Back to School Reading List: Short Story Edition

This time of year will always make me think of getting ready to go back to school, despite the fact that I’m no longer a student. One of my favorite things about the beginning of the school year was looking over the syllabus to see what new books and stories we’d be reading in English class. Last August, I wrote up a basic primer of five Gothic novels you might find on a high school syllabus. This year, I want to do the same for short stories. If you’re heading back to school this fall, check your reading lists for these stories to see if you’re in for a treat! And if your school days are long behind you, see if you missed out on any of these great reads. It’s never too late to read a classic! Continue reading Back to School Reading List: Short Story Edition

Poems to Read in a Graveyard, Part 2

Last year, I wrote up a list of five death- and graveyard-themed poems to ponder as you enjoy a solitary stroll through someone’s final resting place. Now that graveyard picnic season has come once again, I figured it was time to add to this list. When researching for my previous post, I discovered that the tradition of graveyard poetry was far more robust than I had previously realized, and I kept finding more poems that I wanted to share. As before, my collection contains works by a few of the pre-Romantic “Graveyard Poets,” as well as a couple of poems by later Romantic poets. Enjoy!

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Books I’m Excited for in 2017

The new year has begun, and that means it’s time for another annual roundup of new releases that I’ll be eagerly anticipating throughout 2017. Last year I only got around to reading a handful of the books that made my 2016 list, so this year I’m hoping to make more of an effort to keep on top of these releases. Check out some of these upcoming gothic reads: Continue reading Books I’m Excited for in 2017

Winter Horror Tales

As we head into December, one thing is becoming clear: Winter is coming. This ever-popular slogan from Game of Thrones plays off of one of humankind’s most primal fears—the dread of these cold, dark months with their long nights and desolate landscapes. Throughout human history, the coming of winter heralded many physical dangers, from getting caught out in freezing temperatures to running out of food. But winter also brings out a less tangible terror, and the cold season has captured the imaginations of a number of horror writers. This week, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite short stories to read curled up in bed while the snow swirls outside:

Winter is coming.... (Image from Carlo Scherer on Flickr)
Winter is coming….
(Image from Carlo Scherer on Flickr)

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Halloween in Literature

The day has finally come! Here at The Gothic Library, I’ve been celebrating all month—taking my faithful readers through a tour of ghost stories, horror films, and haunted houses. Today I want to explore some of the literature surrounding the holiday itself. Below are a few works from the past three centuries that celebrate or take place during this spookiest of nights: Continue reading Halloween in Literature

Haunted Houses in Literature

With Halloween only a week away, it’s time to really start bringing out the spooks and scares. If you’re wondering how to celebrate this spooky season, The Gothic Library already has you covered with ghost stories to read and scary movies to marathon. Another traditional Halloween activity is visiting haunted houses. This week I’d like to take you on a tour through some of my favorite haunted houses in literature: Continue reading Haunted Houses in Literature

Ghost Stories to Get You in the “Spirit” for Halloween

Now that summer is officially over, do you know what season it is? It’s Halloween season! I’m a firm believer in beginning my celebrations of the greatest holiday of the year at least a month in advance. You may be mourning the end of summer or feeling distracted by a new school year, but that’s no reason you can’t start getting excited for the night when the veil between the worlds is thinnest! To that end, I’ve complied a list of ghost stories below that will help get you into the “spirit” for Halloween. (See what I did there?)

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Back to School Reading List

School Supplies

It’s that time of year again! I’m still getting used to the idea that I will no longer be heading off to school in the fall, but I can’t help getting into the back-to-school spirit. If you are continuing your formal education for another semester, be sure to check out your English class syllabus to see if you have any great gothic reads coming up. I always loved reading these books in class because you can get a lot more out of them by learning about their literary and temporal context and by engaging in analysis and discussion with others. But for those of you not going back to school, or whose reading lists are lacking in the dark and macabre—not to fear! I’ve made a gothic syllabus of my own for you. Last summer, when I first launched this blog, I made a Gothic Lit 101 list for you in my Gothic Lit Starter Kit post. Consider this Gothic Lit 102 (not necessarily to be taken in order):

Continue reading Back to School Reading List

Dead and Vengeful Cats in Gothic Fiction

I spend a lot of time thinking about how much I love cats. They’re cute, cuddly, clever, and just a little bit demonic. Sadly, I don’t own an adorable fluff-ball myself, so I must find other venues for my cat appreciation. This generally involves visiting friends who own cats, looking at cats on social media, and of course, reading books that feature cats. Fortunately, cats—long associated with magic, mystery, and devilry—often feature prominently in gothic literature. Less fortunately, they also have a tendency to die in these stories… But cats are not creatures to be trifled with, and they are particularly adept at exacting revenge. Below are some of my favorite tales starring dead and/or vengeful cats:

