The Perfect Halloween Book Quiz

There’s nothing I love more on Halloween than to curl up with a good book, a blanket, and something warm to drink. Well, actually, I love that combo everyday. Halloween is no exception of course. The only difference on this upcoming holiday is that I’ll be looking for something scary to read, some good classic horror. Maybe you guys are too? Well, I’ve got good news. I’m here to help everyone find there perfect Halloween read.

What book could actually recommend to everyone though? I know so many good horror reads. I couldn’t possibly pick just one to recommend. I spent all month writing horror-themed posts and still, I have way too many good horror books left to recommend. Too many, that is, unless I create a fun Halloween quiz. That’s right, answer this handful of questions and find out which book is the perfect read for you this Halloween!

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1.Pick the scariest thing.

a. Plagues

b. Sexually Independent Women

c. Science

d. Ghosts

 

2. What kind of characters would you like?

a. A large, varied cast.

b. One group of friends.

c. One brilliant but troubled mind and an angry mob

d. An odd group of strangers thrown together by circumstance.

 

3. How would you feel about sexuality in your story?

a. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Death is coming for us all.

b. Of course! Whats more horrific than open sexual expression?

c. The title character is just too ugly for bumping uglies, and also basic social acceptance.

d. Maybe some hints, but we need the protagonist to feel as lonely and alienated as possible.

 

4. How old-school do you like your horror?

a. Ew, not at all. Modernity all the way.

b. So old-school and Victorian your eyeballs will bleed.

c. Classical but forward looking.

d. Modern values, but an old-school and decrepit atmosphere, for the chills.

 

5.  What’s the scariest setting?

a. The whole world’s a stage, and it’s covered in blood and freaking me the heck out.

b. London, but with more cobblestones and gas lanterns.

c. A laboratory designed for purposes bizarre and impossible.

d. An isolated old mansion.

 

6. Do you want your book to have a movie adaptation?

a. Movies only ever utterly ruin a story. I don’t even want to look at my book’s movie.

b. Yes, the more the merrier. Sequels, spin-offs, all of that. More I say, more!

c. Yeah, I agree with b. Is there a way we could get a breakfast cereal too?

d. Sure, make a few if you like. The original film will always be the best and most faithful to the book though.

 

7. Do you want your story to have a happy ending?

a. Yeah, something really uplifting about the power of the human spirit.

b. Of course. Everyone’s finally safe from foreigners and overt sexuality!

c. No. Make it super tragic and moody.

d. No, especially not for the main character, and let’s keep it eerily ambiguous too.

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Results:

Mostly A’s: World War Z by Max Brooks.

This book is probably shelved under science fiction at your local bookstore, but it’s about a world-wide zombie pandemic, so it’s freaking terrifying. Pay absolutely no attention to the epileptic fit inducing film with Brad Pitt. Brooks truly excels at world building, giving the whole history of the incident a realistic and fully realized feeling. He’s also great at writing terrifying scenes of zombie murder, of course. It’s a cutting edge, modern and fascinating take on humans facing their doom on an incredibly wide scale.

Mostly B’s: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Ready to read the original literary vampire story? Well then go get yourself “The Vampyre” by Lord Byron and John Polidori, or perhaps “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu. Yeah, technically there are a few literary stories that predate Dracula, and of course there’s the many ancient folk tales that inspired Stoker. This is the most famous though, depicted as grand-daddy of all vampire stuff from here on out. It’s deliciously Victorian, and as such, it makes sure that we know the “new women” going around wearing bloomers and riding bicycles are every bit as terrifying as undead, blood sucking demons. Heck, they are undead blood sucking demons, especially the ones that show you their ankles like strumpets.

Okay, so some of the novel’s outdated sexual mores really rub me the wrong way, but it is definitely a scary book, whether you have fragile Victorian sensibilities or not.

