10 Young Adult Horror Books

Horror: It’s for Teens!

Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re diving into the world of Young Adult fiction. We all cut our teeth on Young Adult after graduating from Middle Grade spooks (I’ll never forget you, Goosebumps). We’ll take a look at the differences between Young Adult and Adult fiction, the emerging genre of New Adult fiction, and check out a list of ten Young Adult horrors that I can’t wait to read (or have already read).

What is “Young Adult Fiction”, anyway? Technically, YA is a category of fiction for readers aged 12-18. However, it’s widely enjoyed by readers of all ages, including myself. I have another article about Middle Grade books for readers aged 8-12 (you can check out that article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/10-spooky-middle-grade-books/ ). The age category of fiction above YA would be plain old “Adult”, for readers aged 18+.

What’s the difference between Young Adult and Adult? There are several key factors distinguishing the two, including character ages, general subject matter, and language used. A teen protagonist generally hints at a YA book. YA subject matter can certainly veer far into the dark side (think Ellen Hopkins and Gayle Forman), but for the most part avoids graphic descriptions of heinous crimes and horrors. Young Adult themes tend to center around growing up, friendships and relationships, and the general priorities and characteristics of teenagers (oh, the drama!). Further, Young Adult tends to rely on a fast-moving plot with limited flowery prose and, often times, limited use of profanities.

The line between Young Adult and Adult can get blurry, because sometimes teens face adult challenges, or fit into an Adult fiction storytelling style. Some authors refer to their work that falls between the two categories as “New Adult”. New Adult is for readers between YA and Adult, and includes some of the best of both worlds. Darker stories and themes with characters still figuring life out – but they’re in their early twenties, not their teens. While the NA category isn’t widely recognized – and outright denied existence by some publishers – some of the books on the following list may fall closer to NA than YA. For the record, I am a proponent for New Adult and I think we should expand the category, giving more stories to those who aren’t teens but aren’t really adults. Not yet.

Without further ado, let’s run down the list of some of the best YA horror books on the market.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (2010)

The first installment of a four book series marketed as H.P. Lovecraft x Rick Riorden, this book follows orphaned Will (remember what I said about dead parents?) who works as an assistant to a monster-hunting doctor. A new monster is discovered – the Anthropophagus, a headless creature that feeds through the gaping mouth in its chest. Unfortunately for Will and the doctor, this discovery means there are more Anthropophagi loose in the world. A mad hunt ensues to stop the creatures from eating the whole world – and to figure out where they’re coming from in the first place.

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (2020)

This Bram Stoker Award winning slasher horror is Cesare’s YA debut, having found success in Adult fiction with Video Night (2013) and The Summer Job (2014). If the title alone doesn’t get you interested, the summary will – there’s a clown in the cornfield! Quinn is the new girl in the small factory town of Kettle Springs, a place divided into two halves; kids and adults, progress and stifled tradition. When a clown mascot goes homicidal and starts killing off the teens, a new tradition threatens to begin – unless the teens can stop him. It sounds very Children of the Corn x It, and I’m buying it on my next trip to my local bookstore (not sponsored, I just love clowns).

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)

A New York Times bestseller that expanded into a 6 book series, this tale follows Jacob Portman on a quest to uncover a mystery that his late grandfather left behind. He discovers the time-bending world of Miss Peregrine and her home of misfits – peculiars – children with powers of all sorts. Some can wield fire, control plants, and levitate, while others have more outlandish abilities, like reanimating the dead or feeding through an extra mouth on the back of their head full of sharp, gnashing teeth. The peculiars are being hunted by invisible monsters called Hollowghasts, and Jacob is the key to defeating them… but no one knows why. There’s a full series review coming to the blog, soon!

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldovsky (2021)

Here’s a thriller about a horror fan club that might be too into horror… The new girl in town, Rachel Chavez, is an avid horror movie fan with a tumultuous past. When she is inducted into the Mary Shelley Club at her new school, she is subjected to Fear Tests – terrifying pranks inspired by urban legends and -you guessed it- horror movies. When teens start dying, the pranks aren’t so fun anymore, and Rachel realizes that it’s not just a movie trope – it’s real life. It reminds me of an older Are You Afraid of the Dark. Book review coming soon!

