(Possible Spoilers Ahead)
As a supernatural thriller writer, I’m asked all the time about my favorite scary books. My answers always surprise them, because most of my favorites are not recent. In fact, the only modern horror writers I read are Stephen King, Dean Koontz or Peter Straub. And, maybe more shocking, I’m not a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft at all. All of the things he supposedly does well can be found in the works of earlier and much better writers.
Further, my favorite stories have what I call a “sacramental horror” flavor. That is, they use the Seen world in their stories to suggest something about the Unseen world. And, piercing the Veil doesn’t always bring pleasant or beautiful results. Many theologians have speculated about what would happen if we could see the Unseen world without the filter of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Many have thought that it could bring madness, horror and death. So, my favorite weird fiction writers take this idea and run with it in their stories.
So, here we go….
Two Honorable Mentions:
The October Country Ray Bradbury: It’s hard not to put a Bradbury book in the top five. So many of his stories, like Something Wicked This Way Comes, are explorations of the Unseen world. The October Country is a collection of short stories that explore the horror and unsettling terrors right next door to us. And, invites us to contemplate our sin and possible redemption. My favorite is “The Scythe” about a man who reaps…well….you’ll just have to read it.
The Three Imposters Arthur Machen: In a fair and perfect world, Machen would get way more credit than the man who imitates him, H.P. Lovecraft. Even the Weirdo Racist of Rhode Island (my personal nickname for Lovecraft), acknowledges Machen is a king among weird fiction writers. The Three Imposters is a collection of short novellas centered around an evil secret society and the young man with “spectacles”. It’s hard to describe this book. You just have to read it. My favorite story in this collection is “The Novel of the Black Seal.”
5) Needful Things Stephen King: This is not a book that’s often on the list of favorite King novels, but I think it’s one of his best. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but it involves a sinister figure who comes to town and nearly destroys it by offering people exactly what they want. It’s a great illustration of C.S. Lewis’s point that we all get what we want in the end, but we often don’t like it when we do.
4) Collected Ghost Stories. M.R. James: Frankly, there is no one better at the traditional ghost story. He was a British writer from around the turn of the century and is, in my opinion THE master of the ghost story. No one really comes close. He does such an amazing job of exploring the idea that the dead might still be with us, right beside us and watching us.
3) The Exorcist William Peter Blatty: Really, the next three books could be considered tied for first. For true, sacramental horror, it’s hard to beat this modern day classic. Everyone knows about the movie, but, as usual, the book is way better. It came about because Blatty researched the actual incident that took place in my hometown of St. Louis. It gives more back ground into Father Marrin’s battle with the demon.
2) The Great God Pan Arthur Machen: This is the book that still haunts Stephen King, so you know it’s good. It’s the book that started Machen’s career and contains a number of elements that would influence generations of horror writers. The first chapter alone is truly horrific as a young girl is used a scientists play thing. When he makes a small incision in the brain, she can see the unseen world unfiltered through Christ and it drives her mad. A good story for a Trump obsessed culture.
1) All Hallow’s Eve Charles Williams: People who have followed my writing know that the weirdest Inkling is my writing master. Indeed, I actually wrote a foreword for one of his novels. But, his novels deserve to be recognized as some of the best in the weird fiction genre. To me, his best one is All Hallow’s Eve. And, fun side note, T.S. Eliot wrote the foreword for this one. It starts with two girls who we gradually figure out are dead. And, they have to decide if they will fight to save their living friend who is being used by a dark magician. This book is Charles at his best, exploring the Seen and Unseen world while showing how the idea of “co-inherence” his idea that we can suffer for other people in Christ.
This is the ultimate scary sacramental novel in every way.