[This week’s series is, well, obvious. Your thoughts on American scary stories—real or fictional, artistic or historical, fun or horrifying, and anything else you can think of—will help me assemble a weekend post that’s all treats and no tricks. Boo!]
My nominees for five of the scariest works of or moments in American literature (in chronological order):
1) Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland, or the Transformation (1798): Brown’s novel suffers from some seriously over-wrought prose, and it can be hard to take its narrator seriously as a result; the pseudo-scientific resolution of its central mystery also leaves a good bit to be desired. But since that central mystery involves a husband and father who turns into a murderous psychopath bent on destroying his own idyllic home and family, well, none of those flaws can entirely take away the spookiness.
2) Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839): Just about any Poe story would fit in this space. But given how fully this story’s scares depend precisely on the idea of what reading and art can do to the human imagination and psyche of their susceptible audiences, it seems like a good choice.
3) Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery” (1948): I don’t think there’s anything scarier, in the world or in the imagination, than what people are capable of doing to each other. And Jackson’s story is probably the most concise and perfect exemplification of that idea in American literary history. I’ve read arguments that connect it to the Holocaust, which makes sense timing-wise; but I’d say the story is purposefully, and terrifyingly, more universal than that.
4) Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt” (1950; don’t know why the font is so small in that online version, but you can always copy and paste and then enlarge—it’s worth it!): The less I give away about Bradbury’s story, the better. Suffice it to say it’s a pretty good argument for not having kids, or at least for only letting them play with very basic and non-technological toys. Ah well, that ship has sailed for me.
5) Mark Danielewksi, House of Leaves (2000; that’s the companion website): As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Danielewksi’s novel is thoroughly post-modern and yet entirely terrifying at the same time. Don’t believe it’s possible? Read the book—but try to keep some lights on, or maybe just read outside, while you do.
October recap tomorrow, back to the spoooooky posts Thursday,
PS. American scary stories to highlight for the weekend post? Don’t be scared to share!