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (2016)

This is the first book in a duology by an actual descendant of Cotton Mather (you know, the minister involved in those witch trials back in Salem?). The book follows Samantha Mather, also a descendant of Cotton, which makes her public enemy #1 on her first day at her new school in Salem, Massachusetts. The girls who rule the school are descendants of witches, and they make it their mission to bully Sam out of the school – and out of Salem. But there’s more at stake high school street-cred when a centuries-old curse unfolds, putting all descendants of the Salem Witch Trials in deadly jeopardy. Oh, yeah, and a love triangle between Sam, the boy next door, and a ghost.

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (2019)

Marketed toward fans of Holly Black and V.E. Schwab, this historical horror follows the story of Ryn, the seventeen year old gravedigger. She works on her dead parents’ graveyard (there’s always at least one dead parent in Young Adult) but is struggling to keep her siblings happy and fed. Oh, yeah, and sometimes the dead (called “bone houses”) come back to life. Mysterious newcomer Ellis draws the bone houses to attack with a newfound hunger. Together, Ryn and Ellis must get to the bottom of the fae curse that makes the dead alive – and angry.

House of Furies by Madeleine Roux (2017)

The first installment of a trilogy (which I regrettably keep reading as “house of furries”) follows seventeen year old Louisa Ditton, a mad in a mysterious boarding house. Through her accidental investigation, Louisa discovers the house’s master is actually the head of a cruel organization that judges (and subsequently punishes) those who visit the boarding house whom he deems too far gone in their sinning to save. It’s a mysterious thriller about how easily men can become monsters when they think they are greater than other men. Roux also wrote the Asylum series, another YA series worth checking out if you’re into haunted asylums and murder mysteries.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (2015)

The first book in a duology based on Japanese folklore that we talked about in my article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/japans-vengeful-ghosts-nihon-sandai-kaidan/. Okiku, a young girl who was tragically murdered in a well, now haunts the world, taking the lives of evil killers. When she stumbles across the misunderstood (and demon-possessed) Tark, Okiku knows she must free the malevolent spirit that is using the boy’s body as a host – without killing the only friend Okiku has ever known. Chupeco is now most well known for her Bone Witch series.

Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (2015)

Young Ash is following the mysterious disappearance of her mother. Her quest brings her to a small town in Kansas – and the strange commune from which her mother had previously escaped. At the center of the creepy little town is a string of deaths and bizarre traditions revolving around murder, immortality, and alchemy (oh, my!). The tale culminates with a ceremony 500 years in the making which could spell the end for Ash, her mother, and her new love interest (there’s always a new love interest).

Ten by Gretchen McNeil (2013)

A horrific twist on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a group of 10 teens are gathered for what was supposed to be a party weekend on Henry Island. A storm cuts off the power and cuts the teens off from the rest of the world. One by one, the teens are killed in increasingly violent ways, and it’s up to the protagonist Meg to find out who the killer is, even as her friends are dying – and turning on each other.

Well, there you have it. Some of the best YA horrors and thrillers. What’s your favorite YA horror – or favorite YA book in general? Do you think a New Adult Fiction category is a good idea?

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Horror Genres with Examples

Because this is confusing and I need to make a list.

Hello, friends and foes! I wanted to compile a list of the six genres of horror with some examples. I think it’s so much easier to break into the horror game with some guidance – because it’s confusing out there, and there are a lot of great books to read.

What is horror, anyway? Quick and shameless self-promo: if you haven’t read my article Horror: Who Started It?, I recommend checking it out as a companion piece to this one. It touches on some of the big names and classics I might not get to here, but are still worth checking out. Horror in general is about fear (duh). These books create a dreadful atmosphere rife with startling twists, shocking turns, and repulsive imagery… most of the time, anyway. As I laid out in my earlier article, horror has its deepest roots in Ancient Greece, and more recent branches of the family tree include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Stephen King’s, well, everything. What I didn’t explore in my earlier article were the sub-genres of horror literature. Let’s break ’em down, in no particular order.

