5 books that scared me, each one in its own way.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, but I won’t read it again (I explain why in the post The scariest book I’ve ever read). It’s a story that scares me in profound way, shaking me to my very core as a person and a parent. McCarthy’s prose perfectly conveys the sense of bleakness, dread, and doom that permeates the story:
“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
- The Road at Amazon.
The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe
Poe is the master of horror, and this is a horror classic for good reasons. Relentlessly disturbing and chilling, it’s well worth re-visiting if you want to dip into some old-school scariness.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
“I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall over the dreadful abyss, face down with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings. At first I could not believe my eyes. I thought it was some trick of the moonlight, some weird effect of shadow, but I kept looking, and it could be no delusion. I saw the fingers and toes grasp the corners of the stones, worn clear of the mortar by the stress of years, and by thus using every projection and inequality move downwards with considerable speed, just as a lizard moves along a wall.”
When I first read this book in my teens, it scared me so much I could barely be at home by myself. The story has that creeping sense of unease and ever-present, unnatural evil in it, and you can pretty much forget about sparkly, high-school vampires while reading it. Stoker’s Dracula is a creature that is powerfully attractive in some ways, but also profoundly dark and terrifyingly dangerous. Classic gothic horror, with a lot of… bite.
- Dracula at Amazon.
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
“Don’t go through the door.”
This is my favourite Gaiman story. Gaiman’s “other mother” is one of the most frightening literary characters I’ve encountered: she is creepy and disturbing in a way that goes beyond the usual “scary monsters in the closet” clichés.
- Coraline at Amazon.
The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin
When I re-read this book last year, as I re-read the entire Earthsea cycle, I was struck by how dark and intense the story is. Ged’s quest to find out what has gone wrong with magic and the world itself, becomes an odyssey into his own past and his own darkness. It’s a fantastic book, and at times Le Guin’s prose is exquisitely powerful:
“There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”
“And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”
- The Farthest Shore at Amazon.