Horror Halloween: Top 10 Spine-Chilling Reads From the 20th Century and Earlier

“Halloween is a celebration of the inversion of reality and a necessary Gothic hat-tip to the darker aspects of life, death and ourselves.”

― Stewart Stafford

October heralds the change in leaves and brings about an aura of metamorphosis in our lives. The falling leaves and the brown beauty of nature urge us to introspect. The ever-changing world around us more often than not bring out our dark impulses. Yes, you read that right. Even the saintliest of us, have some sort of darkness in us. This does not make us bad people. This makes us human. That small dark corner of our souls makes us wholeheartedly celebrate the season of Halloween.

People have been observing October 31 as the day to remember the dead and departed for centuries. Believed to be inspired by the Gaelic festival of Samhain by many, Halloween is the time to don colorful costumes, go trick or treating, and all around embrace the spookiness in us.

For us bibliophiles, one of the most relaxing ways to spend October is to curl up with a chilling book while sipping a hot cup of pumpkin spice latte. So, I am here with a list of spine-tingling books of yore that would plunge you into the world of the chilling macabre.

The Great American Horror Tale

Book: Young Goodman Brown

Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne is the master of short stories. His 1835 story Young Goodman Brown is both feral and short. The story is an exploration of mankind’s depraved nature. Set in Puritan America, the book follows a newly-married young man named Goodman Brown. Paying no heed to his wife of three months, Faith, Brown traverses the dark woods and happens upon a satanic orgy. To his horror, all his acquaintances including his new wife, are a part of the dastardly ritual. Waking up in his own bed leaves him wondering whether his night’s misadventures were a nightmare or the truth of everyone around him. Goodman Brown/s intense self-reflection leads to the loss of his belief in anything good and virtuous. The story still makes the reader wonder about the viability of dreams and deceptions. No wonder, it is hailed as the ultimate American horror tale to date.

A Tryst in Madness

Book: The Tell-Tale Heart

Author: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allen Poe’s renowned short story The Tell-Tale Heart makes you question your own sanity. Published in 1843, the masterpiece evolves around a narrator who does his best to prove his reliability while describing a murder that he committed. As per his account, he had killed the old man with the “evil eye.” The vivid evocation of the perfect crime with the ever-present doubt on the narrator’s sanity scares the bejesus out of the reader. The thumping sound at the end of the novel still haunts us long after finishing the story.

An Eerie Tale of Lovers

Book: The Italian

Author: Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe is one of the masters of gothic literature. Her last novel, The Italian, continues to establish her as the queen of her genre. Published in 1796, The Italian is a story of love and conspiracy. The action of the story is set in motion when the highborn Vincentio di Vivaldi falls for a beautiful orphan named Ellena di Rosalba. Dead set against the match, Vivaldi’s mother, the Marchesa, assigns her confessor Father Schedoni to thwart the lovers. What follows is a pulsating tale of lies, deception, love, and truth. The antagonist Father Schedoni left his mark and inspired many characters in future stories. Like all of Ann Radcliff’s works, The Italian puts your hair on edge yet leaves you with a wry smile on your face.

An Un-Cliché Story of Vampires

Book: Carmilla

Author: Joseph Sheridan le Fanu 

Long before Bram Stoker came up with Dracula, Irish author Joseph Sheridan le Fanu penned his vampire novel, Carmilla. Set in Styria, the 1872 novella revolves around Laura, a young woman who lived with her father in his isolated castle. Her isolated life takes a turn with the arrival of the sensuous Carmilla. The femme fatale Carmilla incites unexplainable feelings in Laura. The vampiric mystery and the lesbian subtext make this classic way ahead of its time. Its allure is intact even today as the book has multiple on-screen renditions.

Deal With the Devil

Book: Vathek

Author: William Beckford  

Originally written in French, William Beckford’s 1786 novel Vathek is a Gothic classic. Set in the Arab world, the story revolves around the hedonist and ambitious Caliph Vathek. His unquenchable quest to realize his ambitions and fulfill his curiosity prompts him to sell his soul to the dark forces. Unaspiringly, this marks the end of his doom. Beckford’s dark novel gives us a taste of fairy tales. In addition to capitalizing on the time’s fascination with orientalism, the book explores myriad themes like love, greed, and ambition.

