Baylor English Faculty Recommend Five Terrifying Books to Haunt You This Halloween

Scary stories
English department faculty in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences recommend five hair-raising books some classic, some contemporary that make "Friday the 13th" look like a children's film. (iStock)
Oct. 19, 2015

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WACO, Texas (Oct. 19, 2015) – All Hallow’s Eve is just around the corner, and instead of celebrating with gruesome and predictable slasher films, professors from the English department in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences recommend five hair-raising books – some classic, some more contemporary – that make “Friday the 13th” look like a children’s film.

Just be sure to read with caution – don’t say we didn’t warn you.

“The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters, 2009

Recommended by Kevin Gardner, Ph.D., chair of the department of English.

“The most unsettling book I’ve read recently is ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters. It has the usual Gothic setting, a decaying English country manor house, but the author adds extraordinary twists, and her themes are much richer than those in the ordinary horror story. It’s about obsession, psychological disorder and weird family bonds, but it is also a serious literary accomplishment that explores important sociological themes relevant to understanding modern British culture. The creepy feeling of the supernatural stays with you through every page, because there is always ‘some shadowy, dreadful thing’ in your periphery. In the end, you cannot be sure if there was ever anything supernatural or not, and perhaps it’s the unresolved mystery that appeals to me.”

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, 1818

Recommended by Kristen Pond, Ph.D., assistant professor of English.

“Most people know the basic idea of the story, which is that of a young man and aspiring scientist who attempts to create life from deceased human body parts. He succeeds, but his creation turns out to be so hideous that Victor immediately abandons him. This rejection from Victor, as well as repeated rejections from other humans, turns the creation into a ‘monster,’ so to speak. The monster begins killing off members of Victor’s family in revenge. There are a few scary scenes which involve the monster making sudden and unwelcome appearances, usually in the middle of storms or on the peaks of icy mountains. These Gothic scenes perhaps scare us less today than they would have frightened a 19th-century audience, but the monster’s eerie yellow eyes and grisly features would still set our nerves on edge today. But the scariest thing about this book, in my opinion, is the idea of the monstrous ‘other.’ Shelley does a frightening thing with this novel by suggesting that the monstrous other is in fact inside each one of us. Victor really turns out to be the monster in this book – in fact, the way we refer to the monster as Frankenstein in common parlance today is evidence for just how suggestive Shelley makes this frightening conclusion. Humans can be capable of the most egregious acts against one another, and through the monster’s eyes we see a mirror turned on ourselves that provides a rather horrific picture of humanity. In this way, I find Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ to be a scary book in the way a psychological thriller would terrify us.”

“Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King, 1975

Recommended by Greg Garrett, Ph.D., professor of English and the 2013 Baylor Centennial Professor.

“The scariest book I've ever read is Stephen King's ‘Salem's Lot,’ a novel about vampires who take over a small town in Maine and the ‘Fearless Vampire Killers’ who oppose them. I first read it when I was a teenager, and I read it again while writing my most recent book on death and the afterlife and was reminded again of how beautifully creepy it is. Whether or not you normally are afraid of vampires – and I am not – King builds a tremendous mood and writes supernatural evil that feels cosmic in its darkness and selfishness. Not everyone survives the book, and those who do are powerfully changed. I recommend ‘Salem's Lot’ for anyone with an interest in vampires who scare you and who don't sparkle and walk around in the daylight. But be ready to jump the next time you hear a noise in the darkness.”

“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, 1845

Recommended by Dan Walden, Ph.D., assistant professor of English.

“Many people probably know the poem, or at least know its famous repetition of ‘nevermore,’ but probably don’t think of it as a particularly ‘scary’ poem because of its flowing rhyme scheme and seemingly-silly content – a talking raven. But this is one of those poems that, if you really let it do its job, can be deeply unsettling. The poem is about one of Poe’s favorite topics – the death of a beautiful woman – and if you pay attention to the words and the punctuation as you read it aloud, the lines drive you on faster and faster until you get to the stanza’s abrupt end, only to start the whole thing over again and repeat. It goes on like this for pages – driving you forward in a fervent rhyme scheme and cutting off unexpectedly – until finally ending with the image of the narrator crumpled on the floor in the belief that he will never feel happiness ever again. This poem is madness personified, and that’s a truly scary subject indeed.”

“Operation Shylock: A Confession” by Philip Roth, 1993

Recommended by Arna Hemenway, M.F.A., assistant professor of English.

“This is a very strange novel, worth reading in its entirety, but mostly terrifying for its initial movement, which details how a character named ‘Philip Roth,’ after suffering an accident with medication, discovers a sinister doppelgänger also named ‘Philip Roth,’ and goes off to Israel in search of him. This story is set against that of the trial of accused war criminal John Demjanjuk, which is disturbing in its own right. There are many books that scare a reader in conventionally or narratively imaginative ways, but what makes this book so scary to me is the way it takes what are usually settled ideas that bring us some comfort – who you are, what reality is, what a criminal is – and makes you deeply question your own understanding of them. It is a scary novel because it makes you feel, well, kind of crazy. But this is also what makes it valuable to read; fiction that can engage your life and thoughts in such a real way is rare, and though this book is famously difficult, it rewards the effort a reader takes in thinking and feeling about it.”

by Ashton Brown, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

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