This is a great time of year to sit around and share ghost stories, as featured in this post from last week, but some readers prefer something a little stronger to properly curdle their blood. The distinction between ghost stories and other horror is nicely drawn in the Modern Library anthology Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, with over a 1,000 pages neatly divided into supernatural horror, and classics of all-too-natural terror and suspense such as Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Ambrose Bierce’s “The Boarded Window,” and Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar,” all of which have been featured in the library’s Thrilling Tales: Adult Storytime. Some other handy classic horror anthologies are The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time (not sure if I agree with their selection, but there are some fine tales here), and The Raven and The Monkey’s Paw, which has a lot of Poe, and a handful of other tales. Speaking of handy, I also like the Campfire collections: Spine Tingling Tales to Tell in the Dark, Eric Martin, ed; Ghosts, Beasts, and Things that Go Bump in the Night, Kit Duane, ed.; and Thrilling, Chilling Tales of Alien Encouters, Gina Hyams, ed. Much more portable than, say, the massive (and excellent) Dark Descent, David Hartwell, ed. Then there’s H.P. Lovecraft, whose tales of ancient cosmic evil are synonymous with horror for many readers. Aside from the fine Library of America collection of his stories, Lovecraft fans may also enjoy H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural, edited by Lovecraft himself, and The Color Out of Space: Tales of Cosmic Horror, Douglas Thin, ed. I also suggest they check out the The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, a good friend of Lovecraft and the inventor of Conan the Barbarian.
For modern stories of terror and unease, it is hard to do better than Richard Matheson, whose writes riveting episodes of nearly unbearable suspense, such as the title story of Duel: Terror stories (check out the truly terrifying movie version too, Stephen Spielberg’s directoral debut – basically it is Jaws with a semi truck rather than a shark). Fans of The Twilight Zone will recognize the title story of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror stories (and probably imagine a young William Shatner in the part). Another story that was used in a Twilight Zone episode and will become a feature film next year leads off Button Button: Uncanny stories. And even readers who have never been drawn to Stephen King’s novels may enjoy his short stories, which are just enough unutterable horror for many; try Nightmares and Dreamscapes, or get in line with me by placing your hold now on his forthcoming collection, Just After Sunset. Another perfect collection for a chilly, long autumn’s eve is Ray Bradbury’s The October Country. Very few modern writers send a more convincing chill down the spine than Joyce Carol Oates when she’s being creepy – try The Collector of Hearts or The Female of the Species.
To check out some of the best of contemporary scare tactics with their surreal tinge, check out Peter Straub’s recent anthology: Poe’s Children: The New Horror, brimfull of chills from such hot writers as Joe Hill, Kelly Link, Elizabeth Hand, John Crowley and Neil Gaiman. Some other good recent collections are Dark Delicacies I & II, Dark Dreams: a collection of horror and suspense by black writers and Voices from the Other Side, Dark Dreams II, and one of my own favorites, Night Shadows: 20th Century stories of the uncanny, which contains Truman Capote’s wonderfully dread-full debut story, “Miriam.” Oh, and there’s a great new anthology called American Supernatural Tales, S.T. Joshi, ed, that ranges from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King and beyond. Remember that the scary season doesn’t end with Hallowe’en: the whole of Autumn and Winter are great times for sharing shivers, which can be a nice antidote to nonstop holiday cheer.