'Tis the season for hot beverages, scarves, and super scary books that will give you waking nightmares. And what better literary trope to celebrate this fall than haunted houses in literature? Whether it be a crumbling mansion, a Gothic castle, or an abandoned hotel with a mind of its own, the haunted house is a staple of the horror genre. So here are some of the creepiest haunted houses from literature, to start your Halloween countdown off right.
There's something particularly creepy about the haunted house story. Home is supposed to be a safe, comforting space, after all. To fill it with mysterious shrieks, shattered mirrors, and vengeful baby ghosts is deeply disturbing. No one wants a ghost in their bedroom, touching all of their things. Monsters and murderers are scary, sure, but you don't live inside them. The idea that a house could turn on you at any moment has fueled horror stories for years.
So the next time your eccentric billionaire uncle leaves you an Eastern European castle in his will, maybe consider sending some ghost hunters and an exorcist through first. You can never be too careful. Because there's no place like home... especially when home is infested with the spirits of the damned:
1. Thornfield Hall
A house doesn't always need a ghost to be haunted. Sometimes a mentally-unsound attic wife does the trick. Jane Eyre's Thornfield Hall isn't especially supernatural, but it is haunted by strange sounds, distant cackling, and a madwoman in the attic who sets people's beds on fire. Poor Bertha really just needed someone to take her out of that attic and take her to a mental health professional.
2. Hill House
Pro tip: don't go looking for evidence of a "haunting." It never ends well. But that's something that four very different house guests must find out the hard way. The Haunting of Hill House is one of Shirley Jackson's most terrifying pieces of writing (and that's saying something). As Shirley puts it, "Some houses are born bad…"
3. 124 Bluestone Road
Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer for this particular haunted house story. 124 Bluestone Road is haunted by "Beloved," the ghost of a baby who was killed to save her from a life of slavery. The very first line of the novel sets us up for the brilliantly crafted horror to come: "124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom."
4. Eel Marsh House
The Woman in Black is about as classic and Gothic as a classic Gothic horror story can get. You've got your English moor. You've got your decrepit manor house. And you've got your eerie shrieks, your rocking chair in an empty nursery, and your ghostly woman dressed in black. No one should visit Eel Marsh House on a foggy night.
5. The Silver House
If you prefer a more modern sensibility with some intensely creepy overtones, try Helen Oyeyemi's White is for Witching. Things are not right with the Silver family or their home: the house grumbles, confuses visitors with its winding rooms, and produces fruit from the dead branches of the fruit trees in the garden. And then, of course, there are the generations of women living in the walls...
6. House of Leaves
The Navidson family has moved into a small home on Ash Tree Lane, with one major quirk: the house appears to be bigger inside than it is without. But of course, as time goes on, the house only grows stranger... and more sinister. House of Leaves is a strange, experimental, and deeply scary reinvention of the haunted house tale.
7. The Castle of Otranto
This haunted house (or rather, castle) dates all the way back to 1764. The Castle of Otranto is often considered the first Gothic novel. It might be a little dated nowadays, but that castle still delivers when it comes to haunting: subterranean passageways, talking portraits, and statues that bleed.
8. Hundreds Hall
Of course, the best (or rather, worst) haunted houses don't just scare their inhabitants. They turn them against each other. Such is the case with Sarah Waters' supremely creepy Hundreds Hall in The Little Stranger. The house is undoubtedly malevolent, but so is the ever-growing paranoia of the people who reside there.
9. The House
The Shining Girls straddles several different genres at once. The House in the story is not just haunted—it's capable of opening portals to other times. And it's urging one man to kill. True, this is more of a time-traveling serial killer tale than a traditional haunted house story. But The House is so powerful, and so deeply evil, that it deserves a spot up there with the famous, more conventionally haunted abodes.
10. The Overlook Hotel
OK, so the Overlook Hotel isn't exactly a house... but it is haunted. Very, very haunted. The hotel is supposed to be empty, after all, except for the caretaker Jack and his wife and son. But between the masked figures in the elevators and the strangely life-like topiary, it soon becomes clear that there is something else in the hotel... something that wants little Danny to stay forever.
Images: CBS Films