Mostly C’s: Frankenstein or a Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

This is a Victorian horror classic that looks forward, in that it technically creates the Science Fiction genre. As much as this is typically considered a horror novel, and a very gothic one too, the horrors in this book are all brought about by science, and one man’s intense fear of death and pathological need to create something that laughs in the face of it. It’s a masterpiece of both sci-fi and horror, and Shelley wrote and published it while she was still younger than me, which makes me insanely jealous until I remember that a huge inspiration for the story was her recent miscarriage, and then I feel like a jerk.

Mostly D’s: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

There are plenty of haunted house stories, but this is definitely a definitive piece of that genre. A bunch of strangers meet up in an old mansion to prove whether or not it’s truly haunted. Jackson adds an excellently executed psychological layer to the horror, keeping you constantly guessing which one you should be more scared, the house and its ghosts or the protagonist and her ghosts. It has definitely shaped the haunted house story concept in a big way.

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These are some of the best books you could find yourself reading this Halloween, so don’t limit yourself to one if you don’t want to. They all have something great to offer. Try them all if you can, or if you dare! Ooooooooooooooo. Spooky. Happy Halloween!

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More Classic Halloween Monsters?

This time of year, we see the same famous monsters marched out every Halloween. Witches, Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts, Frankenstein, a Mummy if someone’s feeling “ethnic” and only has toilet paper for a costume. They’re mascots of the holidays, go-to classic costumes, an important holiday staple. For me, they’re also pretty stale. We’ve seen them all before. We need new blood, so to speak, this holiday season. I think there’s a pretty easy solution here. You might’ve noticed that some of these classic monsters have their origins in literature. Almost every monster comes from some type of story. Mary Shelley had to stay at a laudanum fueled sleep over with Byron and friends after recently losing a child in a miscarriage and she wrote Frankenstein. Some villager heard tell of a woman that showed signs of having an opinion and being mildly independent and bam–stories of witches soon emerged. Monsters come from stories.

I’ve found a number of stories with brilliantly crafted monsters and picked a few to present as potential new monster mainstays of Halloween.

Cthulhu- So I’ve already admitted to reading quite a bit of Lovecraft. I almost got in an argument with myself whether I should just say Cthulhu here or the Elder Gods at large, or perhaps Azathoth or a Shoggoth. Then I decided not to be even more of an epic nerd than I’ve already revealed myself to be and just pick the most popular one, Cthulhu. He’s a big ole nasty Elder God that has wings and an Octopus head and a fishy body, because we know Lovecraft and his crippling fear of fishy stuff from one of my previous posts. With his monsters, you can actually kind of see where he was coming from with this whole “evil fish. eeeevil fish!” business.

The only barrier would be Cthulhu’s size. This guy is supposed to be an absolute behemoth, a giant monster that could destroy ships just by rising above the water or sinking back into the abyss. He’d have a hard time fitting in banners and photo ops with the other classic monsters, whom are typically human shaped and sized. I know about being the freakishly tall kid in the back of the picture. It gets awkward. Poor Cthulhu isn’t evil, he’s just tired of his head getting cut off in all the group photos. Just take a wider shot, you guys. He’s already self-conscious enough about his looks.

Dementors– Fantasy has a lot of creatures that could easily cross over into the horror genres. Lot’s of them, like dragons, sea monsters, cyclopses (cyclopsi? cyclops?) and the like are classics from old legends. I felt I had to go with a more original creature from a series I loved. Looking at Harry Potter monsters,  I almost went with the Boggart, but since it can turn into whatever terrifies you the most, that seemed like cheating, not to mention really difficult to turn into a costume. The Dementor already has a great Halloween look, and that whole soul-sucking thing going on. It’s the whole package, monster-wise. The only thing that makes me think this one might not be the perfect Halloween monster is what’s next on my little monster ballot.