  1. “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

The black cat coverEdgar Allan Poe was also quite the cat fan, although you might not know it from how they are treated in his fiction. One of Poe’s most popular short stories is “The Black Cat.” Told from the perspective of a murderer, the story features a black cat named Pluto (appropriately associated with the Roman god of the underworld) who serves first as the narrator’s victim and then ultimately as the cause of his demise. The narrator is initially very close with his pet, but as he descends into alcoholism he becomes violent toward all those he used to love. He maims and ultimately kills Pluto, though he is plagued by guilt throughout. Immediately after hanging his beloved pet from a tree, the narrator’s house catches on fire. But this is only the beginning of the cat’s revenge. He soon comes across a second cat that looks exactly like his dead friend, except for the white noose-like markings around its neck. After one of the narrator’s rages ends with him killing his wife and walling her up in the cellar, it is this cat that alerts the police to the location of the woman’s body and prevents its master from getting away with murder.

  1. “The Squaw” by Bram Stoker (1914)

the squaw coverStoker’s name is generally associated only with his groundbreaking vampire novel, Dracula, but he actually wrote a number of other novels and short stories, as well. Several of his short stories were published posthumously in a collection titled Dracula’s Guest and other Weird Stories. Among these is a particularly disturbing tale, “The Squaw.” I first encountered this story as part of an audiobook collection called Classic Tales of Horror. Generally undisturbed by violence and gore, I nonetheless found myself quite distressed at the description of the senseless killing of a kitten in the opening pages of this story. The tale begins with a honeymooning couple who encounter a brash American while sightseeing in Germany. The American has the brilliant idea to toss pebbles from a great height in order to startle a mother cat and her kitten below. Of course, he ends up accidentally killing the kitten and setting the mother cat on the warpath. She stalks the group throughout the rest of the story as they continue their sight-seeing, until their visit to a medieval torture chamber provides the perfect opportunity for revenge… “The Squaw” is definitely an underrated story, although the American’s speech and his garbled story about an encounter with a Native American woman make it somewhat difficult to follow at times. But I promise you’ll be in for an emotional roller coaster as you mourn the death of the kitten and cheer on its murderous mother.

  1. “The Cats of Ulthar” by H.P. Lovecraft (1920)

cats of ulthar coverUsually when the words “H.P. Lovecraft” and “cat” are mentioned in the same sentence, it’s in reference to the man’s blatant racism. But Lovecraft’s own poorly-named pet aside, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories features a whole town full of vengeful felines. Set in a town called Ulthar, the story opens by describing a strange old couple who seem to delight in capturing and killing the neighborhood cats. One day, however, the couple crosses the wrong gypsy orphan boy when they take his beloved black kitten. The boy prays to his gods, and that night all of the remaining cats in the village gather to exact a chilling revenge on the sadistic couple. After that night, the town enacts a law stating that no man may kill a cat…for his own safety.

  1. Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983)

pet sematary coverHere, Stephen King steers us slightly away from the direct revenge narrative. However, Church, the family pet featured prominently in this horror novel, shares many characteristics with the above-mentioned creepy cats. The story begins with the family of Louis Creed moving to a new town and trying to settle into their new lives. They meet a friendly neighbor named Jud who shows them the spot in the woods labeled “Pet Sematary” not far from their house where many of the townspeople bury their pets. One day, Church gets run over and instead of burying him in the “Pet Sematary,” Jud takes Louis to an ancient burial ground where all those who are buried rise again. When the cat comes back to life, however, he is not quite the same. Violent, though not necessarily vengeful, the reanimated cat serves as an ominous foreshadowing of what will happen when Louis tries to raise his toddler son from the dead in the same manner.

I also wanted to make a special mention of a cat owned by the father of the Gothic novel himself, Horace Walpole. Walpole owned a cat named Selima whose death was memorialized by the eighteenth-century graveyard poet Thomas Gray in a somewhat mocking elegy titled “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.” (Check it out, it’s a great poem.) Somewhat morbidly, Walpole had the first stanza of his friend’s poem engraved on the tub in which his cat drowned, which he then prominently displayed in his trend-setting gothic home.

ode on the death of a favorite cat

Have you read any of these tales? Got any other creepy cat stories to recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments! And, of course, feel free to post pictures of your feline friends!

