Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Books That Scared Us

Earlier this month I asked any visitors who felt brave enough to share the fiction that had scared them the worst. There were a few take-backs, but ultimately ten readers and writers were willing to share titles. The first two were William Shakespeare and Michael Crichton, which tickled me, and it got weirder from there. As promised, here are all the fit-to-print entries, including my own confession of the book that got me to try to hide under my bed as a kid.

Jai Joshi said:Macbeth scared me quite a bit actually. That bit where Lady Macbeth asks night to "pall in the dunnest smoke of hell" so heaven can't "peep through the blanket of the dark" to stop her. *shiver* When Macbeth keeps seeing the knife in front of him is creepy. And when Lady Macbeth can't get the blood off her hands it just brings up all this icky scary feeling inside me.

Danielle La Paglia said:
I didn't read a lot as a kid, but in high school and junior high I read a lot of Poe and even a little King, but neither ever gave me nightmares. A lot of movies have, but the first book that did was actually Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. There was something about being stalked through the jungle and then when they found out the T-Rex could swim, it was all down hill from there. As far as I can remember, there have only been two other books to ever give me nightmares and those two I read in the last three years.

Sarah Ann said:

Feast by Graham Masterton freaked me out and scared me the most. People chopping off their own body parts, then cooking them and eating them... That novel pops into my head frequently.

Jessica said:
I really like And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Both are wonderfully creepy. Lots of Michael Crichton for scary parts (Sphere, Congo, Jurassic Park). The basement scene in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The final story in Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. The one that used to give me nightmares as a child was Tailypo. My mother had to ban the librarian from letting me check it out every few weeks. And, of course, the Scary Stories trilogy for the pictures.

Erin Cole said:
This may sound weird, but the ending of Shirley Jackson's, "The Haunting of Hill House," freaked me out, one of those punch-like endings. More obvious though, was "The Relic," by Preston and Child and Dean Koontz's "Phantoms." The build-up in some of those scenes was intense.

The Elephant's Child couldn't help harkening back to television:
Books I could cope with. The early Dr Who with the Dalects terrified me. Exterminate. Now I think that expression has real charm. I read 'We have always lived in the Castle' recently. Not a comfortable read.

Vanessa Grasso said:
"Harold" from the Scary Stories trilogy scared the ever-loving bejesus out of me, and still does, if I think about it hard enough. The illustrations in those books were scary enough, but something about the way this scarecrow came to life slowly with nothing but hatred and malice inside of him... and then what he does to the farmers... ugh, I totally won't sleep tonight. THE WORST. [Also], Sphere by Michael Crichton actually freaked my shit out pretty badly, but I can't remember why (I think it may have been the jellyfish scene, actually). And the raptors in Jurassic Park (the book)... when they're besieging the compound towards the end of the book and EVERYONE is getting eaten... their intelligence... I dunno, that scene was about a thousand times scarier to me than the kitchen scene in the movie.

Sonia Lal said:
Brave New World was creepy, yeah. Very creepy.

Your host, John Wiswell, said:
Some Horror got to me at some points, but nothing so affected me as Gandalf's apparent death in Fellowship of the Ring. I was visiting my grandmother's house, and had the book out after bed time. Part was that I read it too young for my own safety, either in my early teens or before that. Part was that I'd never envisioned fiction ever killing the powerful, wise mentor like that. Obi Wan had died, but in a brave puff of Jedi smoke. Gandalf, who was essentially Merlin and every other wizard in history to me, was dragged into the deepest shadows of the world by a whip and the foulest monster Hell ever spat out. It was fear of the dark, fear of falling, fear of losing guidance, and breaking what I saw as symbols of safety and empowerment all in the same couple pages. I tried to hide under the bed, but the guest mattress at Grandma's was too low to the ground.

Last and most pressing is Katherine Hajer'a description of a comic to which she can't recall the title:
This is terrible, because I remember the story very vividly, but don't know the title or character names (never mind the author). Okay: I was about eight, and my dad would let me pick out a comic book to get if he was in the smoke shop getting cigarettes (they had an amazing, rotating rack of comic books near the counter. I became a Stan Lee fan in that shop. But I digress.).

I never followed series properly, just got whatever had the coolest cover that month. So I wound up with some stuff that would probably be very rare and esoteric if I had been allowed to keep any of it.

And there was this one: the heroine, the title character of the comic, was on this SF world that was sort of like Earth's Dark Ages, in that she was an outlaw and it was a dangerous, backwards place to live. So her and her band of outlaws are always on the move. Apparently she always had a different outfit every issue. In the one I had, she wore a skintight camo catsuit with only one sleeve and one leg (yeah, totally practical).

They came upon this castle run by a beautiful and autocratic queen who always wore a golden mask over half her face. They are welcomed, but in the course of the stay the heroine and the queen come into conflict... in the end the heroine throws the queen over a staircase or something, and the mask comes off...

The artwork of the queen's burned, destroyed face gave me nightmares for weeks, yet I couldn't stop looking at it. The story had built her up so credibly as this regal-yet-cruel character, and the anguish the injury must have caused her was so palpable for me. It was so, so haunting, and all the more horrifying to have all this sympathy for this not-so-nice dictator.

The following issue the heroine was wearing this pure white disco outfit (remember, outlaw on Dark Ages-ish science fiction world -- totally impractical). Even though it looked cool, I stuck to the X-Men or something, because I didn't want to get that freaked out again.

Sorry, wrote you a very long answer to a short question. Hope that's okay.

Wish I could find out what the comic was!

Do you recognize Katherine's comic? Or do you have a particular piece of fiction that got under your skin? Share with us in the comments!


  1. I have no idea what comic Katherine is talking about but it sounds fascinating. There's something about scarred villains that's always intriguing.


  2. Hmmm. And now I sound like a television addict. Not true. Sigh. But still am not haunted by books. Thankfully.

  3. Oh wow. Such responses. I never pictured as Fellowship of the Ring as scary before.

    And Katherine Hajer response - fantastic!!!

  4. I don't know what the comic is, but it sounds to me like the film Red Sonja! Minus the world-destroying orb thingie, but in almost every other detail, it sounds quite similar.


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