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Scary monsters, super creeps, and the writers who love them

October 30, 2009

halloween_pumpkin I don’t quite know how Hallowen turned into an excuse for adults to dress up and get drunk, but it’s a bit childish, don’t you think? I’d rather get my fright on by staying home and reading something deliciously terrifying.

Here are some chilling suggestions:

Consider two new “substantial” takes on the Frankenstein story, Laurie Sheck’s “complex and lyrical” A Monster’s Notes and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, by “celebrated biographer, cultural historian and novelist Peter Ackroyd.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer gives Akcroyd’s book a thumbs down, despite its “subtle texture, swift prose and the author’s customary panache.” Considering Ackroyd’s track record — he wrote the best popular Shakespeare biography — I say it’s worth a chance.

Peter Straub, no slouch in the horror writing game himself, has edited a massive survey of American horror stories for the always distinguished Library of America. The two-volume set, given the nicely pulpish title American Fantastic Tales, covers 300 years of scary stories. As NPR notes, Straub includes the “usual suspects” — Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King — but not by way of their more familiar tales. Plus worthy stories by forgotten or lesser-known scribes of the macbre.

NPR also features “Three Hauntingly Unforgettable Literary Houses” for the Halloween occasion, recommending Manderlay, the brooding estate in Daphne DuMaurier’s psyschological horror/ghost novel Rebecca; the “evil” New England mansion in Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House; and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, with its suburban Virginia house that starts growing new rooms.

For a different kind of Halloween jollity, The Los Angeles Times reports on the “top 10 ghostwritten books” as chosen by the online bookseller Abebooks. No. 1 is actress Heddy Lamar’s Ecstasy and Me –which she found so “riddled with lies by ghostwriter Leo Guild” that she sued the publishers. Equally fascinating is just who some of the ghostwriters are — Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winner Larry McMurtry and horror master H.P. Lovecraft.

The L.A. Times also reviews Otto Penzler’s The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published, the kind of anthology I cut my fangs on, and Dracula: The Undead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. This last is a sequel 80 years in the making. Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, enlisted screenwriter Holt to write from notes left by Dracula’s creator. Sounds like a monster mash, but the Times deems it “a fine book in its own right, one that pushes the story in unexpected directions while remaining true to the dark heart of the Transylvanian vampire-king.”

Over at The Guardian, Keven Jackson, a “vampire expert” and author of Bite: A Vampire Handbook, selects the top 10 bloodsucker novels — and a counter-intuitive list it is: Dracula is No. 10! Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (often mischaracterized as a zombie story), takes the top spot.

You can listen to Stephen King, everyone’s favorite living horror writer, read from his latest novel, Under the Dome, at Entertainment Weekly‘s Shelf Life blog. King has been working on the 1,072-page book, off and on, for 30 years. It will finally see publication on Nov. 10.

Finally, The London Times reviews Phil Baker’s The Devil Was a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley. In novels such as The Devil Rides Out, made into a revered Hammer horror film, Wheatley invented tropes so familiar as to be cliches now. By the time he died in 1977, Wheatley was “Britain’s best-loved occultist.”

So happy reading, and have a safe Halloween. Let me adjust the light here next to my reading chair…Ah! Here we go: “The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence…”

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    October 30, 2009 12:52 pm

    Those all sound great, Chauncey Mabe. Unfortunately, I will be at the office working on Halloween night.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 30, 2009 1:21 pm

    I’ve seen your office. Kinda creepy at night, no? Lock your doors, be sure to stock pepper spray in your purse….

  3. Tommy permalink
    October 30, 2009 2:06 pm

    Thank you for the recommendations. “Dracula: The Undead” has me curios.

    The scariest book you have ever read, Chauncey Mabe?

    Mine would have to be “1984” and not vampire or werewolf in sight.

    Happy Haunting!

  4. rachel permalink
    October 30, 2009 2:11 pm

    I am horrified that Stephen King is publishing a book that is 1,072 pages long. I know Duma Key was long, and I loved that book far more that I ever thought I would love anything that he wrote, but that was like 600 pages long. If this book has taken 30 years to write and is that long, maybe it should just stay that way, an unpublished project. Can he even remember what the first part is about?