Gothic

We’ll kick off the sub-genres with perhaps the most well known. Gothic horror focuses heavily on death and morality, and the existential nature of humankind. Early on, these stories were almost exclusively set in gothic castles and medieval ruins.

The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole is considered to be the first horror novel in general, therefore serving as the first in the gothic sub-genre. It’s set in a medieval realm where death abounds and prophecies of doom and despair haunt the characters along with the ghosts.

The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James takes place on a country estate overrun with ghosts. It has a dreary atmosphere seeping with dread and creeping shadows. Bonus points for the creepy children.

Interview with a Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice deals with the existential struggles of immortal vampires through flowering and dramatic prose that is both terrifying and often described as “chillingly erotic”. Groovy.

Paranormal

My favorite sub-genre of horror in literature and film – ghost stories! Paranormal horror often includes ideas from fairy tales, folklore, and urban legends. Some horror buffs list paranormal and supernatural fiction as two different sub-genres, but for the purpose of this article, I’m lumping them together.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson is hailed as the greatest haunted house book ever written (The Wall Street Journal says so). It follows a group of individuals who stay in a presumably haunted house in an attempt to capture evidence of ghosts or paranormal activity.

Ghost Story (1979) by Peter Straub is about a group of five life-long friends that gather to tell each other ghost stories. They mysteriously start dying one by one, and they can’t help but wonder if the stories aren’t just stories, after all…

Pet Sematary (1983) by Stephen King is one of my favorite books ever. There’s a place you can bury your dead where they come back to life. But they come back… different. Supernatural and strange (much like most all of King’s work), it’s a great example of paranormal and supernatural elements coexisting in one very creepy story.

Occult

This one’s all about rituals- specifically, rituals that aren’t considered scientific or religious (no established religion, anyway). Whether it’s spells or incantations or cults, occult horror encompasses everything, well, occult.

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (1917-1935) published by Chartwell Books Classics collection in 2016 is obviously on this list. Lovecraft coined occult horror with his mysterious rituals summoning eldritch horrors, fantastical monsters of the deep, and fictitious ravings of those gone mad trying to summon and control limitless evils and supernatural powers.

The Damnation Game (1985) by Clive Barker is all about Faustian bargains (i.e. deals with the Devil) and how an ordinary man must stop the Devil from collecting his due. How do mortals compare to the limitless powers of the Devil? And why are mortals so obsessed with selling their souls when it’s really all they have?

Sorrowland (2021) by Rivers Solomon is the tale of a young woman who has escaped a commune (read: cult) and has given birth to twins in the wilderness. Though she escaped the commune, she is still being haunted by the rituals that took place there. This book also touches on the real life horrors of America’s history of violence against black bodies.

Dark Fantasy

It’s kind of self-explanatory. The creepy crawly horror atmosphere married with fantastical and/or magical themes and settings.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) by Ray Bradbury is a classic dark fantasy tale about a mysterious carnival that rolls into a small town. Two teenage protagonists must learn how to face their fears and the creepy carnies. Book review coming soon!

Salem’s Lot (1975) by Stephen King is about a writer who returns to a small town in Maine (A small town in Maine? In a Stephen King book??) only to discover that the residents are turning into vampires! Fun Fact: King has twice been quoted as saying this is his favorite book he’s written.

Under the Pendulum Sun (2017) by Jeannette Ng is a Victorian fantasy about a girl who goes on a journey to rescue her brother from the land of the Fae, soon to discover the fairy folk are not the kind and gentle creatures they are thought to be.

Survival

The characters are being hunted and try desperately to survive despite the disparity of their situation. This category is particularly popular in horror films (think Saw, or any Eli Roth movie).

The Ruins (2006) by Scott Smith follows four American tourists who visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, only to stumble across a Mayan village terrorized by killer vines. Survival horror is rife with body horror and gore, perhaps more than any other sub-genre, and this book does not disappoint on that front. It’s absolutely gnarly.

The Troop (2014) by Nick Cutter is about a scoutmaster who takes his troop into the Canadian wilderness on a typical camping trip. But they are soon met with an unexpected and terrifying intruder. They have to survive the elements, a bio-engineered infection, and whatever else lurks in the forest.

