All Hallows’ Read @ The Hog’s Head

It was a tradition waiting to happen. If you had to choose the three most important ingredients in any holiday, they’d have to be saints, chocolate, and books. At least, if your holidays are anything like mine, they are.

Halloween usually has its fair share of chocolate, and here at the Hog’s Head we heartily approve. And it’s a catch-all feast day for saint-types: All Hallows, after all. But books? What about books? If we took a straw poll of pub regulars–no offense to the scarecrows among us–I suspect we’d find it hard to imagine a day without books, let alone a holiday.

Welcome, then, to All Hallows’ Read.

It was Neil Gaiman’s idea to begin with. No stranger to scary books himself, or–if the legends be true–to chocolate, he had the simple thought: why not give someone a scary book? As a present. Round about Halloween. The thought crystallized: in the week of All Hallows, and All Hallows Eve, give someone you love–or know, or meet haphazardly in the street–a scary book they might like reading. (Age appropriate, of course.)

[Yes, writers will talk about books during the zombie apocalypse.]

The legend goes that Neil Gaiman thought this, and blinked, and then everyone was doing it. Rather, everyone had always done it. It was a Tradition.

So, to celebrate this age-old Halloween tradition, here’s what’s happening at the Hog’s Head: let’s make a list of well-loved and recommended scary books. Oh, sure, there are lots and lots of lists like that, but this one can be specific to Hog’s Head readers–the sort of things we read, and like, and wouldn’t mind giving each other.

Just give author and title in the comments, as many times and as many books as you like, with a brief reason why you’re happy the book scares the heebie-jeebies out of you. And a clarification whether the book is for small kids, or big kids, or both. A comprehensive Hog’s Head All Hallows’ Read List will appear on the 25th.

I’ll start: all seven of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, of course! Each book has enough spooks to satisfy the most stringent All Hallows’ Read qualification exam. (Some of them may even appear in the pub this season–you never know.) You could hardly do worse this All Hallows’ Read than buy the series and scatter it abroad among your friends.

A few more titles, which might be less familiar to some of you:

  • Coraline, by Neil Gaiman — a scary book he wrote for his daughters, and my All Hallows’ Read gift of choice. But see also his picture book The Wolves in the Walls for younger children, a hilarious read aloud about what to do when nightmares come true. (Hint: it involves paying attention to what your children tell you about the fridge.)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. This is at the top of my personal scary book wish list. Creepy carnival, anyone?
  • The Day Louis Got Eaten, by John Fardell. Scary picture books are hard to find, surprisingly, but this one had enough monsters in it for me to buy it for my own children. Short version: the Gulper isn’t the only hungry monster in the forest. And it ends, inevitably, with a brilliant Sendak allusion.

There’s mine. Now unleash yours in the comments.

22 thoughts on “All Hallows’ Read @ The Hog’s Head

  1. The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (US); The Spook’s Apprentice (UK) by Joseph Delaney. A young boy, the seventh son of a seventh son, trains to be a witch-finder in 17th century England. There are some pretty scary witches, and a scene that will stop me from going into a dark cellar alone. Might be too scary for the very young, but tweens and teens should enjoy the spooky vibe.

  2. Kris, ooh, I’m going to need to find that one myself now.

    And Red, love the scale of skulls! Let’s institute this in future comments. Which begs the question: what skull ratings would the HP books get?

  3. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – ebook available at Project Gutenburg –

    I wouldn’t rank it scary persay (but then I don’t do scary…creepy yes…dark yes…scary no) but it is WAY more towards that end of the spectrum than the ALW musical is, and I don’t think enough people appreciate the novel for itself.

    and because it hasn’t been mentioned yet but I know it will – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – perfect level of spooky without being too scary for me (then again, it is a children’s book, lol)

  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker. Why’s it scary? I think mostly because it seems real or could be something that really happened. I think the epistolary format lends itself to that feeling. Jonathan Harker’s diary entries going from curious Englishman being paternalistic to the backwards natives of Romania to a subtle feeling that something’s not quite right to the enigma of the Count to the mind twisting horror of what’s actually going on. The journal records of Dr. Seward as he observes both the maniac Renfield and also the harrowing struggle over not just the life but the eternal soul of Lucy Westenra. And then the record of the final, desperate hunt.

    The combination of the Gothic elements mixed in with scientific reasoning makes for a disturbing juxtaposition as well.

    All in all, I need to reread Dracula. 🙂

  5. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant. Scary factor: The ambiguity between “Is this really happening to the narrator or is he just slowly going insane.”

  6. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman. Orphan raised by ghosts. Awesome.

    Pretty much everything by H.P. Lovecraft, but specifically: “The Haunter of the Dark,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Music of Erik Zann,” and “The Outsider.”

    Frankenstein, Mary Shelly
    The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

    Those last two, because they deal so well with dehumanization.

  7. “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P.G. Wodehouse. What’s so scary about it, you ask? Well… nothing, really, except that it’s scary how hilarious Wodehouse can be while lampooning the cliches of romance and haunted house stories both at once. No skulls, but five laughing faces.

    “Do you believe in ghosts?” asked Mr. Mulliner abruptly.

    I weighed the question thoughtfully. I was a little surprised, for nothing in our previous conversation had suggested the topic.

    “Well,” I replied, “I don’t like them, if that’s what you mean. I was once butted by one as a child.”

    “Ghosts. Not goats.”

    I’ll second the vote for Something Wicked This Way Comes, one of Bradbury’s best. Creepy carnival, ’nuff said. Much of the effect comes from Bradbury’s luscious prose, which most other writers would have made plain old purple, but which Bradbury makes sparkle and glimmer and twist and forebode. He knows exactly how to let your imagination take over and invent something worse than if he’d given you a cheap scare. Three skulls, one of which is wearing a dusty old top hat.

