If anyone knows how to write about writers, it’s Stephen King. King, who created the terrible and terrifying Jack Torrance in The Shining and Paul Sheldon in Misery . . .
In Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, Lisey’s writer-husband, Scott Landon, has been dead and buried for two years. Lisey, little Lisey, solidly has stood by her famous husband through all the book tours and campus speeches, happy to be relegated to one of his millions of admirers, even though she is the only one who really knows him. Lisey, stoic and calm, has finally taken to clearing his studio of his boxes of papers, drafts, and books. But the demons, both real and imaginary, that have haunted Scott during his life, have not died with him. Now they’re out for Lisey.
Let me stop there. King is known for his horror, but in my opinion this piece is stunning as King creates a monster you don’t ever really see. You sense its presence and its terror, but it never truly appears in its full form.
King admits Lisey’s Story is his favourite novel he’s written. Having read his other books, I can only guess at why this is. Maybe because it’s written from the other side of the writing desk. There must be some dose of his wife in this book and her position as the right-hand of one of the most famous authors of our time. Or maybe it’s because this book lives in the mind instead of in the “real world.”
If you want to read a book about an author’s mind at work–to experience some of the terror that must be deeply rooted in the mind of someone who can create something so wonderful, yet so horrific–study this one. Then ask yourself if those monsters don’t live in the heads of everyone, if they don’t peek out at us through reflections in windows, at dusk or in the deepest hours of the night. When we do catch a glimpse of them, best cover those mirrors and write; write like the demons are after you themselves.
Orson Welles said it best before the radio play, “The Hitchhiker”: “We of Mercury reckon that a story doesn’t have to appeal to the heart, it can also appeal to the spine. Sometimes, you want your heart to be warm; sometimes you want your spine to tingle.”
I like a good spine tingler.
To that end, I have a list for you, dear readers, of some of my favourite stories for this time of year. The numbers do not indicate what I think is number 1, or reading order. They just happened to be arranged as such. So, here we go:
1) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
2) Selected Stories of Guy de Maupassant
3) Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James
4) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, BUT you should find the ones with artwork by Stephen Gammell. The newer artist is good, but you won’t get the full effect!
5) The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
6) Anything by Poe (I just couldn’t narrow it down!)
Now, these stories above are fairly tame. This next section is only for those not faint of heart. If you read them and have to sleep with the light on, you have only yourselves to blame.
1) Volumes 1-3 of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood
2) The Bridge by John Skipp and Craig Spector
3) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4) The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (This is the novella the film Hellraiser sprang from, which is a very good film I highly recommend.)
5) Anything by H. P. Lovecraft (See number #6, in the list above!)
Happy reading, and Happy Halloween!
From comedy, straight to horror . . .
H.P. Lovecraft first published his short story, ‘The Shunned House’, in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales. It’s based on an actual house that still stands to this day. You can download the story in its entirety at The Project Gutenberg.
I. From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent. Sometimes it enters directly into the composition of the events, while sometimes it relates only to their fortuitous position among persons and places. The latter sort is splendidly exemplified by a case in the ancient city of Providence, where in the late forties Edgar Allan Poe used to sojourn often during his unsuccessful wooing of the gifted poetess, Mrs. Whitman. Poe generally stopped at the Mansion House in Benefit Street—the renamed Golden Ball Inn whose roof has sheltered Washington, Jefferson, and Lafayette—and his favorite walk led northward along the same street to Mrs. Whitman’s home and the neighboring hillside churchyard of St. John’s, whose hidden expanse of Eighteenth Century gravestones had for him a peculiar fascination.
Now the irony is this. In this walk, so many times repeated, the world’s greatest master of the terrible and the bizarre was obliged to pass a particular house on the eastern side of the street; a dingy, antiquated structure perched on the abruptly rising side hill, with a great unkempt yard dating from a time when the region was partly open country. It does not appear that he ever wrote or spoke of it, nor is there any evidence that he even noticed it. And yet that house, to the two persons in possession of certain information, equals or outranks in horror the wildest fantasy of the genius who so often passed it unknowingly, and stands starkly leering as a symbol of all that is unutterably hideous.
The house was—and for that matter still is—of a kind to attract the attention of the curious. Originally a farm or semi-farm building, it followed the average New England colonial lines of the middle Eighteenth Century—the prosperous peaked-roof sort, with two stories and dormerless attic, and with the Georgian doorway and interior panelling dictated by the progress of taste at that time. It faced south, with one gable end buried to the lower windows in the eastward rising hill, and the other exposed to the foundations toward the street. Its construction, over a century and a half ago, had followed the grading and straightening of the road in that especial vicinity; for Benefit Street—at first called Back Street—was laid out as a lane winding amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut through the old family plots. Continue reading