Gather Around for Terrifying Ghost Stories

Posted by Cybil on October 16, 2017
Author Colin Dickey's Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, takes readers to some of the country's most haunted venues. Here he tells us how he got hooked on a good ghost story, and shares some of his favorite spine-tingling tales.

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I was nine or ten years old, I think, at summer camp, the first time a ghost story really scared the beejezus out of me. We were about to go to sleep, camping out under the stars without tents, and we had begged our counselor for a ghost story.

"We're not allowed to tell ghost stories," he told us. "But we are allowed to tell true stories."

And then he proceeded to terrify us.

I've tried to tell that story a few times since, and no one is much impressed by it; it's pretty hokey, and whenever I confess how scared I was of it the first time I heard it, my friends usually give me a pitying look. But, then, none of them was nine years old under the stars that night; that story made the dome of black sky above us seem so vast, so empty and scary—and also frighteningly close.

The ghost stories I love are those that open up the world into that terrifying, vast and vertiginous space—a place both unsettling and wondrous. In some cases, that opening happens in the realm of psychology: when you momentarily glimpse how strange and unknowable the human mind can be. Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, for example, or Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now.

And then there are those ghost stories in which that opening happens physically: When a space you think you know opens up dramatically—literally, in the case of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves with its ever-expanding suburban house—as well as more subtle forms, as with Wilkie Collins' classic The Haunted Hotel. Or take Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, which is either a travel memoir masquerading as a ghost story or a ghost story masquerading as a travel memoir—either way, it's about a distant, unknowable world brought near and strange.

Of course ghost stories are often as not about the past, too, and a good ghost will bring back a buried history you've thought was long settled and forgotten—as with Hari Kunzru's recent White Tears. Kunzru takes something as seemingly innocuous as record collecting, the haunting quality of an old blues 78, making that haunting quality literal as those voices from the past emerge into the present and press down upon the novel's hapless protagonists.

Every so often you find a novel that intersects all of these themes—something like Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony. It's not a ghost story in the traditional sense, perhaps, but Silko's story of a Laguna-Pueblo vet struggling with PTSD after World War II deals with how the past and its dark secrets can haunt both the human mind and the land itself. It's got all the ingredients of a great ghost story: A tale that enlarges your understanding of the world even as it makes it strange.

The Turn of the Screw
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Don't Look Now and Other Stories
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The Mysteries of Udolpho
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House of Leaves
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The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice
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White Tears
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See the complete coverage of Horror Week including:
Top 50 Favorite Horror Novels on Goodreads
The Campy, Bizarre World of Paperback Horror
Supernatural Tales and Spooky Folklore

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Christiansen You may also want to read Lost Souls

message 2: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Christiansen Breslin wrote: "So it's half-fictional, half not; interesting."

Yes it is, and thank you for looking it up. I tried to write it in a Stephen King style. I hope you enjoy.

message 3: by David (new)

David What a weak little list this is.

message 4: by Marlo (new)

Marlo Berliner You may want to add a list of realistic ghost stories, and add THE GHOST CHRONICLES.
The Ghost Chronicles

message 5: by Yelena (new)

Yelena David wrote: "What a weak little list this is."

I totally agree.

message 6: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Wow, thank you for your work! I love ghost stories!

message 7: by Dave (new)

Dave Collins Yelena wrote: "David wrote: "What a weak little list this is."

I totally agree."

I also agree in the strongest sense.
Some books of ghost stories people may enjoy:
- The Power of Darkness by E. Nesbit
- Terror By Night: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce
- In Ghostly Company by Amyas Northcote
- Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M. R. James
- Ghost Stories by M. R. James
- Tales of Twilight and the Unseen - Arthur Conan Doyle

message 8: by Ginger (new)

Ginger Dave wrote: "Yelena wrote: "David wrote: "What a weak little list this is."

I totally agree."

I also agree in the strongest sense.
Some books of ghost stories people may enjoy:
- The Power of Darkness by E. ..."

Thanks for the additional titles :)

message 9: by Janice (new)

Janice I skip those, as I don't do gruesome and/or scary.

message 10: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten You missed Ghost Story by Peter Straub. Scariest book I've ever read. I avoided our basement for weeks afterwards!

Bookishnymph *needs hea* I love The Mysteries of Udolpho. I've read about two or three times.

message 12: by Kerry (new)

Kerry Yelena wrote: "David wrote: "What a weak little list this is."

I totally agree."

Read the intro which refers to "some of his favorite spine-tingling tales". It's not intended to be an exhaustive list, in other words.

message 13: by Kerry (new)

Kerry All of these titles look great - thanks for your suggestions!

message 14: by Michael (new)

Michael Dodsworth Some others for you to consider:
-The Collected Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood
-Collected Strange Tales vols. 1&2 - Robert Aickman
-Visible and Invisible - E. F. Benson
-The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
-Absolutely essential (IMO!): 4 Vols: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, More Ghost Stories, A Warning to the Curious, & A Thin Ghost - M R James
-The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
-In Ghostly Company - Amyas Northcote
-Between the Minute and the Hour: Stories of the Unseen - A M Burrage
Hope this helps!

message 15: by Blue (new)

Blue Thank you.

¸.•*¨*•Gina *A Bookwyrm in Belgium*•*¨*•.¸ One of the scariest Ghost stories I have read was definitely 'Heart-Shaped Box' by Joe Hill, and I don't scare easily!

message 17: by Marlo (new)

Marlo Berliner Gina wrote: "One of the scariest Ghost stories I have read was definitely 'Heart-Shaped Box' by Joe Hill, and I don't scare easily!"

Agreed! It was so scary that I guessed right away that he was Stephen King's son! Honestly, I had no idea that was the case until I looked him up on the internet and by then his secret was already out. I couldn't believe I had actually guessed it from his writing! But it was so much like his dad's it was unmistakable. I enjoy scary ghost stories, but I also love the realistic not-scary ones too...which is why I wrote one :)

message 18: by Bettina (last edited Oct 21, 2017 02:43PM) (new)

Bettina Although I should no longer be surprised when lists of 'greatest ghost stories' don't include Michelle Paver's bone-chilling Dark Matter, I always am.

message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael Dodsworth Quite right Bettina, I should have included it in my list. 'Dark Matter' is one of the best modern ghost stories. Great setting NW Iceland, I think and a chilling exploration of isolation. Echoes of Blackwood's 'The Wendigo' too. I have not yet read her 'Thin Air' but I will, soon.

message 20: by Butts (new)

Butts Carlton David wrote: "What a weak little list this is."

So add some of your own, otherwise you're just whining.

message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan My girlfriend presented this book for me on my last birthday that was 5 month ago, but I start to read it only right now, and my first impression that its really cool book. Why do I start read it only 5 month after? Thats all because of I am very busy person, and even dont have time for writing essay. Fortunately I know one very good service Eduzaurus that can help with it in the best way.

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