The Hunger (2018) by Alma Katsu is a retelling of the real-life horrors of the Donner party with an evil, witch-y twist. If you’re not familiar with the Donner party, they met their grisly fate in the Sierra Nevada mountains over the winter of 1846-1847. They took an untested “short cut”, got stuck in a blizzard, and ran out of food… well, kind of.

Science Fiction

Another self-explanatory category, all about horrific imagery and tropes blended with tech and science.

Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley is hailed as the first science fiction horror book ever, and rightly so. It tells the tale of a young scientist (Frankenstein is the name of the SCIENTIST!!) who creates an almost-human creature with dead body parts and… science.

Carrion Comfort (1989) by Dan Simmons is an alternate history beginning in World War II. A man sent to the infamous Chelmno extermination camp in Poland embarks on a decades-long journey to reveal a secret society that is behind the world’s most violent events. Also, there are vampires… but not in the way you think.

Boneshaker (2009) by Cherie Priest is a Civil War era alternate history about a giant ice drill (Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine – say that five times fast) that malfunctions and unearths a gas that turns people into zombie-like creatures.

That concludes our dive into horror sub-genres. Do you have a favorite? Should I recreate this post but with horror film examples, instead? Let me know in the comments below!

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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The Original Horrors that Inspired Disney Classics

Thanks for the nightmares, Brothers Grimm.

Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re taking a look at some of Disney’s fairy tale retellings and their way-scarier source material.

Let’s get one thing out of the way – I don’t consider myself to be a “Disney Adult”, but I do consider myself to be a general fan and avid Disney animation historian. And through my obsession with the evolution of Disney animation, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about the history of the company as a whole. And what a fascinating history, it is…

This is an image of the Disney Animators strike in 1941.

It all started with a mouse. Well… kind of. In 1923, The Walt Disney Company was started by Walt and Roy Disney under the name Disney Bros. Studio. Mickey Mouse came along in 1928 and was quickly followed by Pluto and Donald Duck, etc. And the rest, as they say, is history. A history rife with wartime propaganda (Der Fuehrer’s Face, 1943; Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi, 1943; Donald Gets Drafted, 1942), racism (Song of the South, 1946, an offensive depiction of cheerful African Americans post slavery), and anti-union and low pay corporate policies (resulting in multiple strikes between 1941 and present day). It was on the backs of those underpaid animators and musicians and cast members that the corporate giant we know today was built.

Now, I’m not here to discuss Disney as a corporation (at least, not any more than I already have). The stunning artistry of the animators and musicians and writers deserves to be appreciated for what it is – moving and emotional art. Many of these stories and characters are cornerstones of our adolescence. I watched The Lion King every day for a year when I was five, and my mom fast-forwarded past Mufasa’s death scene every single time… no one tell her I run a horror blog now.

Disney applied its show stopping and jaw dropping art to many preexisting and classic tales. For example, Pinocchio. It was originally written as a serial by Carlo Collodi between 1881 and 1883 in Italy. According to Francelia Butler, scholar and pioneer of children’s literature, Pinocchio is the most translated Italian book (in over 250 languages) and the second most widely read. What’s the first most widely read book in Italy? Oh, just The Bible. Disney’s film version of Pinocchio was released in 1940 and left out just one little detail… Jiminy Cricket was supposed to be dead. Yep. In the book, Pinocchio kills him with a hammer, but little Jiminy stays with him as his conscience, teaching him right from wrong.

Turns out, this is a recurring theme of Disney’s retellings – taking out some of the gnarly, scary stuff. We here at Little Book Blog of Horrors want the gnarly and the scary. So, let’s talk about it.

Charles Robinson illustrated Cinderella in the kitchen (1900), from Tales of Passed Times with stories by Charles Perrault.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Cinderella (either the 1950 animated version or the 2015 live-action remake). The Disney film follows Cinderella, a maid to her evil stepmother and stepsisters, heckled and mistreated at every given chance. With the help of her fairy godmother, Cinderella gets to attend a ball – but only until the stroke of midnight. Her dance with the prince is cut short as the clock strikes midnight, and in her haste she leaves behind a single glass slipper. The prince tries to find his lost love by having all the maidens that attended the ball try on the glass slipper. Eventually it is revealed that Cinderella is the prince’s mystery girl and they live happily ever after.

