Ancient houses creaking in the night, haunting wails from unseen waifs and the rattling of rusty chains are all the hallmarks of a classic ghost story. And what could be better than settling down with a spine-chilling book? Since times of old, ghost stories—tales of spirits who return from the dead to haunt the places they left behind—have played a key role in the folklore of many cultures around the world. Tales of spirits and apparitions, headless monks and white ladies, have spanned throughout the ages, a constant delight for those of us who love nothing more than a good shudder on the darkest of nights.
If you’re in the mood for a supernatural read that is guaranteed to haunt you long after the final page is turned, here are ten of the best ghost stories ever written.
1. Collected Ghost Stories, by M R James
What better way to begin than with the grand master of the traditional ghost story, M R James. Widely credited as penning some of the finest supernatural tales ever written, James’s short stories have chilled and delighted generation after generation of readers. So, if you enjoy a fright Collected Ghost Stories should take pride of place on your bookshelf.
2. The Winter Ghosts, by Kate Mosse
A young man, mourning his brother who died in the Great War, gets caught in a snow storm in the Pyreneese. He finds a village in which to take refuge but by the time dawn breaks, he has stumbled across a tragic mystery that goes back through the centuries. There he learns about love and loss but most of all the power of courage. Mournful and haunting rather than scary, The Winter Ghosts is a deeply atmospheric, moving ghost story about two lives touched by war. An essential read for those looking for an emotional journey that will sweep you through the darkness into the light of a new day.
3. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
The Little Stranger is a haunted house classic. The story is narrated by Dr. Faraday who is summoned to a patient at Hundreds Hall, home to the Ayres family for over two centuries. As a man of reason and science, Faraday does everything he can to rationally explain the noises, apparitions, vandalism and eventual violence that plague this family home. A slow-burner of a novel that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up on end as you begin to realize just what is haunting the Ayres family.
4. Naomi’s Room, by Jonathan Aycliffe
Attempting to find sense and reason behind the murder of his four-year-old daughter, a father stumbles upon secrets that he may come to wish he never uncovered. Without giving away any spoilers what at first appears to be your standard ghost story about a father haunted by the death of his child steadily transgresses into something far more harrowing. Culminating in its gruesome, and some might argue unnecessarily horrific finale. If you’re after a truly frightening read that will keep you up at night then Naomi’s Room is the book for you.
5. Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
“What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”
What more could a horror fan want from the opening lines of a novel? Peter Straub’s Ghost Story revolves around a group of old men in a club called The Chowder Society, who congregate together in order to share their best ghost stories over whiskey and cigars. However, the real story begins when their dark and mysterious pasts come back to haunt them.
6. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill
Arthur Kipps, a London solicitor is sent to a small English town shrouded in mist and rolling fog to settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Soon after, Kipp’s becomes an unwitting player in a tragic mystery of dead children and a menacing specter of a woman in black who haunts the old crumbling house and the town that lies just beyond the salt marshes. Continuing the long and trusted tradition that only the finest ghost stories follow, The Woman in Black allows the reader’s imagination do all the work, using the power of suggestion to plant the seeds of genuine, heart pounding terror.
7. The Shinning, by Stephen King
Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers of our time, and is responsible for some of the best horror stories in history. One of his early novels, The Shining was adapted into a popular film by the same name. The novel centers on a boy and his family as they move to an abandoned hotel. The boy’s father is a former teacher and current caretaker to this hotel, which is inhabited by the spirits of those who have died within its walls. The house itself seems to fuel these spirits, and the little boy’s gift, or “shining,” makes him particularly vulnerable to the horrors surrounding him. Recently, a sequel was released by the name of Dr. Sleep. While it isn’t as scary, it tells of the events following the family’s horrific hotel stay.
8. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty
The Exorcist by Peter Blatty is the inspiration behind the infamous movie. The deceptively simple story focuses on Regan, the 11-year-old daughter of a movie actress who is seemingly possessed by an ancient demon. An ancient battle between good versus evil commences, as they wrestle the devil to rescue Regan from an unspeakable fate. Richly layered and profoundly raw, The Exorcist tackles spiritual matters head as it explores our cultural concept of evil. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but a must read for any fan of the film.
9. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House is the story of four seekers who arrive at the notoriously haunted Hill House looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. If you’ve only ever seen the movies and skipped the book then you in for a treat. The Haunting of Hill House is a dark and powerful examination of loneliness, depression and how fear can make us our own worst enemy. Subtle, chilling and utterly haunting as we journey deep into the darkness of madness and self-doubt.
10. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Initially appearing in a magazine in 1898, The Turn of the Screw follows an unnamed governess sent to an old English country estate to look after two children. At first, everything appears normal but then events gradually begin to weave a spell of psychological terror as the ghosts of former employees come back to haunt the living. While it’s never clear if the ghosts are real or the product of the governess’s increasingly unstable mind, or if the two seemingly innocent children are all that they first appeared to be, The Turn of the Screw is the classic masterpiece with one of the best shock twist endings ever. No collection of ghost stories would be complete without this novella.
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