Halloween is nearly here again, making it the perfect time to dive into great horror stories. While modern authors have crafted tales well-suited to the season, there is also a host of older, classic stories that unfortunately get overlooked. In the spirit of the holiday, here are five lesser-known stories to put on your reading list. Click on the titles to access digital versions of each text.
“The Repairer of Reputations,” by Robert W. Chambers
“It is a diadem fit for a King among kings, an Emperor among emperors. The King in Yellow might scorn it, but it shall be worn by his royal servant.”
“The Repairer of Reputations” captures the horror genre so well that it even inspired H. P. Lovecraft, the author whose name has become synonymous with cosmic horror stories. However, it’s also a refreshing break from clichéd horror stories about monsters. Instead, Chambers combines intrigue, familial competition, terrible secrets, and unsettling circumstances to create an attention-grabbing, mind-bending tale of despair and frantic hope.
“Nyarlathotep,” by H. P. Lovecraft
“And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell…”
No list of horror stories would be complete without a nod to Lovecraft. “Nyarlathotep” is one of his shorter works, but it’s also one of his most disconcerting. All of human society becomes consumed with a desire to see a sorcerer practice his forbidden craft, and when reason tries to intervene, the consequences are devastating. As with most of Lovecraft’s stories, the human psyche and human society are insignificant, fragile blips in the cosmos, placing horror on a deeply personal level.
“Mujina” (classic Japanese folk tale)
“‘O-jochū, do not cry like that!’”
This tale of a traveling merchant, though only a few pages long, embodies horror in a delightfully fulfilling way. It’s rich in substance, quickly building tension and our expectations and paying them off in exactly the right way. The classic feel of the story also makes it perfect for reading either quietly at home alone or aloud to a group of friends around a campfire.
“Rokuro-Kubi” (classic Japanese folk tale)
“‘There are haunters about here — many of them.’”
The legend of the rokuro-kubi has become an iconic part of Japanese folklore, and while it’s not exactly scary to modern audiences, it has all the elements of a good horror story. It features a samurai-turned-priest who wanders in a “land of goblins” but meets a kindly woodcutter and his family—only to learn that nothing is as it seems.
“Skulls in the Stars,” by Robert E. Howard
“Then suddenly Kane stopped short. From somewhere in front of him sounded a strange and eery echo—or something like an echo.”
Howard was one of Lovecraft’s contemporaries in writing about the horrific and bizarre, and “Skulls in the Stars” lives up to the genre. In it, Howard’s famous Puritan swordsman, Solomon Kane, travels across a barren moor and has an unexpected encounter that sets him on a quest of investigation, justice, vengeance, and supernatural forces. The tale includes equal parts action and suspense, making it a thrilling, perfect fit for the Halloween season.
For more literary Halloween recommendations, check out this post from October 2015.
Featured image: Cover of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, in which “The Repairer of Reputations” is the first story.