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Monday, October 5, 2009

The Greatest Fright Fiction of All Time! The Cyber-Horror Elite Takes on Literature

Usually, when I do these "Cyber-Horror Elite" polls (it's self-deprecating sarcasm, people, relax), controversy seems to ensue once the final tally is released to the public. But this time, the controversy began during the actual voting process itself...

After gathering together the opinions of the best and brightest of the horror blogging world time and again to weigh in on horror films, it was suggested to me by my co-conspirator RayRay to direct the attention toward horror literature. This is something I had been unsure of doing in our sadly non-literary age, but I sure am glad I did.

My approach was simple: Reach out to the finest horror bloggers/writers on the web and ask them to list their personal top 10 list of horror-lit. The results would then be totaled using my patented point system, and boiled down to a master list of the best of the best.

Problem is, what do we consider for inclusion? I had decided early on that, in order to get the strongest results and not water them down, I would combine novels, short stories and poetry (and anything in between), rather than do three separate lists. I knew it might be difficult, in comparison to my movie lists, to get a significant number of results as it was, and I wanted to get the best possible responses. Call me a philistine, but I chose to combine all genres of style into one literary endeavor.

Not everyone agreed, feeling that short stories, novels and poetry (poetry??) all deserved their own lists. Ideally, I might agree. But realistically, I knew there are very few who'd be able to provide a strong list for each, particularly poetry. Plus, I wanted to optimize reader interest by condensing all three into one. In the end, I'm glad I did, and I'm very proud of this particular list.

And so, I hope you folks get a kick out of the end results--THE HORROR LITERATURE TOP 30:

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  3. "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)
  4. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975)
  5. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (1931)
  6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stephenson (1886)
  7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
  8. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)
  9. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)
  10. "The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)
  11. It by Stephen King (1986)
  12. The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
  13. "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe (1849)
  14. "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
  15. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)
  16. Ghost Story by Peter Straub (1979)
  17. Books of Blood by Clive Barker (1984-85)
  18. "The Monkey’s Paw" by W.W. Jacobs (1902)
  19. "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)
  20. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
  21. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
  22. Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983)
  23. "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft (1927)
  24. The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (1986)
  25. Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1938)
  26. "The Call of Cthulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)
  27. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)
  28. Psycho by Robert Bloch (1959)
  29. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  30. Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)

As in the past, my system involves awarding 10 points for every #1 ranking, 9 points for #2, etc. That said, it should be pointed out that Stoker's Dracula was far and away the most dominant vote-getter of them all. It was included on nearly everyone's list, and almost always extremely high. Nothing else came close, not even Shelley's Frankenstein or Poe's "The Raven", which were by far the strongest of the rest of the bunch. Seems those are the three almost everyone could agree on...

Break-down by literary genre:
15 novels
8 short stories
5 novellas
1 poem
1 anthology

Authors who appear more than once:
Edgar Allan Poe - 5 entries
H.P. Lovecraft - 4 entries
Stephen King - 4 entries
Clive Barker - 2 entries
(these four writers make up a total of half the entries on the list)

Chronological breakdown:
18th century: 1
19th century: 11
20th century: 18
1900s: 1
1910s: 0
1920s: 3
1930s: 2
1940s: 0
1950s: 3
1960s: 1
1970s: 4
1980s: 4
1990s: 0
21st century: 0

Highest ranking 20th century work: Salem's Lot
Oldest ranked work: The Castle of Otranto
Most recent ranked works: The Hellbound Heart & It
(Nothing from the past 22 years received enough votes to make it, and nothing from the past 34 years made it into the top 10)

A few other noteworthy vote-getters:

  • "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson (1948)
  • "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats (1920)
  • World War Z by Max Brooks (2006)
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft (1927)
  • Crash by J.G. Ballard (1973)
  • Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (1990)
  • Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)
  • Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
Finally, time to give credit to those brave souls who took part in the ranking this time around. Profound thanks to all of them:

Maitland MacDonagh, film professor, critic & writer for NY Times & TV Guide
Kim Paffenroth, author of the Stoker-winning Gospel of the Living Dead
John Kenneth Muir, horror critic (Booklist Editor's Choice)
Iloz Zoc of Zombos' Closet of Horror, founder of LoTT-D
Pierre Fournier of Frankensteinia, Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Famer
Jeff Allard of Dinner with Max Jenke and Shock Till You Drop
Monster Scholar of Monster Land
Matthew House of Paracinema and Chuck Norris Ate My Baby
The Lightning Bug of The Lightning Bug's Lair
RayRay, Vault of Horror contributing writer
Unkle Lancifer of Kindertrauma
Christine Hadden of Fascination with Fear
Jon of Evil on Two Legs
Ryne Barber of The Moon Is a Dead World
The Divemistress of TheAvod
Ms. Harker of Musings Across a Continuum
Bill Courtney of The Uranium Cafe
Pax Romano of Billy Loves Stu
Mike McBeardo of McBeardo's Midnight Movies
And yours truly, of course.

There you have it. Digest. Discuss. Debate. Distribute.


Matt-suzaka said...

I think the list is more than proper. I can't wait to hear everyone else's thoughts on what made the cut. I can't believe I forgot about The Hellbound Heart, but Barker was more than represented on my list, so no matter. Interesting fun as always, Brian...thanks for the invite!

Anonymous said...

A well-rounded reading list for the aspiring horror buff. Good job.

Pax Romano said...

Nice work, my friend.

deadlydolls said...

I would add a whole lot by Jack Ketchum to that list. I only discovered him two years ago after seeing The Girl Next Door. Some truly disturbing stuff. A great starting point is his collection of short stories, Peaceable Kingdom (out of print in stores but still available in libraries and online). He has an extraordinary ability both at big full out blown horror and quiet little creepiness. There's one ten page story or so called "The Box" that gets under your skin like nothing else.

Charles said...

I really don't have too many issues, in fact I don't think I have any.

The classics are classics for a reason and Dracula and Frankenstein deserve their places.

Interesting to see Salem's Lot up so high. I always like seeing compiled lists because there are always weird things like this, figured The Stand would be the ultimate King book. Loved the inclusion of "It" as it is has some of King's best writing.

Surprised a tiny bit about the exclusion of Ira Levin. But overall, very pleased with this.

DM said...

I wonder what it says about the lack of turn-of-the-21st-century horror? I'll admit I was highly tempted just list 10 Lovecraft stories! I'm now going to move some books up in the big pile I have at home.

RayRay said...

This is a great list. While a few I chose didn't make it, which was a small surprise, [namely Jaws and War of the Worlds], I was more than pleasantly surprised at some of the fiction that did make it, as well as some things I had totally forgotten about when I drew up my own list. And it is always good to see my man HP dominate.

Well met, old man. Well met.

le0pard13 said...

A sublime list of horror lit! I was re-directed here by today's JKM post, and so glad I was. I've read about 3/4 of this particular list, and two (The Lottery and Hell House) from the noteworthy vote-getters.

I can say I'm not surprised about Salem's Lot high placement. Out the ones I've read, that was the only one that prompted a nightmare while reading it. Pet Semantary is likely the only one on the list I could not re-read at this time (since I'm a parent, now). And if you want an uncomfortable read during flu season, even if it didn't make the list, read King's The Stand (I did way back when, and I had to stop reading it when I caught the flu--though I picked it back up 2 months later).

Well done! And thanks for the post.

Christopher Zenga said...

I am truly surprised to see Books of Blood and Hell bound Heart so far down the list.

the top 10 seem to be the standard "horror literature top 10" I don't know, the other Cyber Elite lists are so fantastic I kind of expected to see a few more obscure titles in the top grouping.

Later days,

Christopher Zenga

Unknown said...

Whoops. Looks like I let the deadline on this whoosh past me.

I would have had "House of Leaves" on my list. That book creeped me the hell out.

deadlydolls said...

I second Nate's take on House of Leaves. It's such an interesting read because the very style of the book is so different. One of the few books I ever read that gave me the chills.

le0pard13 said...

I'd also recommend reading William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel for its mix of hardboiled detective and horror genres. It's well done and is the basis for Alan Parker's 1987 film, Angel Heart.

Anonymous said...

Not going to complain, as the choices were all worthy. But there are several works I think should have made the list (IMO).

Song of Kali - Dan Simmons
Let The Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist
The House on the Borderland - William Hope Hodgson

B-Sol said...

I am so glad everyone is digging this new list, and that it's provoking a lot of discussion. Some of the other titles people have mentioned did receive a smattering of votes, and probably would've placed if I had gotten a few more responses. I got around 20, but there were another 40 who were invited and never voted. Still, I'm very pleased with the results. Maybe a bit predictable, especially up top--but I guess that's what makes them classics, no?

deadlydolls said...

Curses! Be sure to invite me next time and I'll Ketchum it up.

B-Sol said...

Consider it done, Emily!

Christopher Zenga said...

Hey B,

I'll put my name in the hat if you are looking for contributors next round!

Later days

kindertrauma said...

Any chance of seeing a full list of the titles chosen that didn't make the top 30? I think it would make a great list of lesser known must reads!-Unk

Zachary Kelley said...

I think the list came out great, and thanks so much for including me in it again. 6 of 10 of my choices were on there, but I would have loved to see Joe Hill's Heart SHaped Box Make the cut.

I'd like to second kindertrauma's suggestion for a list of also rans. As many of us probably are familiar with the works in the top 30, those obscure titles might provide the well read horror buff something to look out for.

B-Sol said...

Alright, ya know what? In response to the requests from The Lightning Bug and Unkle Lancifer, I think today's second post will be a list of the "also-rans". Stay tuned...

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but no "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary' by M.R. James? That doesn't seem right...

Jonathan Allen

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