that are distracting once you're familiar with them.
That said, he is also the father of the detective story, so if you
don't want to read all the terrified ranting/screaming of the narrator
of, say, "The Black Cat" or "The Pit and the Pendulum," then there are
works like "The Gold Bug" or "Murders in the Rue Morgue" that appeal
more to reason than to your limbic system. Either way, these are
the seminal works of horror, so they are worth (re)visiting (assuming
you read some in middle school along with the rest of us).
H.G. Wells. I haven't read
that many Wells stories, but I've enjoyed those I have. For one
thing, they seem very direct in making their point, much like in those
of Isaac Asimov. The story isn't ambiguous or a passive
meditation on a vague notion. Wells always goes right after the
point. Sure, there's suspense built over the course of the
narrative (i.e., he doesn't do what Vonnegut did in the latter half of
his career where he'd always tell you the end at the beginning), but
the stories always seem purposeful.
H.P. Lovecraft. Almost all
of Lovecraft's work could be considered short stories. Even his
"novels" are barely long enough to be called novellas, so really I'm
forced to summarize everything here, and that's very difficult.
Lovecraft himself realized he tended to write from more than one style,
influenced independently by both Poe and Lord Dunsany. The former
stories dealt more with horror, whereas the latter comprise the
Dreamlands stories, which are fantasy with some elements shared with
other tales in the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. I don't particularly
like the fantasy works, but that's true across the board, not just
regarding Lovecraft; I just don't like fantasy. However, his
Cthulhu Mythos (Note: Lovecraft didn't coin this term, not did he
advocate its use) contain stories which feature the emotions of horror
coupled with elements of science fiction. They are the best in
The stories are great, but they aren't
always told well. As Stephen King once put it: Lovecraft couldn't
write a scene to save himself. There's virtually no dialog in
Lovecraft's works. All conversation occurring within a given
story is summarized in the narration. He may describe settings in
great detail, but he couldn't be bothered to relate an exchange between
characters. In spite of this, the tales themselves are incredibly
entertaining, and it isn't hard to see why a cult has grown up around
the author and the elements within his most popular stories.