    Poe will doubtless be discussed more below, but “The Fall of the House of Usher” always scared me the most of his.

  8. Ally, creepy counts. 🙂

    George–yes, definitely we need classic Gothic on this list. And what about The Portent for a scary George MacDonald book? Lilith, too, I suppose, but in some ways The Portent is more frightening.

    Travis, first to mention Lovecraft but you were scooped for Gaiman. Have you read “Only the End of the World Again”? Gaiman writing guy noir in the Cthulu mythos…

    Eric: YES.

    Though Poe is in some ways a one trick pony. It’s a good trick, though. I always privately approved of Ruskin’s description of Poe as being “like Barnaby Rudge, | Three-fifths of him genius, and two-fifths sheer fudge.”

  9. What a great topic, Mr. Pond. I’ll add to the list the following two:

    Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, which is indeed an excellent collection of some of the psychologically creepiest tales ever told. Reading these gave me really weird nightmares.

    Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (Along with watching the film version starring Johnny Depp.) The atmosphere is great, and it’s greatly enhanced by actually having visited the Sleepy Hollow cemetary in Tarrytown, NY!

  10. As for Poe, I find most scary “The Cask of Amontillado,” because it not only exposes the fear of being buried alive, but also the great fear of betrayal by those one trusts. The whole “mask” motif is scary with people not really being what they seem to be.

    And I forgot about the clever skulls rating that Red Rocker started. Of the three works I suggested, I’d give Bradbury’s four skulls, Irving’s two skulls (not because it’s bad, but because its both comical and scary rather than straight-up scary), and Poe three skulls.

  11. How did I forget to list Poe? (i spend every Halloween season checking the seasonal aisles for ravens – I’ve got a fantastic slightly squishy one from big lots years ago (that stays out year round) and I keep hoping that they will become more popular in Halloween decorating…)

  12. This is, of course, a brilliant idea. And I got a lovely laugh out of the Wodehouse clip posted by Eric. 😉

    Also a brilliant idea: the skull rating system proposed by Red Rocker.

    Am I cheating if I say Jane Eyre? (2 skulls) How about the Divine Comedy? (The Inferno: 4 skulls; the rest probably ranks at or below a 2, except for perhaps the ring of the envious in Purgatory)

    Also, Lewis’ Space Trilogy, of which That Hideous Strength especially contains a fair amount of the beautifully-done horrific. 3 skulls overall.

    My (entirely unscientific) take on the Potter books’ skull rating:

    PS: 1 skull, except for the unicorn-blood-drinking scene, which merits about a 3 all on its own
    CoS: 4 skulls
    PoA: 2 skulls
    GoF: 3.5 skulls for the Voldemort rebirth in the graveyard
    OotP: 1 skull (it may be the darkest, but it’s far from being the most horrifying)
    HBP: 2 skulls
    DH: 4 skulls. And two words: Bathilda Bagshot.

  13. Mr Pond, no, I haven’t read “Only the End of the World Again!” I’ll have to look that up.

    Love the skull rating system.

  14. Ally: squishy ravens are a definite must! Next year, let’s make this All Hallows’ Read and Squishy Ravens, if at all possible…

    Minerva, it’s time to confess I’ve never read any Shirley Jackson. What will I like about her?

    Jenna, more skulls for CoS than POA? Surely not. I always found POA the much more inherently frightening of the two. I’d reverse your ratings, CoS 2 and POA 4. You’re dead to rights with OotP, though: what horror there is tends to slapstick, until the very end.

    Travis, it’s in Smoke and Mirrors, which would make a good scary short story collection for grown-ups.

  15. Also, I just wanted to add James Hogg’s Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, 3 skulls. Slowly lingering horror and descent into madness that make Lovecraft look–if not amateur, then certainly not the master. In one word: Gil-Martin.

    Though, that being the case, I might as well add Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae, 2 or 3 skulls to taste. His homage to Hogg, from what I can tell.

    And no All Hallows’ Read is complete without a public reading of “Tam o’ Shanter.” (No skull rating.)

  16. Mr. P, depends on what you’re scared of. 😉 CoS is all disembodied voices and Deathday parties and rooster blood on the walls and a giant underground battle with a giant underground kills-you-with-a-look snake, and it terrified me. If it had been the first Potter book I’d ever read, I wouldn’t have continued, although I love it madly now. Still scares me, too.

    As for PoA, I couldn’t remember anything frightening in it. I’ve only just now recalled that we meet the dementors in that book. It’s true that dementors are one of the more freakishly horrifying things in the entire Potterverse, but my scary memories of them are mostly from the later books. 😛

  17. Mr. Pond wrote: it’s time to confess I’ve never read any Shirley Jackson. What will I like about her?

    That’s hard to say. I can tell you what I liked about We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It was the sensation of the horror slowly seeping into the story, the realization at some point that the 1st person narrator must be insane. Jackson’s ability to make me turn the pages even though the main character was rather horrible, definitely not someone to identify with. It’s a very atmospheric book, not a plot-driven one.

  18. One of the things that happens in a Shirley Jackson story is you look into the eyes of someone whom you think you sort of know and understand, and you slowly realize that what’s looking out is so different that they barely fit your understanding of what it means to be human. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle it’s the narrator. In The Haunting of Hill House it’s the heroine. And in The Lottery, it’s a whole town. And all this without any physical manifestation of anything supernatural. Well, almost – we never learn whose hand Eleanor was holding, although we can guess.

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