13 Unexpectedly Creepy Books That Will Keep You Up All Night Long
When you sit down with the book It or The Shining or The Haunting of Hill House, you more or less know what you're getting yourself into. You understand that you are embarking on a horrific journey that will involve upsetting clowns, twin girls standing in hallways, and very creepy houses that would like to consume your very soul. But sometimes, you sit down with a classic work of literature, or a kid's book, or just a plain ol' regular book that you didn't pick out of the horror section. You don't expect the scares. And that's what makes them so much scarier. Here are a few books that are WAY creepier than you'd expect, because there is horror lurking beyond the horror shelf.
People tend to have strong feelings about horror. They either think of themselves as someone who "does" horror or someone who "doesn't" (and for years, I was firmly in the "doesn't" category). But really, there are creepy elements in even the most heartwarming of books. I mean, Harry Potter has a death snake living in the plumbing and a resurrection scene in a grave yard. Horror isn't just for those who like gore and ghouls. So here are a few unexpectedly creepy books, for when you want your horror to come straight out of left field:
'Ozma of Oz' by L. Frank Baum
I mean really, all of the Oz books. All of the Oz books are creepier than you'd expect them to be. But in Ozma of Oz, the nasty Princess Langwidere decapitates people and then wears their heads on her own neck stump so she can constantly update her appearance. She has 30 stolen heads that she keeps lying around, in case she ever wants to switch it up. Just... 30 disembodied heads. UM. No thank you, please??
'Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder' by Edward Chupack
Pirates are just... not that creepy? Scary, maybe, but not usually creepy. However, Silver manages to be that rare pirate novel that can actually send a chill down your spine. It's the story of Long John Silver before Treasure Island, and it manages to balance high seas swashbuckling with some actual tense moments of terror.
'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë's famous novel is known for being an early feminist milestone, or for being an emblem of British colonialist thinking, but it's not usually remembered as creepy. But boy is it creepy. Most of the novel is a haunted house tale, as Jane wonders who could be walking the dim halls of Thornfield in the dead of night.
'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad is not at all a horror novel, but it most certainly contains horrors: Cora has fled a hellish cotton plantation in Georgia, hoping to escape to freedom like her mother before her. The perils that Cora encounters on her journey north are nothing short of terrifying, and Colson Whitehead's descriptions of the fictional, literally underground Underground Railroad are somewhere between marvelous and deeply creepy.
'The Illustrated Man' by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is known more for his sci-fi than his horror, and The Illustrated Man comes across like a collection of kid-friendly sci-fi adventures... at first. But read a little ways into the book, and you'll find that robots and holograms and automated kitchens are some of the creepiest plot devices imaginable.
'Everything That Rises Must Converge' by Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor is excellent when it comes to peering just beneath the surface of "polite," middle class American society, and exposing the ugliness within. The monsters here are not bloodthirsty demons but ingrained bigotry, hatred, and abuse. Her stories are creepy without stretching the boundaries of reality... which kind of just makes them all the more creepy.
'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro
Even before you reach the heart-wrenching plot twist of Never Let Me Go, the atmosphere in this book is just plain creepy. Without monsters or murderers, Kazuo Ishiguro manages to inject horror into this idyllic English boarding school. The plot mostly concerns the dynamics within a friend group, but the hints at the outside world beyond their isolated spot are entirely chilling.
'Lovecraft Country' by Matt Ruff
OK, I'm cheating a little here, because you would probably expect a book called Lovecraft Country to be entirely creepy and full of tentacles—which it is. But the brilliance of this book is how it juxtaposes the creepy, fictional horror of H.P. Lovecraft with the all too real horror of racism in America. The result is one magnificent, surprising new spin on classic American horror.
'We Were Liars' by E. Lockhart
Rich kids summering on a private island, getting into trouble and falling in love—that doesn't sound too creepy. That sounds like a reality TV show. But something is just somehow... off with the whole gang this summer. Under all that teen romance, We Were Liars is a psychological thriller with one gut-punch of a plot twist.
'The Fifth Season' by N. K. Jemisin
The Fifth Season promises high concept fantasy/sci-fi world building, and it delivers... but it's so unexpectedly creepy. Our story is set on a dying Earth known as "The Stillness," which is being swiftly torn apart by constant earthquakes. Few other authors are able to pull-off a post-apocalyptic world that is quite as bleak and frightening as N. K. Jemisin.
'Geek Love' by Katherine Dunn
I think it's the title of Geek Love that lulls me into a false sense of security. Or perhaps the cheery orange cover, or the fact that it's all about a family who works in show business. But Geek Love is no cutesy love story, it's a Machiavellian horror about a family who has chosen to "create" their own living sideshow by turning their children into human oddities.
'Tales of the Unexpected' by Roald Dahl
If you think that Roald Dahl is just a sweet, harmless children's book author... then you clearly haven't read many of his children's books. Dahl's books are already creepy, but his short stories for adults? Forget it. This collection deals with cuckolds, sinister wine connoisseur, and sadistic vengeance. If you thought The Witches was creepy, stay far away from Tales of the Unexpected.
'The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm' edited by Jack Zipes
Everyone knows at least one or two of the Grimm fairy tales. The stories of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Rapunzel, and many other childhood staples were first written down by the famous Brothers Grimm. But if you can find some of the stories in their original format, it's more or less just a carnival of horrors. All your favorite kids' stories, retold with 100% more blood and sexual violence. Children are devoured and extremities are mangled. Wolves occasionally win the day. The stories are disturbing, childhood-ruining, and definitively creepy.