At last, it’s beginning to feel a bit more like fall. Seemingly overnight, the trees have donned their autumnal dress of warm, vibrant hues. The evening twilight gathers earlier and earlier. There’s a crisp bite to the air in the mornings.
This time of year you may enjoy having your reading fare line up with the season -the spooky season. If you find it fun to have a chill up your spine to match the chill in the air but don’t want to deal with the surfeit of gore and evil all too prevalent in modern “scary stories,” you have to look no further than some tried-and-true classics, which you may just remember from high school literature courses.
These selections are more restrained, leave some things to the imagination, and often seek to impart a deeper moral message or show a character’s development as a person. They don’t promote or glorify gratuitous violence and darkness for its own sake as some contemporary tales are wont to do but they entertain nonetheless.
With that in mind, here are five timeless novels that may not initially seem like a spooky or weird read but that, nevertheless, contain elements to create an eerie, suspenseful mood.
1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This novel is a staple of high school literature classes and though at first blush, one may not consider it a “spooky read,” it contains many of the elements of an uncanny, October tale.
The titular heroine, Jane, starts off as a forlorn but passionate orphan who’s mistreated by relatives and cruel school mistresses. She grows up to become governess to the ward of Mr. Rochester, the enigmatic and brooding master of the old mansion Thornfield Hall. Jane’s goodness, frankness, and strength, despite her menial background, attracts the troubled Rochester and the two fall in love only for Jane to discover on the day of her wedding that her betrothed is already married to an insane wife whom he has hidden away in the attic of the mansion. This demented woman is the cause of midnight fires and other mysterious goings-on that had aroused Jane’s curiosity.
Jane runs away after learning of Rochester’s betrayal but eventually is drawn back to him by an almost spiritual, preternatural communication between their two hearts. She finds he’s been blinded and maimed in a conflagration set by Bertha in which Bertha herself perished despite Rochester’s attempts to save her.
All of these Gothic, gloomy qualities (though there is light-heartedness as well) create quite an atmospheric story but Jane’s integrity and character eventually triumph.
2) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne’s American classics are also heavy with brooding and mysterious atmospheres. The Scarlet Letter, set in Puritan New England, contains the time period’s superstitions surrounding witchcraft, lending a creepy element to this tale of the shunned and ostracized Hester Prynne, her child Pearl, and the troubled minister Dimmesdale who carries a scandalous secret. Imagery, symbolism, and conflict as well as themes of guilt and innocence, light and darkness, truth and deception, punishment and redemption all combine to make this a suspenseful novel.
3) The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Another Hawthorne classic that contains many of the same weird and superstitious ingredients as The Scarlet Letter. A young woman Phoebe goes to care for her reclusive relatives in their old and lifeless ancestral home. The threads of Puritan superstition about witchcraft and the gloomy setting of the mansion also make this a story weighty with atmosphere and mystery.
4) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I first read this book about three years ago and I was surprised by its suspense. The story opens with the protagonist Pip as a young orphan encountering an escaped convict in a foggy cemetery. Moving through the novel, one of the main characters that covertly propels some of the plot is Miss Havisham, a bitter and vindictive old woman living in a decaying mansion. She was betrayed by her husband-to-be on their wedding day and has left the wedding cake and everything else in her home just as it was at the moment her life changed. She even stopped all the clocks- a moment frozen in time. Disillusioned and hardened, she’s now training her protege Estella to toy with men’s emotions and to hurt them as she had been hurt. The aforementioned escaped convict also comes to play a pivotal role in the protagonist Pip’s life and fortunes as a young man. There are numerous twists and turns and suspenseful moments throughout this Dickens tome.
Though these four seemingly unlikely candidates for “spooky reads” are more subtle with their creepiness, they are, nonetheless, satisfying.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention some of the more obvious classic spooky tales, which may come to mind during October.
1) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a page-turning Sherlock Holmes mystery about a potentially preternatural dog haunting an estate.
2.) Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve never read this one myself but from what I’ve heard its not simply a tale of horror but really a tale of good and evil with some deeper philosophical and moral messages.
3) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which I also need to read, and which like Dracula has some deeper messages to ponder.
If you’re more interested in short stories, there’s always Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost and nearly anything written by Edgar Allen Poe.
Hope these classic tales offer you just the hair-raising thrill that is characteristic of this time of year. Happy Reading!!