We’ve got a couple more months before Halloween comes up, but scary stories aren’t just for the Autumn season. Fans of Horror, Dark Fantasy and high-tension Thrillers enjoy having their natural fears challenged all year round.
Ghost stories, in particular, enjoy an almost universal popularity. Who hasn’t sat in a circle of teenagers in their youth and exchanged frightening urban tales or related experiences with old houses or other places they thought might be haunted?
Ghost stories were popular as Christmas reading in Victorian English culture, hence Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Caroland other short ghost stories among Victorian literature. It seems that every culture has some version of stories about the dead who return in either a spiritual or physical form to torment the living.
If we’re not reading about ghosts, we might be reading about monsters either fantastical or giant creatures that mightjust really exist, or scariest of all in my opinion, human monsters who walk among us. It makes you wonder, why do so many people like to read about things that bring out our fears?
Psychologists tell us that it’s because of “the physical and emotional release that follows scary situations,” or that we enjoy working out what we would do if we were in the unlikely situations the characters experience in the story. We know if we’re reading a scary story or watching a Horror film that we’re doing it within a safe environment and that for us, it’s only a mental exercise.
Some of us get a kick out of a surprise, those jump in the air moments when suddenly you turn around and come face to face with the monster. It’s about emotional stimulation and from a position of physical safety, experiencing the feelings of fight or flight that we don’t normally have to face in our modern civilised society. Put a Horror fan into a situation where the danger is real and the fascination wears off quickly.
With Halloween gaining more popularity in the UK so that it almost matches US enthusiasm in recent years, we can look forward to rubber bats and snakes as well as scary costumes filling the store shelves very soon. Along with the merchandising will be new releases of Horror books and revivals of Classics like Draculaand Frankenstein, as well as more emphasis on marketing this genre in more recent releases.
Looking a little deeper into the genre, Horror books are not all the same. There are sub-categories and personal preferences diverge widely between those who enjoy the slashers and other gore (which I avoid) and those who prefer the more psychological approach that is displayed in ghost and monster stories.
Some of my own favourites have been stories about large creatures from the depths of the oceans that maybe could exist, or stories about hauntings or even demon activity that bring out my attraction to the occult. The Romance stories about demons are something else altogether and appeal to a different audience as they seldom include the fear factor.
Another thing I find fascinating is a good story about a visit to Hell. Now I don’t actually believe in Hell, yet it makes a great setting for a good story! I’m always on the lookout for a good take on this backdrop and find it appeals to the Fantasy reader in me who enjoys a good exercise in imaginative world building.
Nature run amok is another sub-genre of Horror where an author can get very creative, whether it’s rats, dinosaurs surviving in remote, hidden caves or dare I mention it, Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. I highly recommend this story, but not alone at night. The movie isn’t a patch on the original story, well done as it was!
Horror stories aren’t for everyone, but the spiderweb of sub-genres has enough crossover that most people can find something that will appeal to their sense of adventure. Though it’s only August, book groups are already organising their Halloween reading challenges, and they are very popular!
Those who enjoy audiobooks will find plenty of choices on offer to keep those bumps going in the night. So, what will you be reading this Halloween?
Books available at: