Ghostly Tales, Can They Still Scare Us?

Happy Halloween one and all! I hope you have something suitably spooky planned for your evening? I don’t know if I have mentioned this on the blog before or not, but Halloween is one of my very favourite days of the year. I think the mixture of the legends and folklore and my secret belief that maybe there are witches, ghouls, vampires and werewolves out there somewhere and the fact its just a really dark time of the year for us in the UK makes it very atmospheric. So naturally my plan is to curl up with a good ghostly tale, ‘Dolly’ by Susan Hill since you asked, but I do wonder if ghost stories still scare us like they did in times of old and if they do scare is it easier to do it set in the past than in modern times?

This is something I have been discussing on and off for weeks but actually a lot more due to The Readers and recording the Halloween Special and talking to both Gavin, as always a joy, and Jeremy Dyson who has scared hundred and thousands of people with the stage show ‘Ghost Stories’ (which I saw and really scared me) and is hoping to do so again with ‘The Haunted Book’ which I will be telling you all about tomorrow. He is a firm believer that modern ghost stories can still scare you, however myself and Gavin both remained a little more sceptical oddly. I think me personally though much more than Gavin to be honest.

Why is this? Well I think first of all I simply don’t find werewolves and vampires scary anymore. With series like ‘Twilight’ and ‘True Blood’ vampires have become much more sexualised, not to mention glittering like diamonds, and sadly this has taken the fear factor out of them. This doesn’t stop me from wanting to watch the movie or TV shows but I am not covering my eyes in fear when I watch or when I have read some of them. The same applies, only I think it is a million times better written, with Glen Duncan’s novel ‘The Last Werewolf’ (which I really recommend as a Halloween read) it’s a gripping and fast paced thriller and full of sex, violence and gore but I was much more thrilled rather than scared. This leads to another issue, I don’t really ‘get’ gore in books.

I discovered this when I was reading Adam Nevill’s ‘Apartment 16’, the atmosphere and everything was brilliant and there were some really creepy going on until it all suddenly went too far. There were blood soaked people screaming out of walls and half centipede half humans running around hallways, the spell broke for me it was too visual. This is fine in films, though I am the sort of person that laughs their way through a Saw film, but for me to be really scared things need to be much simpler. It is all about unease, too much gore and freakish sights and it falls into ‘camp’ for me or gorey for the sake of it, if I just get that slight sense of unease tingling down my spine giving me a quick shudder and chill then I am sold.

This is why I think that older ghost stories, like the amazing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Tales of Mystery’ etc, or modern novels set in the past, like Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman in Black’, work the best for me. Part of it is that in the olden days, pre the 1950’s really, I think it’s easier for the atmosphere to be created better. You don’t have the internet and mobile phones, in fact in some of the best ones a lack of electricity helps, and so the world seems more other worldy from what we know now and yet we recognise it. It is that unknown and uneasy element in what we know that tends to scare me a little bit more. It is also harkens back to our base instincts, we see things out of the corners of our eyes and in the depths of the shadows. For me really, what is better than a big old mist encompassed spooky manor house?

So what about you? Which books really have had you spooked be they at Halloween or any other time of the year? What ghostly or supernatural tales would you recommend? Are you planning on a night with a ghostly tale or two tonight and if so which ones?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

29 responses to “Ghostly Tales, Can They Still Scare Us?

  1. novelinsights

    I wasn’t but I am now that you’ve reminded me it’s Halloween! I might just read a short story – Poe perhaps… 🙂

    • How could you forget it was Halloween? Hahaha. I saw your fright night costume, looked amazing.

      I have only read poe’s detective novels, I should try a scary story of his. I really wanted to read some M.R. James but I couldn’t get any from the library sadly.

  2. kirstenhwhyte

    I am so glad to see you mention ghost stories / fantasy books. I thought it was a genre you avoided – how wrong was I!! I have recently added a few scary stories to my wish list which I am looking forward to reading (having just read your review of The Last Werewolf, I have added that too). Roald Dahl short stories are not necessarily scary, but they can be disturbing.