The film is based on Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of the ancient tale (and I mean ancient – this story goes back to Rhodopis in Ancient Greece, around 7BC). Disney chose Perrault’s version of the tale because he was the first to include the glass slipper. Other versions have other calling cards like jewelry or notes. In the Brothers Grimm 1812 version of the tale, the glass slipper is gold and Cinderella’s name is Aschenputtel (literally just German for Cinderella). Also in the Brothers Grimm version and conveniently left out of Disney’s is the fate of the stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella. In their desperate attempts to fit into the glass slipper and marry the prince, one stepsister hacks off her toe and one hacks off her heel. Both times, the prince sees the blood on the slipper and says “no, thank you”. Then, at the wedding of the prince and Cinderella, pigeons peck out the stepsisters’ eyes and they were “punished with blindness as long as they lived”. Gnarly.

“Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!”

“rucke di guck, rucke di guck,
Blut ist im Schuck (Schuh):
Der Schuck ist zu klein,
die rechte Braut sitzt noch daheim”

Moving right along to another tale from those weird Grimm brothers: Snow White. The 1937 film was a benchmark for Disney; it was the first full length traditionally animated feature film EVER, and the first feature length film for Disney. In the tale we meet orphaned Snow White, living with her stepmother The Queen. The Queen forces Snow into servitude because she’s prettier than her. When The Queen’s magic mirror breaks it to her that Snow is still the fairest in all the land despite being demoted to lowly servant, The Queen orders a huntsman to kill Snow White and take out her heart.

Schneewittchen; Darstellung von Alexander Zick (1845 – 1907)

Snow hides out with the seven dwarfs, safe until she is poisoned by a cunning witch with a poison apple. She falls into a coma and the dwarfs place her in a glass coffin in the forest, standing watch beside her. Then, a prince comes and kisses her and she wakes up to marry him. The End.

The 1812 Brothers Grimm version is pretty similar, though Snow White actually dies from eating the poisoned apple and the dwarfs put her in a glass coffin because she was still so beautiful after death (the poison kept her from decaying, apparently). The prince comes across the coffin in the forest and begs the dwarfs for it, claiming, “I cannot live without being able to see Snow-White!”… weird. As the prince’s servants are carrying the coffin to the castle, one trips and jostles Snow’s position. This dislodges the poison apple from her throat and she miraculously comes back to life! She still marries the prince and they live happily ever after, after all. Oh, but not before The Queen attends their wedding and is forced to dance on burning iron shoes until she drops dead. Perhaps an early rival to Game of Thrones‘ infamous Red Wedding?

Though there are plenty more Grimm x Disney collaborations to go through (Rapunzel, The Little Mermaid, etc.), let’s take a look at some different source material. Victor Hugo’s 1831 classic Notre-Dame de Paris, or, as we know it, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. DISCLAIMER: this article will contain usage of the word “gypsy”. This word is widely recognized as a slur against individuals of Romani descent. It is being used in the context of this article to refer to its usage in the works of Victor Hugo and the Walt Disney Company, and is in no way intended as derogatory by the author.

Illustration from Victor Hugo et son temps (1881)

Disney’s 1996 animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is arguably Disney’s darkest film (infanticide, murder, lust, sin and eternal damnation abound – and still rated G!). In 1460’s Paris, we meet Minister of Justice Frollo. He’s on a mission to rid the city of Paris of gypsies. He murders a gypsy woman while she pleads for “sanctuary” inside the Notre Dame cathedral. Frollo discovers a deformed baby in her arms. He attempts to drown the infant but is caught by the cathedral’s archdeacon, and is forced to raise the baby as penance for his sins. That infant grows up to be the hunchback Quasimodo (and his name literally means “half formed”… wtf).

