Though not quite my favorite book, The Order of the Phoenix is definitely the scariest in the Harry Potter series. The fact that two of us raised our hands to speak for it says much, but like its doppelgänger, Prisoner of Azkaban, Phoenix’s fear is primarily psychological and therefore far more upsetting than its more externally-focused counterparts. Continue reading
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire – Book 4 – has the absolutely scariest scene in the entire series… forget the vicious Hungarian Horntail… forget the grindylows and the merpeople with their grey skin, broken yellow teeth and wild green hair leering at Harry and shaking their spears… forget the eerie disappearance of nearly everyone Harry cares about: Ron, Hermione, Cho… the SCARIEST thing about what I think is the scariest volume in the series is that just when Harry and Cedric appear to have victory at their fingertips, they are jerked away from the maze, from Hogwarts, and portkeyed to the creepiest, most dangerous location yet: the Little Hangleton graveyard.
“They were standing instead in a dark and overgrown graveyard; the black outline of a small church was visible beyond a large yew to their right… It was silent and slightly eerie.” Dark shapes approach, walking steadily through the graves, and Harry’s scar explodes with pain. Cedric is struck and Harry is captured. “The short man in the cloak… was dragging Harry toward the marble headstone. Harry saw the name upon it flickering in the wandlight before he was forced around and slammed against it. TOM RIDDLE.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that the title of this post is true. Sure, the Harry Potter books get more angst-ridden as the kids get older, and sure, the stakes get higher when Voldemort is trying to take over the world and generally deploy his Evil Schemes. But you can keep your graveyard incantations and Departments of Mysteries, your snakes and corpses and lakes full of zombies. Harry Potter is never as scary before Prisoner of Azkaban, and it never gets quite that scary again.
Because the scare quotient (if I can use that phrase) of Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t depend on gross images or Gothic idioms, it doesn’t depend on dark magic or evil ideologies. The story does more than just startle or alarm us. It unsettles. It gnaws away at us with a, creeping, oozing fear that pricks under your fingernails and round your eye sockets. And it’s the only book with scary not just as decoration or set design; the fear is embedded in the story itself.
Great. I have to be the first person to disagree with J.K. Rowling–and possibly with everyone who read Deathly Hallows’ Bathilda Bagshot chapter at four o’clock in the morning after a midnight release party… oh, wait, I did that, too. That was terrifying.
But I well remember being afraid to read Chamber of Secrets in anything but the broadest of daylight. Ah, Chamber of Secrets. How do I fear thee? Let me count the ways:
- It’s more or less a murder mystery with a psychopath at its center
- Said psychopath likes to leave creepy messages on stone walls in finger-painted rooster blood
- There’s cold, hungry, murderous, disembodied whispering that only our hero can hear
- People and cats are getting Petrified
- There are snakes. And Harry discovers he has a Dark wizard’s gift in being able to talk to said snakes.
- Continue reading
All Hallows’ Read is fast approaching. If you’re wondering what scary book you should be giving to family, friends, and random folks on the street, all of us at The Hog’s Head agree that Harry Potter would be a great choice. What better time than All Hallows’ Read to give someone a book about witches and wizards battling scary stuff?
Ah, but which one though? Which Harry Potter book is the scariest, creepiest, shiveriest, flesh-crawlingest, heebie-jeebiest one of them all? And here, all of us at The Hog’s Head can’t agree at all! Or hardly. We’ve each got a favourite shiver, a most prized behind-the-sofa moment, a top candidate for the jibblies from our own most feared book, and we’ve all got suitably chilling reasons why.
Each December from 1920-1943, envelopes bearing hand-drawn stamps from the North Pole arrived for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. In the guise of Father Christmas or one of his companions, Tolkien sent (with the complicity of his neighborhood postman) stories, paintings and sketches of life at the North Pole. The family preserved these artifacts and, after the professor’s death, published them as the Father Christmas Letters in 1976. Revised and republished every few years since then, Letters from Father Christmas (as it is now called) is a classic collection belonging on every fantasy-lover’s holiday reading list. To whet your appetite, here is a memorable entry featuring my favorite character – the hapless North Polar Bear:
A Hog’s Head Halloween Book of Spooks
Edom’s streams shall be changed into pitch,
its soil into sulfur,
and its land shall become burning pitch;
Night and day it shall not be quenched,
its smoke shall rise forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste,
never again shall anyone pass through it.
But the desert owl and hoot owl shall possess it,
the screech owl and raven shall dwell in it….
Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts,
satyrs shall call to one another;
There shall the lilith repose,
and find for herself a place to rest.
–Isaiah 34, NAB
From her vague origins as she-demon and development through Hebrew midrashim and other ancient texts, the Lilith of legend became the first wife of Adam, rebellious long before Eve listened to a snake. Through another turn of history, she’s identified with Lamia, a child-killing Greek monster and vampiress. In MacDonald’s Lilith: A Romance, which is far more horrific than romantic, she is both.
The book doesn’t begin with Lilith herself. It begins with a young Englishman, a mutilated book, and a ghostly librarian. The latter morphs into a raven and leads the Englishman, Vane, through a mirror into a strange fairyland, where Vane is immediately invited to die.
“Here you go then.” The innkeeper laid down three pens, a jar of ink, and my receipt from the bookstore. “These gave me almost as much of a puzzle as why you had run off without your clothes.”
“I’m going to the University,” I explained.
He raised an eyebrow. “A little young, aren’t you?”
I felt a nervous chill at his words, but shrugged it off. “They take all kinds.”
He nodded politely as if that explained why I had shown up barefoot and reeking of back alleys.
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Synopsis: Unwilling to let himself go down misrepresented in history, Kvothe Kingkiller narrates his own story to the Chronicler. Over the course of this first day, he tells of his beginnings in a troupe of the performing Edema Ruh, of destitution when the Chandrian destroy the life he knows, and of becoming a gifted musician and arcanist and joining the University.
Notes: While much of epic fantasy focuses on the saving of worlds and the motions of kings and armies, The Name of the Wind—the first in a trilogy known as The Kingkiller Chronicles—focuses in on a single character, known as Kvothe (which, Rothfuss helpfully points out early on, rhymes with “quothe”, which I believe is supposed to be “quoth”, but that may just be my spelling nerdery up against unstated reasoning from the author.) Kvothe is genius, wizard, musician, performer, hero, failure, naive yet street-smart, dangerous but compassionate—more than enough character for what should eventually be three 600-page books.