Who doesn’t love a good scary story, something to send a chill across your skin in the middle of summer’s heat? And this year, we’re celebrating the 200th birthday of one of the most famous scary stories of all time: Frankenstein — so a few months ago, we asked you to nominate your favorite horror novels and stories, and then we assembled an expert panel of judges to take your 7000 nominations and turn them into a final, curated list of 100 spine-tingling favorites for all kinds of readers. Want to scar your children for life? We can help. Want to dig into the dark, slimy roots of horror? We’ve got you covered.
As with our other reader polls, this isn’t meant to be a ranked or comprehensive list — there are a few books you won’t see on it despite their popularity — some didn’t stand the test of time, some just didn’t catch our readers’ interest, and in some cases our judges would prefer you see the movie instead. (So no Jaws, sorry.) And there are a few titles that aren’t strictly horror, but at least have a toe in the dark water, or are commenting about horrific things, so our judges felt they deserved a place on the list.
One thing you won’t see on the list is any work from this year’s judges, Stephen Graham Jones, Ruthanna Emrys, Tananarive Due and Grady Hendrix. Readers did nominate them, but the judges felt uncomfortable debating the inclusion of their own work — so it’s up to me to tell you to find and read their excellent books! I personally, as a gigantic horror wuss, owe a debt of gratitude to this year’s judges, particularly Hendrix, for their help writing summaries for all the list entries. I’d be hiding under the bed shuddering without their help.
And a word about Stephen King: Out of almost 7000 nominations you sent in, 1023 of them were for the modern master of horror. That’s a lot of Stephen King! In past years, we’ve resisted giving authors more than one slot on the list (though we made an exception for Nora Roberts during the 2015 romance poll — and she’s basically the Stephen King of romance.) In the end, we decided that since so much classic horror is in short story format, we would allow authors one novel and one short story if necessary.
Blood Roots: Foundational Horror
by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Shelley’s tragically misunderstood monster turns 200 this year, and he is still lurching along, one of the most influential creations ever committed to the page. While reviewers at the time condemned Shelley’s “diseased and wandering imagination,” her vision of human knowledge and technological advancement outstripping humanity’s ability (or inclination) to use that knowledge responsibly still resonates today.
by Bram Stoker
OK, it wasn’t the first vampire novel, but Bram Stoker’s most famous work was certainly the first book to pull together all the qualities we now associate with vampires — except the sparkling: Transylvanian, aristocratic, dangerous to young women, so, basically Bela Lugosi (who was actually Hungarian, but oh, that accent). Much like its monstrous companion Frankenstein, Dracula wasn’t initially regarded as a classic — but once the film adaptations began to appear, it quickly achieved legendary status.
‘Young Goodman Brown’
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story is the ur-American horror tale. Published in 1835, it’s short and savage: A young husband travels through the dark woods and stumbles upon a satanic orgy. Everyone he knows is there, including his lovely young wife. Then he wakes up in his own bed. Was it all a dream, or do his neighbors lead secret double lives? Is his wife a blushing bride or an emissary from hell? Modern America still lives in the shadow of these implications.