Quasimodo has no friends – except for three cathedral gargoyles that come to life – until he meets the beautiful gypsy woman Esmeralda. Frollo lusts after Esmeralda and burns down half of Paris hunting her and the other gypsies down (see Jonathan Young’s metal cover of the original Disney track Hellfire here: https://open.spotify.com/track/3VLFgFwCPediasLOXX2cUD?si=87c908a48c54404e ). Frollo tricks Quasimodo into leading him to the gypsy camp and tries to burn Esmeralda at the stake. Luckily, this is a Disney movie, so Esmeralda is rescued by Quasimodo, Frollo burns to death in a pit of molten lead, and Quasimodo is accepted into Paris society as a hero.

So, it was already dark. Especially by Disney standards. Still not as dark as Hugo’s version, however. In the original French text, Frollo frames Esmeralda for murder (he’s still lusting after her, by the way). Quasimodo tries to give her “sanctuary” in Notre Dame but she is eventually hanged for her ‘crime’. In the end, Quasimodo murders Frollo and then starves to death, clinging to Esmeralda’s lifeless body.

In short, Disney did a great job of turning terrifying children’s stories into… slightly less terrifying children’s films. I absolutely recommend checking out the source material if you want the gritty backstory to your childhood favorites. I’m thinking of doing a list of scary moments in Disney films (think Dumbo‘s Pink Elephants montage). If that’s something you’d be interested in, let me know in the comments below!

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

SOURCES:

“The Walt Disney Studios History.” Walt Disney Studios, https://studioservices.go.com/disneystudios/history.html

“Walt Disney’s World War II propaganda production”. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney%27s_World_War_II_propaganda_production

Mattera, Philip. “Walt Disney: Corporate Rap Sheet.” Corporate Research Project, 1 Aug. 2020, https://www.corp-research.org/disney

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Sneewittchen, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 53

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, “Aschenputtel,” Kinder- und Hausmärchen [Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales], 7th edition (Göttingen: Verlag der Dieterichschen Buchhandlung, 1857), no. 21, pp. 119-26.

Bracken, Haley. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame: novel by Hugo.” Brittanica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

All art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Horror: Who Started It?

Hello, friends and foes! For my first-ever blog post I thought it would be fun to do a brief timeline of horror literature and try to figure out who might have planted the horror family tree. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Horror: who started it? There are several obvious contenders; H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe. When I dove into this research rabbit hole I began as any self-respecting researcher would – I Googled it. The answer might shock you.

While this search result is hilarious, it’s not exactly what I was looking for when I set out on this quest for an answer. So I, living my armchair anthropologist dreams, decided to dig (read: Google) a little further.

The encyclopedia Brittanica defines a horror story as “a story in which the focus is on creating a feeling of fear”. This definition is important because, for the sake of keeping this a brief timeline of horror literature, I won’t be delving into the different branches of the family tree (i.e. gothic horror, paranormal horror, body horror, etc.). With this simple definition in mind, who do you picture of when you think of horror? Stephen King? Anne Rice?

Stephen King’s reign of terror began in 1974 with the publication of the now-classic Carrie. Since then he’s published over 80 books so, sure, I’d consider him as a contender for Father of Modern Horror. (For the record, R.L. Stine has published over 300 books. Just sayin’.)

Anne Rice rose to fame around the same time as King, as Interview With a Vampire was published in 1976, a whopping 26 years before Stephanie Meyer published the insanely popular vampire series Twilight. Since 1976, Rice has published over two dozen books, including both Christian and erotic literature. She even cites Stephen King as an inspiration for her work (Billboard interview, March 11, 2016). The 1970’s saw an upswing in horror literature that has led all the way to present day, but that’s not where the genre began.

Let’s talk about Shirley Jackson. You know The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix? Yeah, she wrote the book back in 1959. It’s often cited as one of the first haunted house novels in America. She also wrote We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Even before that, Jackson published her short story The Lottery in 1948. If you’re anything like me, you’ll remember this as being the single most traumatizing piece of assigned reading in your middle school English class.

Jackson was also a general badass, regarded as incredibly witty, confident, and successful in a field that did not grant easy access to women at that time. She also read tarot and allegedly practiced witchcraft. Spooky. I read her biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, and you should, too. While she didn’t cite a specific author of literary influence, Jackson seemed to be inspired by the darkness of every day – sometimes hidden, sometimes right under your very nose.

