Five of My Favorite Horror Novels

Hello again, Internet. Since we’re still getting to know each other (this is after all, my first blog entry aside from that flimsy getting-to-know-you introduction I posted yesterday), I thought, hey, what better way for you to figure out what kind of wanna-be writer you’re dealing with than for said wanna-be to gush on and on about some of his own favorite books.

Originally I was going to do “My Top 10 Favorite Horror Novels.” But then it became “My Top 20 Favorite Horror Novels.” Then “My Top 30 Favorite Horror Novels.” You get the picture. There are so many amazing works of fiction that have influenced and inspired me over the years, its hard to narrow it down to just a few and not feel tortured by the countless others relegated to the nebulous domain of “honorable mentions.”

So why stop at just one blog post? How about a whole series of them? Starting with this installment, every once in a while I’ll bring this blog to a screeching halt and ignore everything else going on in the world, just so I can get my fanboy on.

I figured it’d be best to do this in increments of five, for the sake of brevity. Below you’ll find, in no particular order, Five of My Favorite Horror Novels. I’d like to emphasize the fact that these are all personal favorites. They’re not my votes for the most important horror novels of all time. They’re not even all books I’d necessarily argue as being technically the “best” horror novels of all time (whatever that means). These are just, plainly and simply, my favorites.

frnknstnFrankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus

by Mary Shelley

I wish that I could start this list out with a pick that’s a bit more original, a bit less obviously classic. But, c’mon, it’s Frankenstein! Almost two centuries of adaptations, parodies, and general indoctrination into the fabric of pop culture has not diminished the power of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece whatsoever. It can be easy to forget that in a world where the first images that come to people’s minds upon hearing the book’s title include the face of Boris Karloff or boxes of breakfast cereal, but actually pick the novel up and start flipping through its pages, and all those false idols will fade away in the brooding, electric, gothic thunderstorm that ensues.

The premise alone is not just revolutionary, but still relevant to this day (possibly even more so). It fuses together themes of mortality and morality, issues of science and spirituality, questions of life and death, and fears inherent in both parenthood and childhood. Every interpretation peels back another layer, only to reveal still more unexplored depths beneath. Take it as a critique of human hubris. Or as a warning against scientific progress without responsible application. Or as a forward-thinking feminist take-down of institutional misogyny. View it through a psychoanalytical lens, a philosophical one, a theological one, or even a political one. It holds up no matter how you look at it. And, best of all, it holds up just as strongly when viewed with no lens at all. At the end of the day, Frankenstein is the very essence of a damn good story.

amrcnAmerican Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

At first, American Psycho seems like little more than a test of your patience. The narrator, a Wall Street banker named Patrick Bateman, drones on at great length and with meticulous detail about the mundane consumerism of his life. Entire pages are spent describing, down to the most infinitesimal piece of minutiae, everything from his wardrobe to his exercise routine to his stereo system. Soon, though, the book becomes a test of your stomach when you realize that Bateman is also a serial killer, and one who spends just as much time and effort describing the minutiae of the grotesque, soul-crushing acts of violence he deals out to a never-ending conga-line of innocent, undeserving victims.

So extreme it faced censorship all over the world and had to be sold shrink-wrapped in cellophane to keep oblivious shoppers from accidentally reading the obscenities within, American Psycho is horror at its most ugly but also satire at its most biting, painting a take-no-prisoners portrait of the sick black heart of corporate capitalism. It’s a cruel, mean-spirited masterpiece that offers little respite from the in-your-face atrocities it depicts and even less answers for the damning social and psychological questions it raises. Not for the faint of heart, weak of stomach, or dim of wit.

dqoukThe Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

by H.P. Lovecraft

Some will argue that The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is more fantasy than horror, but I bristle at the idea of mapping even the tiniest corner of H.P. Lovecraft’s sprawling, inhospitable universe as dwelling anywhere but squarely in the realm of the horrific. Yes, that goes even for his wondrous Dreamlands, through which the slumbering Randolph Carter treks in search of a mysterious city he believes waits beyond the wall of sleep. As awe-inspiring as the Dreamlands are, they are equally terrifying, a surreal place of fearsome monsters and alien landscapes, polluted by the influence of the crawling chaos himself, Nyarlathotep, the thousand-faced avatar of the Old Ones.

While Dream-Quest is something of a rarity in the Lovecraftian library, with its refreshingly upbeat ending, the story’s message does not contradict the bleakness of the rest of the author’s oeuvre. In truth, it complements it perfectly, furthering the goal of inspiring readers to rethink their preconceived notions on the nature of material reality. In the end, part and parcel of dreams are nightmares. And, to my mind, no imagination has ever proven as capable of crafting both dreams and nightmares as stark, chilling, and mind-expanding as Lovecraft’s.

hHorns

by Joe Hill

Confession time: After struggling with self-doubt and guilt over “wasting” my time on as impractical a pursuit as writing fiction, Horns was the book that finally made me snap out of it. Horns was the book that made me say “Dammit, I want to do this.” Horns was the book that made me a writer again. With this book, Joe Hill, son of the modern horror lit’s blue-collar champion, Stephen King, tells the story of a broken pariah of a man who wakes up after an especially blasphemous drunken bender with a pair of, you guessed it, horns sprouting from his head. When people see them, they can’t help but confess their deepest, darkest secrets to him. It’s an effect that will come in handy as our protagonist tries to uncover what really happened on the night his girlfriend was murdered.

