The Canon of Horror

"The Tell-Tale Heart" Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1935

“The Tell-Tale Heart”
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1935

I was just musing that if a canon of horror literature could be developed, what should it include?   This would be a collection of say ten works that define horror literature and that everyone seriously interested in horror should read if he/she they wish to learn what horror is and should be.   This would not be a collection of the most popular works (whether novel, short story, essay, screenplay, theater, etc.) of horror, which would change constantly, but ten works which would define horror now and forever as the Bible does Christianity, as the Koran does Islam, and as the Analects of Confucius do Confucianism.   These should be eternal works that at the end of time, after the Zombie Apocalypse when no more books are written, the few remaining survivors of humanity can review all the literary works of all time and say, “These ten defined the horror genre.”  Of course, this canon will be forever debated, but lively, engaged discussion is the fun of a list like this.

To start off this conversation, here are my initial ten recommendations (subject to change as my reading progresses).  I will keep this list to one work from each of ten authors so that works by one author do not overwhelm the list.  This is not in any order of priority or preference–just as they pop into my mind.   Although these reflect my own reading (which tends to the past more than the present), I have added one or two authors I haven’t read, but from what I understand, have made significant contributions to the horror genre.

  1. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
  2. Books of Blood by Clive Barker
  3. Carrie by Stephen King
  4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  5. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” by H.P. Lovecraft
  6. “Lukundoo” by Edward Lucas White
  7. “The Sandman” by E.T. A. Hoffmann
  8. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  9. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood
  10. Psycho by Robert Bloch
  11. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
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