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