Pennywise the Clown/ Creepy Clowns-Okay, so it seems like reality is already intent on making this one happen, so I probably don’t need to campaign for it very hard. The story of Pennywise the clown from Stephen King’s It is actually kind of convoluted, and not that important. Turns out you need next to nothing to make clowns terrifying. Just give them social media accounts and they’ll start sending out death threats like it’s nobody’s business. O.G. creepy clown Pennywise was actually a shape-shifting demon. In the book it takes a few more eerie forms besides Pennywise, but people realized the scariest one was the clown and so made that the focus of the on-screen adaptation, in a rare instance of Hollywood people actually making a sound decision in adapting a book to a film.

Clowns would be a perfect addition to the classic Halloween monster pantheon. They’ve got public support right now, in that everyone is more terrified of them than ever before, and we’ve got loads of old Bozo the Clown merchandise laying around from when people were idiots thought these guys were funny and endearing. It’s probably all creepily dusty and deteriorating by now, the perfect ambiance for a new Halloween monster.

The Scariest Story I Ever Read

Alright. the month of Spook-tober is a month to confront your fears. I’m about to tell you guys about the scariest story I’ve ever read in my whole life, a tale that I almost wonder if I ever should’ve read in the first place. And now here I am, ready to share it with all of you. I hope you’re ready too.

What makes truly gripping, mentally scarring horror? Well, half of it is, I think, your own personal state of mind. When you read it, what kind of place your are in and where you are in your life, these factors have a heavy say in whether or not you find something just scary or bone-deep terrifying. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same reaction to this tale now as I did when it was first told to me. At that time, though, and being the person I was, this story came off like the most horrifying thing that could ever exist.

I’m not sure it’s too widely known. It’s writer was, and the collection it was printed in definitely held other stories that were considered classics. This one story, though, holds a deeper place in my psyche than any of those other works, a dubious honor it worked very hard to earn.

I am talking, of course, about Dr. Seuss’s “What Was I Scared Off?” which was better known in my family as the “Pale Green Pants” story. In it, some teddy bear-esque Dr. Seuss creature is stalked by a pair of green pants just empty and floating there. They follow this little guy all over. He sees the pants in a whole bunch of different places, many of them very isolated spots, and  each time the little teddy bear guy sees them, freaks out, and runs away. It’s only at the very end that he sees the pants are actually scared too and they laugh it all off and become best friends. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover kids! A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met, and other heartwarming lessons like that.

Except no, I never took any of that “heartwarming” crap at the end seriously. How could I? I mean, whimsically imagined creatures are one thing, but a floating pair of pants that just happens to show up in the darkest, eeriest, and creepiest landscapes I’ve ever seen in a Dr. Seuss story? Nuh-uh. Nope. Not having that. It’s not like they’re just showing up in one neighborhood or area. They show up in some random forest, a random town, a random lake, wildly different places. Even if we are to believe that these pants are just some innocent, non-demonic, silly storybook character, it’s still pretty hard to really tell whether a pair of pants are just chilling out and minding their own business, or if they are eerily watching you, demonic serial-killer style. They had no face guys, no eyes. Nothing except the void. For all we know, we cut the story off not at the happy ending, but right before the furry guy realizes the pants were creepy stalkers and befriending him was only phase two in a process that would eventually lead to the pants eating him or sending him to the Shadow Dimension.

My imagination just ran with that story, and probably not the way Dr. Seuss had intended it to, unless he was more messed up than I ever thought. The worst part is my parents read that story to my sister and I several times, because it was in the same book as that story about the Sneetches and the woman who named all her kids Dave, really cute stuff. Adults just don’t have a very good gauge for what could actually scar a child for life and what’s kooky fun when it comes from a source they trust and is smushed between actual harmless and kooky fun. However, I don’t really  blame my parents for this..not anymore… and not too much. I’m a stronger person now, stronger for having to deal with the horror of the “pale green pants with nobody inside ’em!”

Better Know a Crazy Writer: H.P. Lovecraft

I’ve decided to start up a new special on this blog. Through my infatuation with books, I’ve met many strange and unusual artists. I’d like to highlight how truly crazy literary giants can be and show that pretty much any weirdo can become a great artist if they put their mind to it. For the start of this series, and the start of October as well, I’ve decided there’s no better figure to get to know than cosmic horror creator H.P. Lovecraft.

howard_phillips_lovecraft_in_1915

H.P. Lovecraft, weirdo.

