For all the non-English majors, you probably don’t have the time to look for new books to read all the time. You read the Sparknotes for every required reading assignment from middle to high school. The last book you read in your own time was probably Harry Potter. Now in college, maybe you find yourself literarily behind compared to your other peers.
Read on to learn about these 20 classic horror novels to help you catch up and spice things up.
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
As perhaps the oldest horror novel, Frankenstein is the perfect first book for your classic horror journey. Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a frame story, meaning that it contains “narratives within a narrative.” We begin with the narrative of Captain Walton, followed by the narrative of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, then come back to Frankenstein and Walton again. Take University of Florida freshman Luis Duterte’s word for it.
“At first, I thought it would just be a story about the monster, that green guy you always see in movies,” Duterte said. “But there’s this whole other side to it; you hear from a ship captain, the scientist, and even the creature itself as it learns to speak and join civilization. It’s completely not what I expected, but definitely worth the read.”
As Duterte mentioned, this story details far more than creating a monster. The themes of life, death and man battling against nature find themselves intricately wrapped in every page of this incredible story. Join Victory Frankenstein in his frightening journey of creation and destruction, of the intelligence turned into a disaster for everyone involved. After reading this, you surely won’t confuse Frankenstein for Frankenstein’s Monster any time soon.
2. Collected Works of Poe by Edgar Allen Poe
If you haven’t read Edgar Allen Poe in middle or high school, then start with one of his collections. Whether you prefer poetry or prose, Poe has a little bit of everything. From hidden treasures, masked parties ending in disaster or people are driven insane by the beating heart of the slain, Poe’s stories strike fear into the hearts of even the modern reader. If you find poetry more engaging, then feel free to peruse endearing poetry about love, fear and any manner of emotion. Regardless of your taste, Poe has something for you.
3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
One of the lesser-known horror stories, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde still packs quite a fright for anyone who leaves through its pages. If you enjoy brief novels, then this book may fit perfect for you. Even for a brief story, it contains no shortage of compelling plot points that keep you reeled in.
“I went into this novel knowing nothing and came out completely shocked. The progression and twists are terrifying and unique.” University of Florida junior Olivia Chapek said. “I remember reading this in ninth grade, thinking, ‘Wow, I know a lot of friends that are like this.’ Really makes me think of the term ‘two-faced’ in a different way.”
The story follows a lawyer in his investigations into his friend Dr. Jekyll, who has discovered a serum that allowed him to transform into an utterly carefree, evil and self-indulgent form: Mr. Hyde. Navigate the twists and the turns of this thrilling novel and watch the tragedy unfold right before your eyes.
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
With Frankenstein as the oldest, Bram Stoker’s Dracula finds a spot as the most famous classic horror novel. The sheer quantity of Dracula renditions, from 1958’s Dracula to Hotel Transylvania to Nosferatu, warrants it a place in the grand halls of classic horror novels. Stoker tells Dracula in an epistolary style; told from a variety of diary entries, notes and letters that come together to tell the story of Count Dracula and his castle in Transylvania. Replete with horror, blood and thrilling vampire hunts, you do not want to miss out on reading Dracula.
5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Often celebrated as the original ghost story, The Turn of the Screw follows an unnamed narrator on Christmas Eve who reads a manuscript recounting the story of his sisters’ late governess. Throughout the story, ghosts of the governess’ predecessors appear, causing great tumult for the children in the governess’ care. Recent analyses of this story suggest that the supernatural elements of the story were imagined by the governess. Now, you can read this frightening ghost story to form your own opinion.
6. The Color Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft
If you like reading a short story than a novel, nonetheless, The Color Out of Space finds a place as a terrifyingly unique classic. When a mysterious meteor strikes the Gardner family farm, scientists investigate the crash site only to find a foreign substance to any place on Earth. What happens afterward one can only describe as otherworldly.
“I absolutely love this story. It’s the perfect mix of science fiction and horror,” University of Florida senior Nicole Turner said. “I think I’ve read it over at least five times. It just pulls me in every time. Much as I don’t like Lovecraft as a person, his ability to tell a story is incredible.”
You should discover the story of the Gardner family and the meteor from a different world on your own. While not a particularly long story, Lovecraft’s style feels antiquated and verbose. Prepare yourself by keeping a dictionary beside you as you delve into this masterpiece of storytelling. A final warning – after reading this, beware of the open sky.
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
If you haven’t already read Lord of the Flies for English class, you should absolutely jump at the opportunity to read this book. In this novel, a plane crash strands a flight of boys on a desert island. As the boys keep struggling to develop a working plan for survival, personalities clash as separate groups form: The Hunters, led by Jack, and another group led by Ralph. Most people, though, remember this book with some disdain.
