Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Halloween Reading

Halloween is a time for spooky movies and decorations, but sometimes I think we overlook the literature associated with all things scary. Now, as with my movie recommendations, you won't really find a lot of gore here -- not a lot of the Stephen King and Dean Koontz type novels. I think Stephen King is a fantastic writer, I'm just not into the stuff he writes. Does that make any sense at all? The written word is so powerful, and so often overlooked. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I don't always think that is the case. These recommendations are part of the reason why:

Edgar Allen Poe: 
Poe was a very disturbed individual, and he wrote some very dark material. I'm not like that, so I'm not sure what attracts me to this stuff. The only explanation that I can think of is good writing is good writing, no matter the genre. There are so many good selections to spook up your Halloween, but I think I'll go with some of the short stuff -- so you can be sure to get through all of this material in the next week and a half -- as I'm sure you all will.

The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell Tale Heart, The Raven.
I suppose that these are some of the most famous stories written by this macabre author, but there's usually a reason for that. What I like best about Poe, is that he just throws you right in to the situation -- no background, no explanation. And when he writes, he will often tell the story through the explanation of the reaction of each of the senses. The writing is very claustrophobic, and edgy. And if you're listening to it as a narration on your ipod, in a darkened warehouse, it can be downright unnerving. Trust me on that. 
Let me put in a plug here, for books on tape (or CD). I love to read from books, but I discovered the joy of the recorded word, many years ago, working by myself. If you can find a good narrator (and the unabridged version of the story -- always), it can be a very organic experience. 
Bonus: Homer Simpson reciting "The Raven" in one of the early "Treehouse of Horror" episodes.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker:
The story that launched a thousand movies. Dracula is a fascinating gothic tale, told through a series of letters and journal entries. The vampire of the story is not the suave and sophisticated gentleman of later vampire stories, but he is a rather hideous, yet somehow magnetic being. The story is very victorian in tone. It implies a lot, without coming right out and spelling out the situation on the page. Though the creatures of this story are, undeniably, evil, Stoker gives a surprisingly sympathetic and human touch to the ultimate outcome. Something you don't see in the movies very often.

Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley
Even more than Dracula, this story differs greatly from the theatrical versions. Written by a 19 year old Mary Shelley, in 1818, on the estate of Lord Byron, Frankenstein is a very complex tale of morality and responsibility. Victor Frankenstein, a scientist, discovers the secret of bestowing life (we are never told how) creates a living being, and at the moment of animation, he rejects the creature as a monster. The creature is a very sympathetic (and articulate) figure, rejected by his creator -- essentially his God and his father -- and treated cruelly by the world, he inevitably turns to violence and destruction, as an outlet for his emotion and frustration. Frankenstein is torn between the guilt at having abandoned his creation, and repulsion at having brought something he considers unholy, into the world. You'll never watch the Frankenstein movies the same way again. 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving.
If you don't read anything else here, read this story. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the quintessential Halloween story -- though, surprisingly, it never actually mentions the holiday by name. Most of us know this story from the Walt Disney cartoon -- which I love, and which is, surprisingly, faithful to the original tale. Charles Dickens claimed to have been heavily influenced by Irving -- which may explain why they are two of my favorite authors. Like Dickens, the joy of Washington Irving's stories is in the reading of them, in the descriptions and the structure. They need to be read, to get the full effect -- leaving anything out is to miss a lot. I don't really need to relate any of the story here --we all know it -- but let me tell you my favorite aspect of the tale: I love the fact that Irving (as Dickens would do later, in a Christmas Carol) leaves the end of the story ambiguous. Did it really happen, or is it just superstition, fostered by the old Dutch settlers, of Sleepy Hollow? You are left to your own conclusions. That makes the story personal, and helps it to live on in your imagination.
Bonus read: Rip Van Winkle -- a rather spooky story of pre and post Revolutionary America.  

Well, there you have it -- my rambling Halloween reading list recommendations. 


Izzy, Emmy 'N Alexander said...

I love to read Koontz but I will have to look a few of these up. My hubby is more into the whole scary, spooky , Halloween stuff. I do it for the candy! LOL!

Thanks for visiting recently. I am more than willing to pass on the awards to you, you deserve them. Awards seem to be the hot thing right now in the blogging community. I have received so many and it wouldn't seem right if I didn't play along and pass them on. So enjoy the awards and I am sure I'll pass more on to you. I truly enjoy reading your blog and your photos are breathtaking!

MomOf4 said...

This is an absolutely wonderful list! Poe is one of my favorites too. And I truly avoid reading anything on the scary side. The Raven is just hypnotic though...

I have read Koontz, and he is just too good at putting an image into my head. The one (and only) book I have read of his I literally had to give away and get it out of my house because it was so disturbing to me.

I am ashamed to say that I have never read Frankenstein. I will have to put that on my reading list!

Seriously - awesome list!

Kat said...

I love Koontz and King but Poe is one of my all time favorites too. And those three are great selections.

My #1 suggestion for scary reading is The Shining by Stephen King. If y'all thought the movie was scary just wait until you read the book. ACK!

Cecily R said...

I don't usually do scary books but Poe IS pretty amazing!!