  5. Tommy permalink
    October 30, 2009 2:11 pm

    Ahem, I of course meant curious. Though curio defined as “novel, rare, or bizarre” does seem to be an accurate description as well.

  6. Tommy permalink
    October 30, 2009 2:16 pm

    Rachel, why are you horrified? “The Stand” is 1153 pages long so this is not the first time King has published an epic. Are you not in the least bit curious (spelled it right this time) to see how 30 years of life will affect an author’s work?

  7. Candice Simmons permalink
    October 30, 2009 2:47 pm

    As far as length–what about “War and Peace”? Then there is James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Of course it’s only around 734 pages long.

    Of course, I’ve never read either.

  8. rachel permalink
    October 30, 2009 4:15 pm

    Candice, exactly. I’ve tried to read War and Peace, but it was too painful.

    Tommy, King may have written books that long, but I haven’t read them. I don’t know. Life might be too short to read anything that long. Hasn’t he heard of compression? Or the necessity of killing his darlings? I will concede that looking at how 30 years has effected this piece of work would be interesting though.

  9. Connie permalink
    October 30, 2009 4:24 pm

    I think the scariest thing you could stay home and read is Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol.” Scary to think it sold 2 million copies in a week…

  10. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 30, 2009 4:30 pm

    The scariest book I ever read was Family Ties, a collection of short stories by the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. She’s a 20th century modernist whose fiction suggests that human existence has no meaning, and everything we do, think, say and believe is a flimsy mask to hide the fact from ourselves. She had me believing it, too. Then I decided it didn’t matter. I can choose my own reality, and if life has no meaning then what’s the harm if I pretend that it does? I don’t think Lispector is considered a horror writer, but to my mind she qualifies.

    By the way, this all happened about two weeks ago.

  11. October 31, 2009 11:17 am

    Sand at the beach. Is that what we are? Looking out for millions of years. We come, we go, does any body know? Does any body care what Chauncey is going to wear. How about my hair? Do you care my dear. You see we travel with a special flair.

    We are only here for a short visit. There is an old saying. Live now , live today, for when you are gone what you have done will not mean shit to a tree. (Sorry I used that word but I had to get a point across. ) Enjoy every moment. Now that you read that book I hope you feel better. It really does matter to leave people with a smile and a feeling they were glad they got to know you and lives crossed. There are many people that I could not imagine not knowing them in my life. Now that is scary. Whoooattakkaaa. Scared you did I not. Happy Hollerween.

  12. Tommy permalink
    November 1, 2009 1:00 am

    “Family Ties” theme as you describe it is terribly frightening. The thought of life being meaningless or as an individual I am absent of meaning makes my ego cringe. This curling up into the fetal position is not surprising since it was my ego that constructed the idea that I must have meaning. Once again intelligence is both a curse and a blessing. So I am with you when you state that if reality makes no sense or is devoid of meaning, how could inserting some be harmful. Especially if the attitude is compensated with laughter and occasional warm fuzzies.

    I am glad you have had an Ah Hah! moment.

    Here’s a toast in celebration of cerebration; to deeper understanding, balanced importance, child-like vision without childish behavior and not having to get sloshed on Halloween!

    On the subject of King; he certainly knows how to write various types of literature. He has proven himself adept in short form, novella and books in the 1000 page-plus weight limit. I suppose Under the Dome needs to be lengthy in order to tell the story King had in mind. I shall see in a couple of weeks. Just finished reading UR by King and I am kicking myself for taking so long to do so. My hesitation was based on a pre-investigative contemptuous notion that UR was nothing more than a electronic print-fomercial for Kindle. I am so happy I was so wrong.

  13. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 2, 2009 12:27 pm

    Here’s what I have to say about the meaningless of life:

    My favorite comics panel ever is a Rose is a Rose strip from about 1999. Rose and her six-year-old son are on an evening walk. Rose gestures to the heavans and says, “The vastness of the starry sky makes me feel so insignificant!” Pleased with the grandeur of her comment, she accidentally steps on Pasquale’s foot: “Ow!!” “Sorry, Pasquale! I’ll watch where I’m going!” she says. To which Pasquale replies: “My TOES are extremely significant!”

    That panel, which yellows in a place of honor on my refrigerator, requires, I think, little explanation.

    Let the great world spin. I’ll watch out for my toes, and try to remember to watch out for yours, too.

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