The Season Of The Witch
Published on 27th October 2011
Halloween seems to be as good as time as any to peruse the Gothic section of your local library. Horror supremo Stephen King recommended that everyone should have a favourite reading place in their home. A comfy seat, adequate lighting, sufficient distance from domestic distractions and your favourite tipple to hand are prerequisites. Try some of these 'delights' over this coming Samhain. Beats bobbing for apples anyway...
Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James (1987)
The Master. If you haven't yet read James's short stories of the occult then you're in for a treat. Although 'Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad' and 'Casting the Runes' are justifiably renowned, its 'Canon Alberic's Scrapbook' that gets me every time.
Conan Doyle mastered every genre he turned his hand to from science-fiction (The Lost World) and historical fiction (The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard), not to mention a certain detective from 221B Baker Street. In 1892 he published a true classic of horror fiction, 'Lot 249'. The tale concerns the reanimation of an Egyptian mummy in an Oxford College by the mysterious Edward Bellingham. 'Lot 249' was the first story to depict a mummy as a monstrous figure. Reputedly, Rudyard Kipling was terrified out of his wits by the tale when he first read it.
The Terror by Dan Simmons (1990)
This 900 page thumper posits a demonic reason for the mysterious disappearance of Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition to find the fabled North-West passage. In Simmons' re-telling, the ice-bound crews of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus are stalked by a monstrous predator who picks off those who have not yet succumbed to disease or starvation. As compelling and tense a narrative as you will read, 'The Terror' is gripping, grisly, and indisputably bonkers.
IT by Stephen King (1986)
IT follows the lives of seven misfits (who call themselves 'The Loser's Club') from Derry, a small town in Maine. From its foundation in the eighteenth century, Derry has been subject to a malevolent demon - known as 'IT' - who preys on the town's children. The novel tracks the children's journey from childhood to adulthood and the various degrees of devastation wreaked upon them by IT. Probably King's most successful evocation of life in smalltown America, IT is also practically a love-letter to Maine's public library service - key scenes are set in the library and one of the main characters - Mike - is the town librarian. Reason enough to include it in a library blog. If, for some strange reason, you are sceptical of Stephen King's powers as a novelist, IT is the place to start your re-evaluation.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009)
A throwback - or should that be an 'homage' - to the sprawling nineteenth-century novel, The Little Stranger sees Dr Faraday called to a crumbling pile in Warwickshire where he meets the Ayres - an aristocratic family on the skids - and treats their accident-prone servant. Tension mounts through a series of bizarre, unexplained incidents. It is left to the reader to decide whether the answer lies in the supernatural or in the psychopathologies of the characters.
Naming The Bones by Louise Welsh (2010)
A young academic in Glasgow, Murray Watson is on sabbatical and is researching the brief career of Archie Lunan, a local poet who died in mysterious circumstances in the early 1970s. Watson finds himself in a world of black magick and ritual sacrifice as he untangles the more bizarre fringes of bohemian life in Glasgow as the idealism of the 1960s soured. With shades of The Wicker Man, Naming the Bones is simply terrifying.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)
A solicitor travels to an English village to attend to an old woman's estate. He learns about a local spectre that haunts the village - 'The Woman in Black' - whose appearance heralds the death of a child. In my bid for 'understatement of the year', things end badly for all concerned.