“I remember really hating this book when I first read it. I was forced to analyze it endlessly for class, and it took any real enjoyment out of it.” University of Florida freshman Siobhan McLaughlin said. “I re-read it again for a book club here, and I was able to enjoy it much more. Actually, getting to talk about it outside the classroom where I could talk about it freely, I started to really understand the book on a different level, but in my own way.”
For those who relish not having to take an English class for the rest of your life, do yourself a favor and re-read one of those classics you didn’t like. You might realize that what you hated might not have been the book, but the class surrounding it. Lord of the Flies, as a literary classic that delves into the darker nature of mankind, starts any list of horror stories off right.
8. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A recent Netflix adaptation put The Haunting of Hill House back into the limelight, and we are not complaining. This fantastic ghost story brings us into the world of a supernatural detective investigating Hill House, a mansion whose history rings with tragedy. In the process, he invites several people suspect to the paranormal for. As the old saying goes, seek and ye shall find. Throughout the story, the characters thrust themselves into the grips of a mansion possessed by spirits who, in the end, represent the emotional trauma endured by one of the protagonists. Read this excellent and thrilling horror novel to join the argument of whether the book or the show works better.
9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Perhaps best known for his sci-fi masterpiece Fahrenheit 451, people often forget that Bradbury wrote horror and dark fantasy. Something Wicked This Way Comes serves as a classic example of his distinctive style of horror from the 1950s, and it still affects modern horror archetypes. This story finds its central conflict in a traveling carnival attended by two teenage boys who discover, Mr. Dark, the terrifying leader of the carnival wields the power to fulfill secret desires at the expense of the life force of those he enslaves. Despite its dark outright appearance, this novel also represents a more optimistic time in America.
“Reading this, it really feels reflective of the time it was written,” University of Florida sophomore Mary Higgins said. “Between all the fear, you really get this sense of confidence toward the future that we just don’t see anymore. It feels equally refreshing but also frustrating when people try to apply that attitude to the state of the world now. It’s just of a different time.”
Regardless of its interpretations of the world at the time, this novel still serves as a masterclass in horror. Its profound exploration of fear and the ways to mitigate it, making this novel a classic that everyone should read. If not for the story, at least read it for the magical and poetic qualities that Bradbury imbibes into his prose.
10. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Rosemary’s Baby epitomizes ‘60s-era horror, selling the most copies for a horror novel in this decade. It also went on to inspire a “horror boom” for the decade to come, making a way for other writers to take center stage. Nonetheless, Rosemary’s Baby works as a fantastic novel. The story features Rosemary, a young woman who moved to New York with her husband. After becoming pregnant, she experiences an unusual pregnancy, which she undergoes intense pain and weight loss, much to the ignorance of those around her. Read this novel to find out what happens to Rosemary’s baby in this horrifying novel that will keep you at the edge of your seat.
11. Night-Side by Joyce Carol Oates
This collection of short stories focuses on the unconscious side of the mind, hence, the title night side. Each story explores the effect of the unconscious mind has on a character’s actions. At times, this leads to disastrous and horrifying consequences. While Oates was not initially a horror author, starting with this collection, she began to pursue horror-related themes with great interest.
“I love all of her stories,” University of Florida junior Emerson Liu said. “I started reading Oates for her characters, especially in stories like ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ Somehow, I ended up here, reading the horror she writes, and I’m not complaining.”
Oates provides no shortage of fantastic novels to read. If you enjoy these short stories, you might enjoy her longer works, such as Black Water and What I Lived For. Even if you only start and stop with this collection, Oates tells stories for every person. You only need to take the time to find the right one.
12. The Shining by Stephen King
The constraint of one book per author for this list would not exist if it had not been for Stephen King. A tour de force in the field of horror, King scares best in just his third and perhaps most famous novel, The Shining. This novel follows the Torrance family, and most particularly Jack Torrance, as they take the position of caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Danny, his son, has a magical power called “the shining” that forces the boy to confront the legacy of horrors that followed the hotel. A story that touches on family, alcoholism and isolation, any read-through of classic horror needs to include this fantastic story.
13. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
This terrific story from infamous horror author, Peter Straub, cemented his reputation in this regard. Ghost Story largely serves as an homage to old horror masters – he even makes direct allusions to Henry James (see Turn of the Screw)and Nathanial Hawthorne. This novel tells the tale of four men who comes back to haunt them through terrible nightmares and horrifying events in town. While some critics say that the novel doesn’t nearly live up to the hype that many people give it, you should see that for yourself. Regardless of how others feel about old novels, you can still find some enjoyment in the terror and thrills that haunt these pages.
14. Interview with The Vampire by Anne Rice
Anne Rice’s invigorated the vampire romance genre long before Twilight while she did this most notably in later book, Interview with The Vampire. Her debut novel set the foundation for this stark change in the genre. This novel recount a vampire’s life over his 200-year existence and the various horrifying events that followed his transformation into a vampire.
