One of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, appears in this short video to promote what he and others hope may become an annual tradition: All Hallow’s Read:
The basic idea of this nascent, would-be tradition is that either on Halloween itself or the run up to it you give a scary book or comic to someone, to a friend, family member, anyone – there are good scary tales for younger readers and good ones for older readers, age isn’t a barrier. I have to admit I do like this idea and coming at Halloween is perfect, not just because it is a traditionally spooky time of year, but because it signals the transition into winter, and those long, dark nights are terrific for sitting by a warm fire with a good chiller. And of course as a reader and a bookseller I’m in favour of anything which encourages more folks to share stories and the world of reading.
And this is a very good time to begin this tradition: for quite a few years, with a few exceptions, the horror fiction genre seemed fairly moribund. But in recent years there’s been a number of excellent new writers and artists weaving new paths through the dark labyrinth of the genre in both prose and comics, from Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles making vampires properly scary again with 30 Days of Night to Robert Jackson Bennett’s atmospheric novels like Mr Shivers (myth and murder and horror among the roads of Depression era America) or his more recent The Troupe (a brilliant tale of magic, horror and family set amongst a vaudeville act), or what about Brian Ruckley’s The Edinburgh Dead, combining conspiracy, murder and monsters with the great Edinburgh Detective Novel in the city’s Victorian streets. Or Joe Hill who has penned some of the best of the new wave of horror prose with Horns and Heart-Shaped Box, not to mention his British Fantasy Award-winning Locke & Key comics.
(Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, published IDW)
Or you could go with a classic – it’s hard to better for a good chiller than some of the Victorian ghost stories, and there are plenty of budget-priced anthologies with works by authors like EF Benson, Le Fanu and M.R. James. Or a fine Poe short tale of dread. And there are great classics of the genre which many think they know from films but have never read the actual books, which are often rather different creatures – how about two of the greatest, from opposite ends of the 19th century, which have become so iconic that to this very day they have bequeathed sayings that are still in use: Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So lasting has been the influence of these works that we still talk of Frankenstein when discussing modern technology like genetic manipulation, and we still refer to some people as having a Jekyll and Hyde personality. But trust me, if you haven’t read the actual books and think you know these stories from movies, do yourself a favour and read the actual books – you’ll thank me for it. Or what about another horror which has cast a long shadow over the entire genre – and indeed almost every form of pop culture from film to games to theatre to pop music – Stoker’s Dracula, never out of print since 1897. Or what about some 20th century classics to chill the blood? Something Wicked This Way comes by the late, great Ray Bradbury, or perhaps I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.
(the dark, innermost desires made flesh – a scene from Klimowski and Schejbal’s grahic adaptation of RL Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, published by SelfMadeHero)
Or you could give someone a copy of the very fine Black Static, the sister publication to the much-loved and respected Interzone, but where Interzone offers up an excellent selection of the best new short science fiction tales Black Static delivers dark, brooding, chilling short horror works – and the short form is a particularly effective method for telling spooky tales. I’m a regular reader of Black Static and it’s a magazine I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for interesting new work in horror and dark fantasy tales. And if like many your belt has been tightened and wallet lightened by the economic woes afflicting the world today then have a browse on Project Gutenberg which has the full text of many a classic tale that is long since out of copyright and in the public domain for free. And I’ll leave you with one that you can share and enjoy with your young ones, a great spooky tale for kids and adults alike, what about Coraline by that self-same Mr Neil Gaiman? I’m sure many of you have plenty of good suggestions, old and new, for young and older readers, of your own.