New to gothic literature? Maybe you’ve always loved horror movies and dark films, and want to see if you can get the same shivery feels from the written word. Or maybe you’ve wandered over from another genre such as romance or fantasy after realizing that you kinda like the dark stuff. Or maybe you’re a baby bat who has found the clothing and the music but doesn’t know where to start with the books. Well, whatever brought you over to the dark side, I’m glad you came. Gothic literature is a magical world filled with so many abandoned castles, moonlit moors, and frightening forests to explore. But if you’ve never read anything in the genre (or loose collection of genres) before, jumping right in can seem a little…well, scary. But not to worry! Your favorite Gothic Librarian has put together the perfect little starter pack of gothic literature to get you into the genre.
1) Edgar Allan Poe
Anything by Poe will do, whether it be his poetry or short stories. Really, I recommend you just read as much of Poe as possible because all of it is iconic and all of it is awesome. Go out and buy yourself a “complete works” or just a collection of his stories or poems and get started. But if you really want some suggestions, I highly recommend “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” from his poetry as well as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” from his short stories.
2) Dracula by Bram Stoker
Ah, the gothic novel that started the vampire craze. And a perfect example of gothic literature. Dracula has all the tropes, from an evil aristocrat to a creepy castle, sexy dead women, and alluringly innocent victims. Much of the story should be familiar to you from popular culture and various depictions of Dracula and other vampires in the modern day. But there is much in the original story that you may not have heard before. I recommend you give it a try, especially if you’re at all interested in the modern vampire genre and want to see where much of the mythos got its start.
3) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Another gothic novel familiarized by popular culture. However, I will warn you that the novel is entirely different from the notion you have in your head of a green, stitched-together monster with bolts coming out of his neck who moans incoherently as he chases down his victims. Frankenstein is a tale that humanizes its monster and shows the monstrous in an ordinary man. Frankenstein’s monster is a fascinating character, and the parts of the novel that are from his perspective are by far the best parts of the book. Frankenstein merges together the genres of horror and the newly-created realm of science fiction—a partnership that has given birth to a number of other great works throughout the years. Frankenstein is also a great novel to start with in order to understand how horror can be used to express the anxieties of society at the time it was written. You’ll find it quite spelled out that the real thing to be afraid of in Frankenstein is not the monster himself but rather the dangers of playing God and the burden of responsibility that comes with the extraordinary power of science.
4) Stephen King
Known as the father of contemporary horror, Stephen King is an obvious choice for those interested in the genre, especially for those already familiar with some of his film adaptations. However, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never actually read any King myself, so I can’t give you a lot of advice on which of his works to read. But as with Edgar Allan Poe, it’s probably best to just start with a collection of his short stories. Apart from those, if the adaptations are anything to go by, Carrie and Under the Dome both look like solid choices.
5) Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Okay, technically this one is a parody of the gothic genre, but that’s actually what makes it a great starter book. By exaggerating gothic tropes to parody them, Northanger Abbey makes these tropes easy to spot, so you will recognize them in other gothic novels. And the brilliant part is, even while mocking gothic novels, Northanger Abbey fulfills most of the qualifications to count as one, itself. Like Austen’s other novels, the story in Northanger Abbey is presented from the point of view of a witty female protagonist, which is a nice break from the heavily male-centric works listed so far. You may even recognize yourself in young Catherine Morland, who is an avid reader of gothic novels and a lover of all things dark and macabre. However, Northanger Abbey teaches the important lesson that it can be dangerous to confuse the stories you read with reality. Although sometimes reality can be just as dark…
Is there anything you think I missed that should be included in the starter kit? What books did you read when you were first getting into the gothic genre? Share your stories and recommendations in the comments!