“It’s a story saddled by loss,” University of Florida senior Patricia Toklu said. “I love Anne Rice, read her all the time. I remember reading this one story where she talks about how the death of her own six-year-old daughter inspired the character of a child vampire.”
As Toklu stated, the prose for this story absolutely drips with the emotion and the weight of Rice’s own experience. If you enjoy this novel, then consider yourself lucky. Following this novel, Rice wrote 13 sequels, each expanding upon the stories of the prior novel. Starting this book opens up a whole world for you to explore. If you look for a horror series to sink your teeth into, then Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles turns out the way to go.
15. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
Whereas Ghost Story gave homage to the old masters of the ghost story, The House Next Door spins a contemporary tale with roots in Southern Gothicism. In this story, Colquitt Kennedy welcomes a modern-style home into the neighborhood that, unknowingly, harbors a malevolent force within. Touching on themes of modernization, neighborhood interactions and changes over time, this novel delivers a stunningly terrifying story with immaculate prose to match. To find out why Stephen King calls this novel one of the finest of the 20th century, read The House Next Door.
16. Beloved by Toni Morrison
While not explicitly a horror novel, Toni Morrison’s Beloved contains all the hallmarks of one. Haunted house, ghosts manifesting in human form, disastrous devotion and possession. All this happens in the setting of a Black family of escaped slaves right after the Civil War. Loosely based on the narrative of Margaret Garner, Beloved tells a profoundly vivid narrative regarding the ramifications of one of America’s greatest horrors: slavery.
“I enjoyed reading Beloved as an English student,” University of Florida freshman Sophie Miller said. “But I think I liked it more as a writer. The prose is unlike anything else I’ve read —smooth, eerie yet strangely comforting. It was a terrifyingly disarming read that made me question everything.”
As Miller noted, the fantastic prose just as much as the engaging story makes this novel worth reading. Each new wrinkle in the story forces you to reconsider every piece of information that came before. Anyone who looks for something unique that illustrates the brutal realities of the past should read Toni Morrison’s most famous novel.
17. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Perhaps more famous for the film that bears its name, this story still manages to chill the bones of anyone who gets familiar with the name Hannibal Lecter. While technically the second novel in this series, The Silence of the Lambs, holds significantly more acclaim since Red Dragon, the first novel, only gained fame after Thomas Harris wrote its sequel.
“I came into this novel after having seen the movie,” University of Florida sophomore Jackson Grenwall said. “As much as I adore the film, the novel feels much more compelling, thrilling and shocking. I found myself surprised even having already seen the movie.”
This story follows Clarice Sterling as the FBI who attempts to stop a serial killer named Buffalo Bill, with the help of the imprisoned psychiatrist and the cannibal/serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The brilliant storytelling, pacing and most importantly, terrifying scenes make this novel become more vivid than its silver-screen adaptation. If you want to read a novel that draws you in and keeps you engaged until the end, well, don’t read this novel first. Read Red Dragon first. Then, background aside, you can understand and revel in the fantastic story that Thomas Harris weaves in The Silence of the Lambs.
18. Ring by Koji Suzuki
By the day, Japanese horror becomes more and more important in the horror genre as a whole. Ring, the first trilogy, became quite famous due to its film adaptation, which had a significant impact on Western cinema and horror in particular. Suzuki’s novel tells the story of a man who finds a tape in the woods that instructs him. After viewing, he only has one week to live. The plot pursues this mystery as Suzuki desperately tries to avert his fate by attempting to find the tape’s creator. The further you read, the story will become more thrilling.
19. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Much like Lord of the Flies, The Road shows the dark and brutal recesses that humanity delves into when confronted with increasingly desperate situations. In this novel, you can discover a boy and his father who try to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While the characters never mention the cause of the apocalypse, the subject lies elsewhere. Rather, the relationship between the father and boy takes center stage. You can find some tackling themes such as family, honesty, selflessness and resilience, this novel remains a modern classic that any reader will find thrilling until the end.
20. N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
Our final story in this list comes from Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, and it offers a 21st century classic vampire story we got with Dracula. The name comes from the license-plate spelling of the famous 1922 vampire film Nosferatu. This novel follows Victoria McQueen and her encounters with Charles Talent Manx III, a man who kidnaps children and keeps them in a place called “Christmasland” where they live happy forever.
“It’s a long read,” University of Florida junior Jamal Harrison said. “But one absolutely worth going through all 700 odd pages of it. Honestly, I could hardly feel time passing by. It’s smooth, pulls you in and doesn’t let go until that last page.”
For some children of artists and actors, talent sometimes doesn’t exactly translate from parent to child. In this story, though, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Hill writes just like his father, creating new paths toward the future in his own way through horror fiction. Recently, AMC adapted N0S4A2 as a television series as well. If you find yourself just as lost in Christmasland as the characters in this novel, at least you have the show to watch after you’ve finished reading this book.