I love Halloween. Nothing gets me in the mood for ghosts, ghouls and goblins better than a good scary story, so I wanted to share some of my favorite classic picks.
As much as I love Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and Bram Stoker's "Dracula," the two staples of Gothic literature, I wanted to pick a few classics that readers sometimes forget about, at least in the literary sense.
1. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde (1890)
Wilde's narrative of a young man who unwittingly sells his soul for eternal youth has always been a favorite of mine. The character of Dorian Gray - the man who never grows old while a painted portrait of himself ages in his place - begins as an innocent although misguided youth, and gradually transforms into a dark and corrupted villain. His portrait not only reveals Dorian's true self, but all the markings of his sins.
2. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving (1820)
This is a short story from Irving's collection "The Sketch Book." Most people are familiar with the Disney cartoon from 1949 narrated by Bing Crosby, or the 1999 movie directed by Tim Burton. The original story, based on a German folktale, leaves its supernatural elements open to interpretation, but it is a classic ghost tale that should remain an indispensable Halloween story for any reader.
3. The works of Edgar Allen Poe (1833-1849)
There are several compilations of Poe's works, including stories such as "The Tell Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," and poems such as "The Conqueror Worm" and his most famous, "The Raven." I realize this selection may not be so obscure, but it is the essential source of Gothic literature. Poe's twisted tales of ghosts, murder and monsters are still unmatched by most horror authors to date.
4. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
Many movie adaptations have been made about the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll and his "other side," the wicked Mr. Hyde. The novella itself, however, depicts the despicable Mr. Hyde not as the huge hulking monster as many modern versions portray him, but as something more symbolic and sinister. This is a very short read, around 50 pages in length, so if you are looking for a quick horror story about the beast that lies within all of us, this is the book for you.
5. "MacBeth" by William Shakespeare (between 1603 and 1607)
Readers sometimes forget that Shakespeare's plays offer eerie supernatural elements, such as the tortured ghost of the deceased king in Hamlet and the three spell-conjuring witches in MacBeth. The latter, however, deserves special note since, even to this date, theater actors still believe the play is cursed, and will not say the play's title aloud backstage - it is simply referred to as "the Scottish play." When a written work can carry that kind of haunting superstition for hundreds of years, it has to make my list of the creepiest classics for Halloween.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review runs every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it.