Leaves are changing; pumpkins are sprouting fully formed on your neighbors' porches; and there's a sharp chill in the air. It's October. Time for Halloween. Time to curl up in a cozy chair with a mug of hot chocolate (mocha for you coffee addicts) and a good book. Do you have any favorite reads for the October season? I have several.
At the top of my list is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire tale Carmilla. Published in 1871-72—twenty-six years before Dracula—Le Fanu's novella tells the story of Laura and her father, English expatriates living in Styria, and their dealings with a strange visitor, a beautiful young woman named Carmilla. Laura documents Carmilla's strange habits. Their guest rises very late, doesn't eat much, and suffers from a perpetual langour. Carmilla also has a fixation on Laura, who is simultaneously repelled and attracted to Carmilla. Many young women among the local peasantry are succumbing to a mysterious illness that visits them in the night. You can find the text for Carmilla in Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly. There's an excellent audio version read by Elizabeth Klett on LibriVox.
If Carmilla doesn't help you sleep soundly or ghosts and demons are more your thing, check out the stories of M. R. James. A medievalist scholar and university administrator, James penned several volumes of ghost stories and is credited with redefining the ghost story for the twentieth century. As you might expect, his antiquarian interests feature prominently in his stories. There's lots of digging around in dusty old manuscripts and visiting crumbling old buildings where his protagonists unearth evils that should have been left alone. A wonderfully creepy atmosphere pervades James's stories. Three of my favorites are Count Magnus, Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book, and The Ash-tree. If you can't get enough of James after reading the stories, check out A Podcast to the Curious.
Finally, we come to Roger Zellazny's brilliant novel A Night in the Lonsesome October. Zellazny combines many of the tropes of horror and Victorian detective fiction into a charming tale with a Lovecraftian twist. We meet the Count, a werewolf, Doctor Frankenstein, a mad monk, a witch who flies about on a broom, and the great detective. Zellazny tells his story from the perspective of the animal familiars of the players in this Lovecraftian game of openers and closers. The protagonist is Snuff, who is a watchdog for Jack—yes, that Jack—who oddly enough is one of the heroes. There's a chapter for each day of the month. You can find a wonderful audio version of the book here on YouTube.
Thanks to Tyrean for letting me borrow her blog space for the day. Happy reading, everyone.
Jeff Chapman is the author of Last Request: A Victorian Gothic and the upcoming Give Me Your Teeth: A Fae Tale. He writes software by day and speculative fiction when he should be sleeping. His tales range from fantasy to horror and they don’t all end badly. He lives with his wife, children, and cats in a house with more books than bookshelf space. You can find him musing about words and fiction at jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com.
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