Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Todd Mason forwarded me the following list of writers' favorite scary stories. I reply after the list

Martin Morse Wooster reports to the FictionMags list:

In their October 28 WASHINGTON POST fiction page, the editors of BOOK WORLD
asked writers, "What story scares the hell out of you?"

Anne Rice: M.R. James, "Count Magnus"
Scott Smith: Stewart O'Nan, A PRAYER FOR THE DYING
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child: Karl Edward Wagner, "Sticks"
Jonathan Carroll: W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw"
Dan Chaon: Joyce Carol Oates, "Is Laughter Contagious?"
Charlaine Harris: Shirley Jackson, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
Joe Hill: Kelly Link, "The Specialist's Hat" and Neil Gaiman, "Bitter
Lemony Snicket: "anything by Charles Krauthammer"
Sarah Waters: W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw"
China Mieville: Saki, "Sredni Vashtar"
Audrey Niffenegger: H.G. Wells, THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Elizabeth Hand: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Peter Straub: Shirley Jackson, "The Daemon Lover"
William Peter Blatty: Bram Stoker, DRACULA

Ed here: Maybe I don't scare easy. I can't watch slice and dice movies but that's because gore puts me off, it's not really being scared. There are some mighty fine stories on this list but except for Drac and the Shirley Jacksons none scare me. The Father Thing by P Dick scares me and so does Smoke Ghost by Fritz Leiber . S King's early short stories (most of them in Night Shift) scare me. C.L. Moore's Shambleau, speaking of nightmares, never fails to trouble me--she really gets to the heart of Other. And of course Henry Kuttner's strange tale of childhood Call Him Demon. I would also include several stories by Ramsey Campbell (Campbell can really upset your mental equilibrium) and Karl Edward Wagner. Many Conan stories by Robert E. Howard scare me too. The King In Yellow is a story I can't read after sundown--Robert W. Chambers really hit a nerve.

In the summer of 1960 I worked as a bag boy. After the store closed at nine I'd usually play poker or pin ball for money. It was always late when I walked home. Late and street-empty. I made the mistake of reading Richard Matheson's fine novel A Stir of Echoes. Some of those two a.m. walks home really spooked me.

The most frightening story I've ever read is by Oliver Onions, The Beckoning Fair One. To me it's the most masterful terror tale of all. I have no idea why it scares me but it has every single time I''ve gone back to it. He struck some kind of spiritual nerve in me.

Here's Wikkpedia on Onions:

George Oliver Onions, (pronounced by his family as in the vegetable, not oh-NY-ons. It should also be noted that he was harassed as a child regarding his last name) (13 November 1873 – 9 April 1961) was a significant English novelist who published over forty novels and story collections. Originally trained as a commercial artist, he worked as a designer of posters and books, and as a magazine illustrator, before starting his career in writing. The first editions of his novels were published with dust jackets bearing full-colour illustrations painted by Onions himself. He married the writer Berta Ruck in 1909 and they had two sons, Arthur (born 1912) and William (born 1913). Onions legally changed his name to George Oliver in 1918, but continued to publish under the name Oliver Onions.

Besides detective fiction, historical fiction and a science fiction novel, New Moon (1918), Onions wrote several collections of ghost stories, of which the best known is Widdershins (1911). It includes the novella The Beckoning Fair One, widely regarded as one of the best in the genre of horror fiction, especially psychological horror. On the surface, this is a conventional haunted house story: an unsuccessful writer moves into rooms in an otherwise empty house, in the hope that isolation will help his failing creativity. His sensitivity and imagination are enhanced by his seclusion, but his art, his only friend and his sanity are all destroyed in the process. The story can be read as narrating the gradual possession of the protagonist by a mysterious and possessive feminine spirit, or as a realistic description of a psychotic outbreak culminating in catatonia and murder, told from the sufferer's point of view. The precise description of the slow disintegration of the protagonist's mind is terrifying in either case. Another theme, shared with others of Onions' stories, is a connection between creativity and insanity; in this view, the artist is in danger of withdrawing from the world altogether and losing himself in his creation.

Onions was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his 1946 novel Poor Man's Tapestry.


pattinase (abbott) said...

A Prayer for the Dying, one of my favorites, is not scary in the predictable way. But I think it scared me more than anything by Stephen King--especially when you understood the full implications. Love Ramsey Campbell.

Todd Mason said...

Rebecca Gordon, on the Horror list at Indiana U., was kind enoug to dig out the URL for the POST article, which included comments by the selectors as to why these: (or see the link on my name).

Todd Mason said...

You know, I've been meaning to read "The Beckoning Fair One" for decades, and haven't yet. I've read others by him since coming across "Phantas" as an 8yo, in Hal Cantor's GHOSTS AND THINGS, but never any of his collections nor his longer works as yet. Should be rectifying that shortly.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Richard Matheson's "Born of Man and Woman" would be my pick. That's a damn scary story, imo.

Iren said...

The older I get the more some of the work of Lovecraft spooks me out. Stories like The Picture in the House and Pickman's Model are just creepy. Shadow over Innsmouth is still I think his scariest story.

Anonymous said...

James Herbert's "Shrine" gave me nightmares when I read it back in high school...must pick it up again, if I can find it.

Brendan DuBois said...

Stephen King's "Pet Sematary" --- scared the bejesus out of me... and what was scary was more than just the standard horror stuff... it was the *real* horror of a husband and wife dealing with the death of a child... put it away when I read it, and never had any intention to ever every read it again...

Anonymous said...

I've read and enjoyed most of what had been mentioned here, but there are scarier tales out there to my mind.
Here's some short stories...
Algernon Blackwood, The Willows
Michael Shea, The Autopsy
W.F. Harvey, The Clock
H. Russell Wakefield, Red Lodge
Robert Bloch, Notebook Found in a Deserted House
Robert E. Howard, Pigeons from Hell
Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign
T.E.D. Klein, Nadelman's God
Anthony Boucher, They Bite

Any of these will deliver chills as well as (dare I say better) than most of the titles mentioned thus far. A fine macabre tale is a true joy.

John Hocking

Tychy said...

the dubliner sheridan le fanu is the best author of scary tales by a country mile... although i can never decide upon the most frightening of his stories (maybe "schalken the painter" or "green tea" or even "the room in the dragon volant"). Tychy,