This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel: Classic horror lit

It was a dark and stormy night …

Okay, we might not know the weather, but horror literature was born in 1764 when Horace Walpole finished writing The Castle of Otranto, generally accepted as the first gothic novel. Horror and gothic novels have captured the imagination and sent hearts racing ever since.

Here are some of the staples of the horror genre:

  • The ghost scene from THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO

    The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole: The book begins on the wedding day of Manfred’s sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Shortly before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls from above. Manfred, terrified that Conrad’s death signals the beginning of the end for his line, resolves to avert destruction by marrying Isabella himself while divorcing his current wife Hippolita. There are a number of misunderstandings, and things don’t end well for Manfred.

  • The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis:  The story concerns Ambrosio, a well-respected Spanish monk, and his violent downfall. He is undone by lust for his student, a woman disguised as a monk (Matilda), who tempts him to do bad, bad things. There are magic spells, murder, rape, incest, and a whole slew of dark acts instigated by the devil in female form.
  • Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker: In case you live under a rock, Dracula is an epistolary novel detailing Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham van Helsing.
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey (1891) by Oscar Wilde: Dorian Gray is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s. Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian wishes he could sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than himself. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.
  • Edgar Allan Poe

    Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson: This is a novella about a London lawyer named Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll and the mysterious Mr. Edward Hyde. It highlights the different sides of man and good v. evil.

  • Edgar Allan Poe: No American writer embodies classic gothic writing like Poe. His recurring themes deal with death, the effects of decomposition, premature burial, the reanimation of the dead, and mourning. He wrote many short stories (tales) and poems, and a few essays. He only wrote one play and one complete novel. What makes him so creepy is that his actual life reflected the gothic nature of his writing.

If you’re looking for more recent classic horror, check out these titles and authors:

  • Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
  • The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft (short story)
  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  • Almost anything by Stephen King

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