9 Literary Ghosts We'd Never Want to Be Haunted By
When there's something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Fiction writers who immortalize the scariest ghosts of all time in literature! (Wait, is that not how that song goes?)Okay, fine, a fiction writer might not be the first person on your list to call when a malevolent poltergeist starts chasing you through the house with a pair of salad tongs. But writing and ghosts are actually a pairing that goes way, way back. Though we often think of ghost stories as a modern innovation —something that perhaps those freaky-deaky Victorians invented—interactions with the uneasy spirits of the dead are one of the earliest literary tropes on record. Shades of the deceased pop up in works as early the Old Testament and The Odyssey; and Pliny the Younger is often given credit for having penned the first haunted house story, just fewer 2000 years ago. And that Pliny the Younger story? Honestly, still a little scary (especially if you're reading it at home, alone, at night... uh, not that I would know). Fear of things that go bump in the night, and the angry specters that may be doing the bumping, is a timeless part of our literary heritage; which is why the nine ghosts below — some of whom have been in our popular consciousness for hundreds of years — still pack a punch.
The Ghosts from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Oh my god, did that send a chill down your spine? It totally sent a chill down mine. Shirley Jackson's magum opus is often called the scariest ghost story of all time — and all credit for that would go to assorted ghosts who walk the halls of stately Hill House, who never really seen (but who are definitely felt). Oh god, my arms are goose pimpling just thinking about this book. I have to go watch an episode of Gilmore Girls just to calm down.
Helen from Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Dowling Hahn
Yes, Helen's just a little girl — a little girl who'll wreck your whole house if she doesn't like you. Of course, that's a little bit better than what she'll do to you if she does likes you (I don't want to spoil anything, but it involves the bottom of a lake). Helen is hands-down the scariest ghost ever summoned up by a book for young readers, because her guilt, anger, and selfishness feel as real and irrational as any child's — and become terrifying when paired with the limitless power of the undead.
The Overlook from The Shining by Stephen King
It's tough to pick one ghoul from the parade of spectral horrors that fill this book. Who am I to decide that the demonic bartender is better or worse than the hedge animals that come to life? Luckily, I don't have to — every malevolent character here is part of the massive supernatural powerhouse that is the Overlook. Is the thing that haunts the Overlook actually a ghost? Or something bigger? Something worse? I have no idea, but I do know that at least it knows how to mix a mean cocktail.
Anna from Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Anna's got a lot of problems. Her mother was the literal worst, she can never leave the house, she's got a vicious blood lust that she can't control, and, oh yeah, she was murdered in 1958. Anna proves herself to eventually be a sympathetic character, but before that, she's that rarest of beasts — a ghost who actually kills the living — in this moving, genuinely creepy YA novel about ghost hunters and the people (or former people) who love them.
Banquo’s Ghost from Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Is he a real ghost? Or a guilt-induced hallucination? Either way, Banquo's ghost — an apparition that only Macbeth can see after murdering his friend to get ahead —will scare the boobs straight off you.
The Woman in Black from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
This 1983 novella serves as the basis for the second longest running play in London's West End — The Woman in Black has been terrifying British theater audiences on the daily since 1987. What about this Gothic tale could possibly enchant 27 years worth of theatergoers? That'd have to be the titular lady herself; an apparition representing a mother's love turned murderously sour, she only appears when a child is about to die.
Herbert White from "The Monkey’s Paw" by W.W. Jacobs
The inspiration for everything from Pet Semetary to a Halloween episode of The Simpsons , this parable about being careful what you wish for is one of the backbones of modern horror. And the fact that we never see Herbert White, the man who is (spolier alert) both killed and brought back to life by that cursed simian appendage, just makes him all the more terrifying.
The Red Death from "The Masque of Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe
Leave it to Poe to turn a horrific disease into a metaphor for class inequality by putting a sassy mask on it and letting it ruin a high society ball. Be honest: Don't you sometimes wish you could throw a jaunty mask on a horrific disease, and send it to go stride around a high society ball?
Gregory Bate from Ghost Story by Peter Straub
It's tough to pick just one favorite phantom from this hit 1979 horror novel — as the title may have led you to believe, it's lousy with not-quite-dead folks. So let's just go with the first (and worst) major ghostie from the book — Gregory, the possibly-murdered ghost of a maybe-pedophile, who kills his still-living brother. Gnarly enough for ya?