Horror for the holidays—November 22, 2013
‘Tis the season for horror...At least, if you’re Victorian, it is.
Actually, not just Victorian. Go back farther. Think: not the 1800s, but the 1700s. Page your way through the 1600s, search out winter scare-story traditions, and keep going into the 1500s. Turn your history book on its side and tab into different cultures. Count the ghosts and goblins, misplaced spirits and wights all the way back through to the previous millennium, then dig deeper.
That’s how long humans have been keeping each other warm over the winter holidays by telling scare-stories around a fire.
In short: winter tales have a long and eerie tradition.
But there’s a reason I mentioned the Victorians: Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one of the best-known holiday ghost stories of all time. Written in Victorian England during an era when the country’s old traditions were battling against the new (i.e. Christmas Eve ghost stories were duking it out against German-inspired Christmas trees), A Christmas Carol politely shuffled its way onto the shelves and voiced an argument for the true spirit and meaning of Christmas. While Dickens’ ghostly little story no longer reflects our modern expectations of the genre, the format still stands: a ghostly tale, read before Christmas, does a body good.
But now you say: “Gee, I really want to read a scary story. But not too scary. Or perhaps way too scary. How do I find the right one?” Well, you have options. For one, you can ask friends and family. For another, there is Goodreads.
Or (hint, hint) you can bring your question to the library.
Here are a few recommendations to get you started…just remember that horror is subjective (really, everything’s subjective) and everyone’s definition of the genre will differ. While there are many horror stories out there, the books on the following list are all set during the holiday season.
Flavor of Horror Recommendation Funny-horrifying – The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore Just plain horrifying – NOS4A2 by Joseph Hill, The Breathing Method by Stephen King Ghost-inspired horror – The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Woman In Black by Susan Hill Paranormal horror – Wolfsbane and Mistletoe edited by Charlaine Harris For children – How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, Santa’s Twin by Dean Koontz.
In his Preface to A Christmas Carol, Dickens explains, “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly…”
So yes. Happy holidays. ‘Tis the season for traditions – ‘tis the season for horror. This year, consider picking up an old tradition and bringing it forward. Come to the library and find yourself a good, scary little book. Check it out and read. Let it frighten you – and then be glad you’re alive. There is always more than one way to celebrate the season.
May your house be haunted pleasantly.