Let yourself be scared by these scary stories recommended by Petra Mayer of NPR Books


It’s the time of year when many of us are looking for a thrill – a good scary story right in time for Halloween.

Petra Mayer of NPR Books shares some favorites:

“Scary stories that can be told in the dark” by Alvin Schwartz

Continuing the theme of the things that terrified readers of a certain age as children, this is the all time classic. The stories themselves are pretty standard bonfire horrors and urban legends (“High Beams”, anyone?), But – and this is crucial – get either the original edition or the 2017 reprint because what actually makes “Scary Stories” creepy is The Absolute Nightmare Fuel Illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

They’re blotchy, scratchy in black and white, and they look rotten and rotten and as horrific as any illustration you’ve ever seen. “Scary Stories” was reprinted in 2011 with cute illustrations by Brett Helquist, best known for the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and it was such an outcry that the publisher brought the Gammell illustrations back for the reprint.

“Through the forest” by Emily Carroll

This is an absolutely beautiful book that will send chills down your spine. Emily Carroll has done much of the art in a very limited palette – black and white, blood red and ice blue, sometimes a little yellow just to shock, and the visual elements alone will make you feel like you’re trapped in a small house in the forest, and something terrible is either right outside the door or maybe even in your house.

The stories are original, but they have that creaky, mysterious feel that stories have when passed down for generations, and you suspect they actually happened to someone hundreds of years ago. Sad, singing ghosts in the walls, a man who murders his brother just to reappear, everyone smiling terribly and happy – these stories read like a creepy old murder ballad.

“The Monkey’s Paw and Other Mystery and Macabre Stories” by WW Jacobs

Many people are familiar with the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” although they may not know they know it. It’s a common fairy tale: three wishes went wrong. Just instead of something more harmless, like sticking a sausage to your nose – which happens in some versions – Jacobs gives us a gnarled mummified monkey paw and the wishes it fulfills are downright murderous.

The story begins with an old couple taking a friend over for dinner; he gives them the paw and warns them that the consequences of use will be dire – so the old man wants the most innocuous thing he can think of, a little money to pay off the last mortgage. And, of course, as payment for the death of her son, who died in a gruesome accident at work. And from then on, it only gets worse. So this is “The Monkey’s Paw” – but Jacobs was actually a prolific scary story writer, and there’s a lot more to discover in this book. Not super scary, but good chilling fun.

“Uzumaki” by Junji Ito

Manga are by and large Japanese comics aimed at all ages and mostly printed in black and white. Junji Ito is a master of horror manga, and “Uzumaki” is one of his most famous series (it was also made into a cartoon). It’s about a fictional Japanese city where everyone is under a strange curse that includes spirals; the city dwellers become obsessed with spirals and are afraid, they see spirals everywhere, and the spirals are so powerful that they can even kill people and cause typhoons and earthquakes.

Eventually, all of the city’s structures merge into a terrible, huge spiral of buildings. A girl and her boyfriend are trying to find the girl’s parents who fell victim to the spiral, and through them you will learn what is really going on. It’s a brilliant idea for a visual medium! Plus, it will cross your eyes and freak out when you see a spiral in the real world. This could actually be the scariest book on the list.

“The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle

It’s hard to talk about horror without talking about HP Lovecraft, who is considered to be one of the fundamental writers of modern horror, but you can’t talk about Lovecraft without talking about what a terrible racist he was. What scared Lovecraft most were not monsters from beyond the stars, but Browns, women, and Jews. So in the past few years we’ve seen a wave of writers taking on the Lovecraft legacy, and Victor LaValle is one of them. he grew up with Lovecraft but only realized how racist the guy was until he got much older.

One of Lovecraft’s most xenophobic stories is called “The Horror of Red Hook” – and it is about a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was home to many immigrants at the time he wrote, and in history he calls them “the dregs of humanity.” “LaValle takes this story and turns it around, plays it in Harlem in 1924 and turns the hero into a young hustler who sometimes plays guitar and mostly just wants to take care of his sick father – and then he gets involved in seriously creepy things with magic Book and a white occultist, this is great read, alive and scary and full of blues music and a deep love for New York.

Looking for more horror reads? Take a look at this in 2018 NPR reader survey.


About Mike Crayton

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