The Devil & Demon Literary Canon

So I’ve already done the Vampire Literary Canon and the Zombie Literary Canon. I feel like at this point, I’ve got to make one for all the Big Bads of gothic fiction. And who could be bigger or badder than the Devil himself? Devils and demons have been an important part of the tradition of disturbing and macabre literature long before Gothic even became an official genre. As the personification of all of humanity’s fears, the Devil is arguably a touchstone of the horror genre.

Now obviously, the literary tradition of the Christian incarnation of devils and demons begins with the Christian Bible. But as that can’t really be considered a gothic work in its entirety, I won’t be including it in this canon. Instead, I begin my list many centuries later with works that will take you through different depictions of the Devil and demons throughout the literary tradition.

1. Dante’s Inferno (1321)

Dante's inferno coverInferno is the first section of Dante Alighieri’s three-part epic The Divine Comedy, in which the protagonist, Dante, is led through hell by the Roman poet Virgil. This medieval work is most well known for establishing the image of hell as composed of different circles embodying various layers of sin. At the very center of hell, in the ninth circle reserved for traitors, is Lucifer himself frozen in a lake of ice. Rather than the ruler of hell, Lucifer is here depicted as being as much a victim of its tortures as any of the other prisoners. He is a massive three-headed, winged creature, but despite his terrifying appearance he is passive, impotent, and mute, his main function seemingly to simply show how unrewarding sin can be.

2. Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667)

Paradise Lost cover 2Paradise Lost is one of my favorite works of literature, and one of my favorite depictions of the Devil. Widely considered the last great epic poem, Paradise Lost is also controversial among a great many scholars of epic poetry, as it doesn’t seem to have a central hero–one of the major tenets of the epic genre. Instead, the most interesting and fully developed character is the anti-hero Satan. An eloquent speaker and passionate thinker, Satan is a stalwart believer in both democracy and ambition, traits that resonate deeply with modern American readers and make him appear more sympathetic than perhaps Milton originally intended. Having been cast out of heaven for inciting a revolution against the God he views as a despotic ruler, Satan first establishes his own new kingdom and then journeys to earth to tempt God’s new play things into sin. A far cry from Date’s pathetic Devil, this Satan is active, charismatic, and relatable.

3. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808, 1832)

Faust coverThe story of Faust comes from an old German legend which was highly popularized two centuries earlier in Chirstopher Marlow’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. However, I much prefer Goethe’s nineteenth-century drama/epic hybrid. Faust tells the story of an ambitious scholar who is unsatisfied with his academic pursuits and makes a wager with a devil named Mephistopheles, promising to serve the devil in hell if he ever feels a moment of pure satisfaction and contentment in life. Mephisto, as he is called for short, first appears to Faust in the form of a poodle–which I can’t help picturing as a ridiculously shaved show dog, even though I know that’s not what the author intended. As the story progresses, Mephisto stays by Faust’s side, helping him to seduce the poor Gretchen and trying to turn him away from righteous pursuits. Goethe’s Mephisto is witty and skeptical, whispering in Faust’s ear and scheming like Milton’s Satan to bring about the fall of one of God’s favorite creations. Unlike Milton’s Satan, though, Mephisto is ultimately unsuccessful.

4. The Screwtape Lettersby C.S. Lewis (1942)

Screwtape Letters coverThat’s right, C.S. Lewis wrote more than just fairy tales about children finding magical worlds inside wardrobes. In fact, Lewis was a devout Christian and wrote a number of works involving his faith, including this fun, satirical novel. The Screwtape Letters is written in an epistolary format in the form of letters from one senior demon named Screwtape to his young nephew, Wormwood. In these letters, Screwtape tries to advise his nephew on how to best lead his human target astray. These demons are comical and a little pathetic, but the satire also makes some cutting jabs at the flaws of humanity.

5. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)

the exorcist coverThanks to the highly successful film adaptation of this novel by William Friedkin in 1973, The Exorcist has had a profound influence on cinematic depictions of demons and is emblematic of the role that devils and demons usually play in horror today. The novel was based on stories of an actual exorcism that Blatty had heard about while attending college in 1949. In the novel, a twelve-year-old girl is possessed by a demonic spirit, and two Jesuit priests are called in to perform an exorcism. The child goes through a horrifying transformation as her possession begins to manifest through more severe psychological and physiological symptoms. The priests finally manage to rid her of the demon in an intense exorcism, but at a high cost.

Which of these have you read? Are there any great works of the devilish and demonic that you feel I’ve left off the list? Please let me know in the comments!