Horror classics: Scary but sensible

Thought of re-posting something I wrote for TNGG a month ago in celebration of this week's theme Book Week. To be fair though, I've read all of the books listed below except Henry James' and part of Dante's. Don't even try to look for Shelley's Frankenstein here. Do you really think it's very sound and well-written when it was severely panned by critics during its time? So here are those horror classics that should be worth more than Meyer's Twilight or Stein's Goosebumps.

Photo by My Name is O on Flickr
Originally published on The Next Great Generation Arts & Entertainment

“The Classics” are categorized as such for a reason, and though it can take considerable effort (gasp, Victorian English!) and some acquired taste to pick up Dickens, Dostoevsky or Shakespeare, they’re the best of what the written word has to offer and, therefore, well worth the toil.

Reading these works, though, may remind one of the horrors of high school literature classes that combined the pressure of getting As with saving ourselves from the embarrassment of not knowing the answer to the simplest plot-related questions. Now that we can admit to having survived through Spark Notes and minimal wit, I recommend an easier way of getting started with the Classics. And this time, with less realistic terrors.

Horror tales, for me, are the most neutral literary genre. They catch the attention of both sexes, the young and the old, the cultured aficionados and the lowbrow fans, which is why I find horror, ironic as it might sound, the least frightening road to the world of classic works from which we might otherwise close ourselves.

Here are some of the best Horror Classics to start your reading habit:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)

Forget Stephenie Meyer and Anne Rice — it was this Irish guy who created the vampire to end all others. Lawyer Jonathan Harker gets trapped in his client Count Dracula’s Transylvanian castle, luckily escapes and finds himself involved in a web of events indicating the Count’s presence in London.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)

A profound reflection on the false duality of human nature, Stevenson’s novella reveals the alter ego of an enigmatic physician, Henry Jekyll, whose last will, which leaves everything to his young assistant, Edward Hyde, puzzles his lawyer Utterson.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Wilde’s only published novel is, like Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, an account of the horrific consequences of one man’s sensual, egoistic worldview. Dorian Gray, a gentleman as beautiful and as vain as Narcissus, decides to gamble his soul to be immortalized in a portrait that would age in time instead of himself.

Poe and Dante. Image by Camille Diola.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1840-1850)

Short, sweet and scary, Poe’s macabre stories capture curious readers in one sitting. The Tell-Tale Heart, one of his shortest prose works, has a narrator who tries to prove he is not mad for having murdered an old man. The Cask of Amontillado is a tale of the revenge of a resentful Spanish nobleman who lures his enemy into his wine vault. And The Fall of the House of Usher, a generically Gothic narrative, occurs in creep house where a weakly Roderick Usher watches over his cataleptic twin sister.

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (14th century)

This book doesn’t exactly fit our contemporary idea of horror, but Dante’s first installment of the Divine Comedy is arguably the closest to a horror story that a literary work could get in the Middle Ages. The epic poem tells of Dante’s journey around the the nine circles of Hell, each representing the gravity of every immoral act men commit on Earth.

Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898)

A ghost story crossed with a psychological thriller, James’ novella tells of two orphan children under the care of a young governess who discovers the presence of ghosts, to whom she attributes the children’s difficulties, around their estate. #

Photo credits: Dracula photo by Sweet Mustache on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND license,