Turns out the guy who created Cthulhu, the gigantic winged demon octopus god sleeping beneath the ocean, had a pretty strange life, punctuated by tragedy. His father died in an asylum when H.P. was only three years old, and so lil’ Lovecraft was raised by his mother and a number of other relatives looking to help out as well. When his grandfather died, the estate was poorly handled and as a result some serious financial problems would follow the family for the rest of their lives. That youthful trauma has got to equal at least one and a half Batman origin stories. Lovecraft’s got way more hang-ups than a guy who dresses up like a bat to fight crime, though, as you’ll soon see.

To start with, it’s a common bit of trivia that many of the monsters Lovecraft imagined came from his own nightmares. He very definitely suffered from sleep paralysis, a disorder that plagues people with horribly vivid hallucinations and nightmares. It’s a bit encouraging, really, to hear of an artist turning such a personal torment into the stuff of critically acclaimed legends, but it wasn’t that simple, not by a long shot.

Lovecraft wrote stories for pulp magazines. At the time, that’s all sci-fi and/or fantasy tales could ever be. Many writers feel Lovecraft’s work was a first step in getting science fiction writing recognized as a serious art, but Lovecraft probably didn’t think so. He was known for despising much of his own published work,  and much of the stuff he wrote, including his only novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, was never published because of his refusal to promote his own art. This seriously hampered his well being, as even when he had to find work, his inexperience in anything other than a former well-to-do upper-class recluse trained in thinking most all work was below his ilk meant his stories were the only thing that could’ve supported him. Whether he was naturally a fearful recluse or still had some social hangups about how ready he should be to so gauchely promote himself as a pulp fiction writer in the public eye remains open for debate. Lovecraft certainly let much of his life be run by fear. While you could argue that this is what made him such an effective writer, you could also argue that you don’t have to be absolutely terrified of seafood and unusually racist to be a successful horror writer. Yup, here we go. Time to tackle the serious stuff.

cthulhu_sketch_by_lovecraft

Lovecraft’s own depiction of Cthulhu, his most famous creation and anti-seafood campaign mascot ever.

Okay, can we start with something simple? Lovecraft really did refuse to eat seafood and was absolutely terrified of anything from the ocean. Keep in mind, he spent his entire life on the east coast, so that was probably a bigger obstacle than if he lived somewhere in Oklahoma. He felt the denizens of the ocean heralded something completely foreign and therefore terrifying, a degradation of everything the enlightened human race has tried to build. A bit extreme, you say? Well most people ignore this quirk as it’s soon overshadowed by the fact that he felt exactly the same about minorities and immigrants, especially those with a skin tone darker than congealed mayonnaise.

Yeah, this was the early 20th century, when even Italians weren’t considered fully human yet. Lovecraft, though, was still on the extreme side, even for his time. For reference, I’ll try to point only to the most succinct examples of his prejudice, omitting some words that I just won’t write on this blog. “The Horror at Red Hook” is one short story of his that perfectly illustrates his, “Them immigrants n’ colored folks, they’re savages in league with the evil sea gods” thesis that permeated much of his work. In the first Lovecraft story I ever read, “The Rats in the Walls” I was distracted from the mounting suspense Lovecraft was trying to build by a cat whose name was literally just the N-word. “Hey N-word cat, did you hear any haunting sounds from within the walls? Yes? Where N-word cat, where?” For me, this ridiculously casual racism was a way more frightening condemnation of the past than any of the freaky monsters the story’s protagonist dug out of his family’s basement.