I’d say it’s typical for horror writers to be drawn to and inspired by the dark intricacies of life. Take a look at H.P. Lovecraft, for example. A fellow New Englander and anti-anthropocentrist (anthropocentric: regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals). Lovecraft’s claim to fame is widely regarded as his short story The Call of Cthulu from 1926 which eventually became the staggering Cthulu mythos that most horror (or in Lovecraft’s terms, “weird”) literature fans have come to know. Lovecraft’s first known writings began in 1897, a staggering 77 years before Stephen King’s Carrie. His legacy in the literature realm is abundantly clear, as his Cthulu mythos has been adapted into film, TV, board games and more. And, while 1897 seems like a really long time ago, I wanted to know who inspired Lovecraft. So I kept digging.

Lovecraft’s influence is another pretty obvious contender for starting the horror genre as we know it: Edgar Allen Poe. Another New Englander (I blame the gloom) that became an instant success with the publication of The Raven in 1845 but had published horror shorts since the early 1830’s. Poe was a student of cosmology, another influence of Lovecraft’s work (cosmology: the philosophical study of the origin and nature of the universe). Poe is widely regarded as a pioneer of “gothic” and “gothic horror” literature. An interesting anecdote about Poe’s history that I might do a whole post on in the future (would you be interested? Leave a comment below!) is the case of Lizzie Doten in the 1860’s. Doten was an imitator of Poe’s poetry after his death and claimed to hear Poe’s spirit dictating new poetry from beyond the grave.

Anyway, anyway, anyway. Let’s get on with it.

Poe was a popular (and ultimately very tragic) figure in horror literature, but not the first. Before him came another one of our obvious contenders: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her 1818 classic Frankenstein. Shelley ushered in the age of science-fiction and horror during what can certainly be called a “Golden Age” for spooky literature. The early 1800’s saw the Brothers Grimm collection of short stories for scaring your children and other classics, like Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

At this point in my research, I truly thought I was nearing the finish line. A big boom of horror literature in the early 1800’s meant someone had started the genre in the not-so-distant past, and I was determined to figure out who it was. I made it back in time to 1764 with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. FINALLY. Several sources claimed this to be the first gothic horror novel. And it was quite controversial at the time of its publication; it was initially published under the guise of being a romance story.

Finally, I had reached the end. Or… the beginning. I made it to the first ever horror story ever written!

Just kidding. Common sense tells us that horror has its roots in folklore, superstition, and myths from all over the world for as long as history has been recorded. Even real life events have been inspiring terrifying works of literature for hundreds of years. A serial killer inspired 1697’s Bluebeard, and noblewoman Elizabeth Bathory inspired 1729’s Tragica Historia and the character Madame Delphine LaLaurie in American Horror Story: Coven, portrayed by horror film icon Kathy Bates. And although we didn’t talk about Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic Dracula, it’s thought that his inspiration came from the Prince of Wallachia Vlad III who terrified all who knew him in the 15th century.

It wasn’t just vampires back then, either. Werewolf literature was popular as far back as the 12th Century, way before Leitch Ritchie wrote The Man-Wolf in 1831. If you want to get technical, there was a werewolf in The Epic of Gilgamesh and that dates back to 2100 BC. Werewolves were also prominent figures in ancient Greek and Roman horror stories.

Now, here’s the thing. Horror stories as we know them go back basically forever. I’m talking before the year 1000. Hell, maybe even before the year 100. Euripides wrote stories about ghosts and necromancy that inspired Mary Shelley. Pliny the Younger wrote about a haunted house in Athens over 1800 years before Shirley Jackson was even born.

I guess the conclusion is that there is no conclusion. At least, not one I could come up with on my armchair anthropology expedition into the roots of horror literature. Horror’s roots are ancient, tying back to the oldest superstitions, folklore and ghost stories from all over the world. You can give Walpole credit for the first gothic horror novel, and Shelley for the first sci-fi horror, and H.P. Lovecraft for being straight-up weird, but it’s impossible to find a single originator of horror. And, I think I like that answer better. Ghosts, witches, vampires and demons have haunted humans for as long as we’ve been able to tell stories about them. And reading a good ghost story never gets old.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

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