Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffmann to Hodgson

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An orange tabby sits beside a compilation of classic horror stories.

Telling Stories in the Dark

It might seem strange, and I’m sure it’s not a preference that many people share, but sometimes when I feel my worst — very anxious, very depressed, very not well — and can’t sleep, scary stories are what I turn to. There’s something about ghosts, goblins, vampires, and spooky houses in settings a hundred and fifty years old that draws me out of the racing thoughts my brain gets stuck in.

I read about ghosts and it eases away some of my fear and some of my worrying gets a bit less oppressive. And I think about a time in my late childhood when I couldn’t get enough of stories and reading. When I read to try to soothe the anxiety that I didn’t understand or even have a name for yet.

There are some nights even now when I just can’t sleep, and when that happens I walk out to the sitting room, switch on the fireplace channel, and get lost in the stories that soothed me in my youth. I’m sure that horror stories are far from being a common choice on sleepless nights, but they’re my favourites — especially when the moon is full and Halloween in nigh.

An orange tabby sits beside a compilation of classic horror stories.

Classic Stories to Tell on Halloween

Horror Stories is a collection of horror short stories, some of which are more well known than others. On the whole it’s a solid anthology that provides extensive notes for each stories as well as information on each author.

My only bit of criticism is perhaps that there are one or two stories that don’t seem to belong in the category of horror fiction, per se. Specifically the Zola piece ‘The Death of Olivier Becaille’ (‘La Mort d’Olivier Bécaille’) and the Melville piece ‘The Tartarus of Maids’ are stories that focus more on society and social commentary. Especially the Melville, which is a story about the burgeoning industrial revolution and the emergence of assembly line and factory work. Granted, both of these stories do have a sense of horror in them and that does justify their inclusion in the collection.

An orange tabby sits beside a compilation of classic horror stories.

My favourite stories include Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter’, Mary E Wilkins Freeman’s ‘Luella Miller’, and W.F. Harvey’s ‘August Heat’.  

A Word of Caution

This collection includes Bram Stoker’s ‘The Squaw’, which I feel I should warn readers about. I personally can’t read it because it includes animal cruelty described quite graphically. It’s upsetting and having read it once, years ago, I still have a hard time even thinking about it.

If you are a reader that is sensitive to this kind of content, I wouldn’t recommend reading that particular story.

Of course, the entire collection does include a sizable amount of graphic violence against humans, but that is to be expected in a horror story anthology.

An orange tabby sits beside a compilation of classic horror stories.

A Resource for Further Reading

One of the things that I like best about collections like this one is that the notes and information provided for each story and author lead you easily to expand your to-read stacks with a foray into further reading. There’s usually at least one author, usually more, that you’ve never heard of that you now want to read more work from.

For example, I’d never heard of Mary E Wilkins Freeman before, but after reading and loving the story ‘Luella Miller’, I’ll be looking for more of her work. I found the work of Sheridan Le Fanu in a similar fashion several years ago, and now he’s one of the authors that I am constantly trying to find more work from.

Turning Out the Light

Usually when I have a sleepless night it lasts until the hour or so just before dawn when the grey light is barely visible on the other side of the drapes. By then I’m either putting down the book and going back to bed, and hopefully to sleep, or my lovely spouse is awake too and making me a cup of tea and encouraging me to talk about how I’m feeling, what I’m scared of, and what my mind is churning up to keep me awake with.

An orange tabby sits beside a compilation of classic horror stories.

Because of her, I don’t have many sleepless nights anymore. She usually is getting up herself and walking into the sitting room about fifteen minutes after I open my book. She talks to me, she comforts me, and when I finally feel like I’m able to sleep she tucks me into bed. So I’m only awake for an hour or at most two.

A calico tabby sits beside a compilation of classic horror stories.

I’m always grateful for all of the ways she helps. She’s always patient, and always ready to talk me through whatever loop my brain is stuck in and keeping me awake with. Even when she’s yawning and can barely keep her eyes open, her only thought is helping me. That’s how utterly incredible she is.

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This sounds like a great anthology! And thank you for the warning on the animal cruelty in one of the stories. While I can tolerate it better than when I was younger, it still turns my stomach, especially when it is graphically described, as you mention. It’s one of my weak spots in my reading habits.