I shall also point to a short poem Lovecraft wrote that most succinctly represents how freaking seriously he took his racist attitudes. It’s called “On the Creation of N——,” and very conveniently lays out just how little he thought of the African American population. I suppose Lovecraft felt better believing there was a whole population inferior to him. People could mock him for his weirdly intense phobias, his failure as a writer and lack of professional motivation and experience but he could say, “Yeah, well I’m not an immigrant so actually I’m better than all of you,” and continue to slowly die of malnutrition from only eating baked beans without any feelings of inferiority, or irony.

There you go. I wanted to give you a crazy writer and I delivered. It makes me feel better that today I can present Lovecraft’s intense nativism as a symptom of his mental instability and pretty much everyone would agree with me. Hopefully, whether or not you enjoy Lovecraft’s work, I’ve helped you gain a more in depth knowledge of his strange mind.

Romeo and/or Juliet: Playing With a Classic

As a book nerd, I’m always look for fun ways to re-experience classics I’ve already read. Just this week I was lucky enough to find something really fun, fun and Shakespearean! I picked up two very exciting books, both by Ryan North and with the same concept; choose your own adventure Shakespeare plays.

Romeo and/ or Juliet tells the famous love story we think we know, but this time you get to choose the outcome of the play, meaning that a great deal of these love stories are actually nothing like Shakespeare’s work. What they are is hilarious. North plays around with the characters irreverently, making this book a fun way to make even reluctant high school English students connect with the material. You’d probably have to warn them first that they shouldn’t use this book when writing their essay though. You’re results may vary, but it’s actually very unlikely you’ll get the same ending, much less the play’s actual ending more than once.

I haven’t read all the endings in this book, not by a long shot, but in one Juliet marries Orlando from As You Like It somehow and in another one she ends up becoming a pirate and working as a personal trainer in a gym. When I played as Romeo, he got caught snooping around Castle Capulet and then murdered, but then I got better at playing a dude and Romeo and Juliet totally ended up getting married and living happily ever after. Sorry, I’m not sure what the spoiler rules are for choose your own adventure books, but I may have broke them a little bit just now. Technically, I only spoiled a few of the many endings you could find though. I just needed to show you that North takes the story in new directions that are extremely fun, but very confusing if you tried to incorporate them into an English essay. That detail about Juliet being obsessed with body building is a 21st century addition, not something you missed in the Sparknotes. I felt that almost all North’s choices and additions were very welcome.

Romeo and/or Juliet is the newest of Ryan’s work, but the story of R and/or/ J’s predecessor is actually very interesting. To Be or Not To Be was originally a Kickstarter project, pitched as a choose your own adventure version of Hamlet. He presented a demo online and his work was accompanied by many artists who wanted to get in on the project by adding fun illustrations. Two of my favorite nerdy artists, Kate Beaton and Emily Carroll, contribute to the both book’s hilarious artwork. Because of all the artists backing it and the generally awesome idea, To Be or Not To Be was extremely well funded, hence North being able to release this next adventure.

I think the popularity of these books show that classics benefit from taking time to not take themselves so seriously. Sometimes a good sense of humor offers the best insight, as North proves by offering numerous pointed jabs at the ridiculous intended message of each work he plays with. My favorite so far from Romeo and/or Juliet goes like this:

“[…]you begin to realize that relationships can be a success even if they end in a breakup. They have to, right? Otherwise every relationship you ever have ever will be a failure unless one or both of you DIES, and that’s baloney. That’s straight up baloney sandwiches.”

-Ryan North, Shakespearean Critic

I didn’t think one of the most emotionally mature analyses I’ve ever read of this play would contain the words “baloney sandwiches” in it, but I was wrong. While a bunch of stuffy old academics where busy glorifying the rushed romance of two underage teenagers ending in a double suicide, North was busy asking his friends to draw Juliet as a pirate or Romeo as a house maid and he still made a deliciously spot-on baloney sandwich of literary commentary.

This just demonstrates why I love playing around with classics. “Great” works only really grow when you aren’t afraid to play around with them, experiment, and have fun. If you excuse me now, I’m going to see if there’s a way I could make Hamlet be less of a whiny  emo boy.