    • Ooooh no Kirsten, I looooooooove a good scary story. I also like the odd supernatural novel too now and again, but only if they have been written really well. I will leave it at that haha.

      The Last Werewolf is brilliant.

  3. Jen

    I loved The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Have you read Talullah Rising, his sequel?

  4. The Silence of the Lambs was the scariest book I have ever read. I read it late at night when I was fifteen and when I finished it at 3am I really needed to pee but was too afraid to get out of my bed so waited until my dad got up at 630 to go! Also The Ring was subtly but effecticely scary.

    • I haven’t read that yet and I really think that I should because I loved Red Dragon when I read it, well loved might not be the right expression maybe considering, so I have always meant to read the whole series.

  5. The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions was a short story written in 1911 and included in his vintage Penguin Widdershins. According to Wikipedia it is ‘regarded as one of the best in the genre of horror fiction’, though perhaps it is forgotten now. It may be the story of a haunted house, or perhaps it is the tale of a disintegrating mind. It is written in a wonderfully old-fashioned prose, and I loved it.

    • Oliver Onions? That is never a real name surely. Nooooo.

      The synopsis sounds right up my street though. I shall have to go and look it up.

      • Hard to believe, I admit, but apparently it was his real name (well George Oliver Onions), and it was pronounced just exactly in line with the vegetable. He officially changed his name to George Oliver, but continued to publish under his birth name.

  6. I really enjoyed The Last Werewolf but I do prefer an older, more traditional ghost story. Happy Halloween!

    • Happy Halloween to you too Dot.

      I think The Last Werewolf is just a great, great thrilling novel. Not spooky though. It sounds like in terms of ghost stories we are on a similar page. Have you read Florence and Giles? Gavin says its spook-tacular (sorry I had to) and so I am definitely going to give that a whirl.

  7. Ann Bradley

    I think some of the earlier books of Ruth Rendell are pretty spooky…fantastic character description. Her work has stayed with me for years. (love your blog by the way!)

    • Awww thank you Ann. I hadn’t really thought of crime as Halloween reading but you are right. Crimes can be pretty scary. I would recommend SJ Bolton and Tess Gerritsen for some good scary gory crime. Or Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ all the more scarier as what real people can do!

  8. I highly recommend MR James. The best ghost stories ever, so creepy and atmospheric.

  9. gaskella

    I find it hard to be spooked by books – I may squirm at the gore, or be disgusted by the violence, but it takes a very maelevolent spirit messing with my mind to scare me proper. Horror in films though – I’ll be the first to jump out of my skin – then laugh it off. However, the climactic scene in the ancient black and white film ‘The Innocents’ (based on the Turn of the Screw) gave me nightmares for years after I saw it on TV alone as a teenager.

    • Interesting that you mention fims vs. books. Gavin made the same comment on the podcast. I think I agree that it is much easier to scare visually in film than it is on the written page, though when it happens it is magical.

  10. Well I don’t read much scary type stuff – though the Woman in Black did give me the slight shivers. I have just finished reading and reviewing The Penguin Book of ghost stories – which are all old fashioned nineteenth century tales – the traditional kind I suppose. Which I don’t think can really scare anyone nowadays – but make for good winter time reading nontheless.

  11. carl morries

    in reference to the discussion on M.R James i can recommend this edition of his Ghost Stories

  12. I was reading Before I Go to Sleep at Halloween, which I did find suitably un-nerving, even if it isn’t at all supernatural. I do like a ghost story but I’m also fine with a bit of gore in books, though definitely not in films (I will never ever watch Saw). I have the film of The Woman in Black and have been debating whether to watch it before or after reading the book. Tough decision!

    • I really enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep when I read it. I still want to know who is the lead in the film version but SJ has been keeping Schtum lol.

      Please read the book first, please, please, please!

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