Today, in honor of our February book of the month, we’re featuring some classic Gothic/horror novels. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd is specifically inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau — and she says the next two books in the series are inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, respectively. Today, we’re featuring these and other classics from this genre that fans of Shepherd’s debut should check out:
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science shown in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror. In The Island of Dr. Moreau a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life.
While this riveting tale was intended to be a commentary on evolution, divine creation, and the tension between human nature and culture, modern readers familiar with genetic engineering will marvel at Wells’s prediction of the ethical issues raised by producing “smarter” human beings or bringing back extinct species. These levels of interpretation add a richness to Prendick’s adventures on Dr. Moreau’s island of lost souls without distracting from what is still a rip-roaring good read.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The gripping novel of a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences surrounding his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Mr. Edward Hyde. The work is known for its vivid portrayal of a split personality, split in the sense that within the same person there is both an apparently good and an evil personality each being quite distinct from the other.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.
She by H. Rider Haggard
Drawing on his knowledge of Africa and of ancient legends, adventure writer H. Rider Haggard weaves this disturbing tale of Ayesha, the mysterious and immortal white queen of a Central African tribe. She, or “She-who-must-be-obeyed,” is the embodiment of the mythological female figure who is both monstrous and desirable, and deadlier than the male. She is a pioneering work in the “Lost World” genre.
The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
Based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk, who survived alone for almost five years on an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile. Verne’s novel tells the story of five men and a dog who land in a balloon on a faraway, fantastic island of bewildering goings-on and their struggle to survive as they uncover the island’s secret.
In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
This remarkable collection of stories, first published in 1872, includes Green Tea, The Familiar, Mr. Justice Harbottle, The Room in the Dragon Volant, and Carmilla. The five stories are purported to be cases by Dr. Hesselius, a ‘metaphysical’ doctor, who is willing to consider the ghosts both as real and as hallucinatory obsessions. The reader’s doubtful anxiety mimics that of the protagonist, and each story thus creates that atmosphere of mystery which is the supernatural experience. This new annotated edition includes an introduction, notes on the text, and explanatory notes.
For the comments: Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Any other classics from this genre you’d recommend?