I’ve talked about classic sci-fi novels for modern readers and classic fantasy novels for modern readers. So I figured: why not add one more member to the club?
It’s time to talk paranormal. I’m talking things that have roots in gothic literature: ghosts, witches, and things that go bump in the night. I’m talking the Edgar Allen Poe “Fall of the House of Usher” type of creepiness that keeps you up at night. At least, when the trend started.
To be fair, paranormal fiction is a subgenre in itself, hailing from the umbrella term of speculative fiction. The term is also consistently used interchangeably with supernatural fiction (guilty) and even sometimes urban fantasy (although there is a bigger difference here: urban fantasy involves taking fantastical elements found in fantasy and putting them in the “real” world; paranormal has more to do with creatures and happenings generated out of human fears and superstitions).
Another fun fact: paranormal is typically and regularly blended with other fiction subgenres, including horror, mystery, and psychological thriller, although more contemporarily it’s become a subgenre all its own that’s very popular in young adult fiction as well as in the subgenre of “paranormal romance.”
So what is the paranormal? It’s a term that’s been in use since about the 1920s (according to Merriam-Webster) and relates to phenomena that simply can’t be explained by science. What can’t be explained by science? Things like demons and werewolves and vampires (oh my!) which, in my humble opinion, can all be traced back to man-made superstitions and fears. That’s right. Because consider this: demons are unholy and by common belief are the epitome of evil, sometimes representing any of the mortal seven deadly sins; werewolves are both human and animal, an inability to control those basic animal instincts that humans have generally sought to wipe out of the species since forever; and vampires are derived from the legend of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, or Vlad the Impaler, who did not drink peoples’ blood but had a metaphorical taste for it, and whose image was westernized into something of a horror thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Ah, the westerners. Study the myths, legends, and histories of people from both sides: you’ll see how both sides contort images of “the other” into something more understandable based on their cultural beliefs. Fascinating, right? The paranormal is really a metaphor for the human condition and the evils that might lie inside us all.
Without further ado, here are some great classics you can really sink your teeth into (sorry; I couldn’t help it!):
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (1820)
- The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allen Poe, Edgar Allen Poe (1849)
- One Thousand and One Ghosts, Alexandre Dumas (1849)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (1890)
- The Yellow Wall-Paper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
- Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)
- The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (1898)
- Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse (1927)
- The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson (1959)
- The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty (1971)
- Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice (1976)
All right, now it’s your turn: favorite paranormal reads? I’m a particular fan of Edgar Allen Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne, but what are your favorite classics and where did you come across them?