A Tryst With the Supernatural

Book: The Great God Pan

Author: Arthur Machen

The Great God Pan is a true exploration of the macabre. Penned by Arthur Machen, the novella was first published as a book in 1894. The story starts off with a creepy experiment where a mad scientist aims to open up human skulls to the spiritual world. Mary is the subject of this experiment. Soon after this, many deaths and unexplainable events take place over a period of many years. The only common link between these happenings is Helen Vaughan. This is a story that has a half-divine creature luring men to their grotesque end. The vivid writing style not only enthralls us but also has been an influence on renowned authors like H.P. Lovecraft.

An Island of Horrors

Book: The Willows

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Being stranded on an island with creepy trees is nothing short of the stuff of nightmares. In Algernon Blackwood’s 1907 novella, The Willows, two friends decide to undertake a daring canoe trip down the Danube River during the summer floods. They do not stop there. The foolhardy friends also camp on an eerie island. One of these young men is “devoid of imagination.”  The trip becomes ominous for both the friends and the readers as Blackwood personifies each and every aspect of the surrounding environment. Out of all these, the most menacing are the willows. First published as part of the collection, The Listener and Other Stories, Blackwood’s The Willows is considered to be one of the best examples of weird fiction and supernatural tales. It is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorites as well.

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Insight into an Oppressed Psyche

Book: The Yellow Wallpaper

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman  

Life was not as easy as it seems for women in the 19th century. Often regarded as second-class citizens, ladies were deemed to be high-strung emotional creatures. Despite being an author of high intellect, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was prescribed a “rest cure” by her doctor. Forbidden to do anything at all, she felt powerless. Drawing from this experience of helplessness, Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. In this story, a young woman journalizes her days of despair as she is confined in a former nursery with the intention to help her recover from her depression after her baby’s birth. Told in the first person perspective, the author masterfully uses an unreliable narrator to express the slowly deteriorating mental condition of the woman. The sickly yellow wallpaper drives her mad and contributes to her delusions. Her madness reaches a chilling crescendo at the end shocking both her husband and the readers.

A Twist of Humor

Book: Nightmare Abbey

Author: Thomas Love Peacock

Too many scary books and movies might make us feel the need for a breath of lightness. Thomas Love Peacock’s 1818 satire, Nightmare Abbey, provides that dose of laughter with a spooky twist. The book starts off with Christopher Glowry inviting a plethora of guests to a residence that used to be an abbey. All these guests engage in seemingly deep debates that bring out the fallacy of the Romantic Movement and Transcendental Philosophy. Modeled after Peacock’s friends, all the characters are mouthpieces of the author’s wit. While reading the satiric dialogues, it is fun to know that the characters are indeed parodies of some of our favorite poets. While Mr. Folksy is based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mr. Cypress is based on Lord Byrom, Scythrop is based on Peacock’s dear friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley. I recommend this book to enthusiasts of 19th-century literature.

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A Haunted Murder Mystery

Book: The Uninhabited House

Author: J.H. Riddell

The Uninhabited House is a Victorian story opened by Charlotte Riddell. Also known as J.H. Riddell, Charlotte was a bestselling author during the Victorian period. Her book, The Uninhabited House, revolves around River Hall, a property inherited by Miss Helena Elmsdale. The rent from the house is the only source of income for Helena and her eccentric aunt, Susannah. The catch is that none of the tenants are willing to stay in the house for a long period of time. Harry Patterson, the clerk of their solicitor, Mr. Craven, takes it upon himself to stay in the house and unravel its mysteries. Soon, we are thrust into a story of horror, mystery, and love. This is one of those largely forgotten books that even today’s readers would find appealing. The multi-genre aspect of this book makes it a great Halloween read.


Right from the beginning of October, we start anticipating All Hallow’s Day. Carving out pumpkins and preparing the costumes and candies fill us with exhilaration. During this spooky season, our hearts crave for something that would send a chill run across our skins. Even with all the amazingly scary movies out there, the tingling that we get while reading is unmatchable. Do let me know your favorite Halloween reads and hit the comment box with your thoughts about the books on this list.

Note: The cover image came from Pexels used with permission from WordPress. Product images and information were provided by Amazon. All other images used belong to the public domain, unless stated otherwise.

3 thoughts on “Horror Halloween: Top 10 Spine-Chilling Reads From the 20th Century and Earlier

  1. Oh, my “The Yellow Wallpaper” seems like such a sad, realistic nightmare. I do love a little bit of humor to lighten the spooky, so I’ll make sure to check out “Nightmare Abbey.” A great post, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

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