Horns is many things. A character-driven, non-linear supernatural mystery. A Kafkaesque meditation on the nature of religion, identity, love, family, truth, and deception (both of others and oneself). Most of all, though, Horns is one of the most effective, emotionally resonant novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading in my lifetime, leading to more than a few moments where I had to bury my face even deeper in its pages so that other people couldn’t see how misty my eyes were getting over a li’l ol’ book. Yes, I cried. I cried like an itty bitty baby. And you know what? You will too.

swSomething Wicked This Way Comes

by Ray Bradbury

Few writers have so perfect a mastery over not just language but also symbolism and storytelling itself as Ray Bradbury. All of these aptitudes operate at absolute peak levels in his carnival-horror juggernaut Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a coming-of-age story in the grandest sense, one that understands that none of us ever really stop growing and changing, that we are always in some way “coming of age.” If you’re young, you can relate to the book’s child protagonists, Will and Jim, who are entranced by the traveling circus that rolls into town and the tattooed man, Mr. Dark, who offers them entrance into a magical new world, brimming with the kind of fun and adventure fresh young minds crave, a world very unlike the humdrum of their daily lives. If you’re older, you may see yourself in characters like Miss Foley or Mr. Crosetti, adults with unfulfilled dreams, worried that their best years are behind them and perpetually aware of the ceaseless march of time.

Though at its heart Something Wicked is essentially “just” an epic extrapolation of the classic deal-with-a-devil narrative, Bradbury uses the basic concept to explore a wide range of human fears and desires with unflinching honesty, from past regrets and second chances to the rigors of age and a nostalgia for youth. Bradbury shows us fear and desire, adolescence and adulthood, friends and enemies. He shows us good and evil, love and hate, terror and wonder. And he shows what all these things have in common. That is, each of these pairs constitutes two sides of the same coin. A study in duality, Something Wicked explores these binaries by throwing the coin in the air and letting it spin so that the image blurs and both sides seem to be one and the same. The challenge is not to see which side lands face-up, but to determine whether we can even tell the difference between them.

So who is this William Tea guy anyway?

I’ve been looking for an opening to start an ongoing blog on this website, and I suppose, for someone like yours truly who considers himself very much a dyed-in-the-wool “horror” guy,” Halloween is as good a time as any to kick things off. Wouldn’t you agree?

I never know how to start these things. Blogging is (usually) easy and (always) fun once you get into the swing of things, but that first post, for me at least, is a bitch. Do I just launch right into talking about all the different subjects I’ve been wanting to talk about, as if this blog has always been here, like I didn’t just barf it into existence this very day? Do I try to assemble some kind of manifesto or mission statement, as if I had any intentions for this blog other than making it a repository for whatever random musings I may have about genre fiction, the craft of writing, or any other damn thing that pops into my head (probably pizza; that’s what’s usually on my mind at any given moment)?

I guess I’ll just start things off with a quick, basic introduction as to who I am and what this website is all about.

My name is William Tea. I was born and raised in the heart of coal country in Northeastern Pennsylvania. And I am a writer. Well, kind of. At the moment, I have only a handful of published stories to my name, but I’m hoping to increase that number substantially in time.

Listen, I didn’t say I was a successful writer.

I’ve always had a passion for stories and storytelling, but for many years I was far too introverted and self-conscious to share anything I wrote with the rest of the world. At a certain point in my life, my focus shifted away from fiction writing and towards the field of journalism. I spent many years concerned solely with print journalism on a local level, ready to more or less shun my impulse towards fiction as self-indulgent and impractical. But old habits die hard, and if you’re really passionate about something, if it really means that much to you, you can’t deny it for long.

I think a lot of people who consider themselves creative go through similar bouts of self-doubt, wondering if their desires for a fulfilling and active artistic life are anything more than fanciful pipe-dreams whose only function is to take time and energy away from more pragmatic concerns. Truth is, that attitude is straight-up bullshit. And the best way to combat it is with a positive outlook (admittedly, not one of my strong suits) and unflagging dedication (surprisingly, that one is). If it’s in you, it’s in you; there’s no changing it.

I have a need to tell stories. I have ideas in my head that are begging to come out and get put onto paper. Even if no one else thinks much of them but me, sometimes I feel like if I don’t give these ideas an escape hatch out of my skull then my whole damn melon will pop like a particularly putrescent pimple.

So, here I am. I’m back, and you didn’t even know I was here or that I ever left in the first place. But that will change, I think. Because this time, I’m not going to keep my writing to myself. At the end of the day, my number one audience has to be myself; I’d argue that’s how it should be with any artist or creator. But, dagnabbit, I’m too old to be scared of what other people think anymore. What good are written words if they go unread, right?

So that’s me in a nutshell. There’s a lot more to tell, of course, but I’ll save that motley melange of meditations, anecdotes, and confessions for the future. Got to have something blog about, eh? For now, I think you get the gist.

Going forward, this website will be my little corner of the Internet, a digital office space for me to come and speak my mind, organize and update my writing efforts, shamelessly hawk my meager bibliography of published works to whatever audience I can brow-beat into paying attention into me, and, mostly, just have fun.

If you’re reading these words right now, I thank you for caring enough about what I have to say to do so. Like I said, what good are written words if they go unread? I hope you’ll stick around, or at least return again soon. And I hope that, through my writings, I can deliver at least a small but hopefully heady dose of entertainment into your life.

Until next time, Happy Halloween. Remember to check your candy.

– William Tea