The Top 5 Horror Novels of All Time

Horror novels have long been a favorite genre among the reading public. This accounts for the vast number of them that have been published. This list contains five of the top horror novels of all time. 

Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Dracula came out in 1897 and is considered to be one of the very best Gothic horror novels ever written. It was in this novel that the world came to know, love, and hate Count Dracula, the vampire. The novel details the sometimes gory actions the Count takes as he moves from his ancestral home in Transylvania to England. The main action of the novel involves the battles that occur between Dracula and Professor Abraham Van Helsing who has enlisted the aid a group of men and women to help destroy the vampire.

This novel was known, when it came out, as breaking many barriers. Some of the more controversial themes it explored included Victorian culture and the role of women within that culture. It also took a close look at many sexual conventions that were considered forbidden in those days. The novel also explored new idea associated with immigration issues as well as colonialism.

Many people believe Stoker created the vampire. That is not true, but he did bring it into modern fiction.
Best Horror Novels - Dracula
Credit: By Screenshot from "Internet Archive" of the movie Dracula (1931) ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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The Haunting of Hill House came out in 1959, and it is considered by some to be one of the very best horror novels of all time, and for good reason. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to call the novel "the greatest haunted-house story ever written". Since its publication, the novel has been made into numerous films and stage plays.

The Haunting of Hill House has almost no gore in it at all. It relies on the reader's ability to imagine Hill house as a living entity, capable of producing terror in those who are unwise enough to stay within its walls. Jackson's novel explores some very complicated relationships that develop between the main characters and the eerie house and its dark history. Jackson's mastery of language is evident from the first sentence and continues throughout the story as it unfolds to a truly remarkable ending.

The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining
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The Shining is another "ghost" story, of sorts. It came out in 1977 and has been a favorite among horror readers ever since. The Shining is King's third novel, and it is his first bestselling hardback. The story has also been made into films, most notably the Stanley Kubrick version which came out in 1980.

The Shining takes place inside the Overlook Hotel as deep winter sets into the area. The Torrance family arrives as caretakers for the huge, old hotel and son, Danny, is immediately faced with ghosts from the past, including the murdered children of a past caretaker. As the family becomes more isolated by the weather outside, effectively trapping them there, the hotel begins to come to life.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw
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Many of those who read a lot of James consider this to be his best work. The Turn of the Screw incorporates a truly magnificent Gothic feel that is unmistakable.

The novel details (exquisitely) the story of a young governess who arrives at the very isolated Bly House in order to teach two children, an orphaned sister and brother. She soon begins to see the ghost of a past governess who, she learns, died under mysterious conditions. She also becomes involved with another spirit; the infamous Quint, who is rumored to have terrorized not only the home but also the children.

One of the major draws that this novel has is that very little is explicitly explained by James within the course of the story. This includes the facts surrounding the dead servants, governess, whether or not the children can also see the apparitions and much more. Some may think this a turn-off, but that is not the case as James skillfully uses his prose to keep readers on edge. Is this a horror story or is it one woman's journey into madness? You decide!

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

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Many people only know William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist through the wildly popular movie that came out starring Linda Blair. The movie itself is considered to be one of the best horror films of all time, but the book is even better! While the movie had plenty of gore, the novel has very little. Yet, it remains one of the most popular horror stories to this day.

The story centers around a young girl who has been possessed by a demon. But, this is not just any demon; it is an ancient demon with many powers, and it does not want to leave this girl's body. An elderly priest is called in to oversee this difficult exorcism. He is brought in because of his long history and experience in casting out demons, and the fact that modern medicine has not been able to help the girl. His companion is a younger priest who is constantly struggling internally with the loss of his mother and what that means to his faith. Unlike the other novels mentioned here that were set in creepy houses, hotels, and locations, The Exorcist takes place right in the middle of bustling metro area. The juxtaposition between modern life and ancient rites, demons, and religious beliefs is compelling on its own.

The Exorcist is special on two levels. It does a great job of detailing the main story (the horror part, if you will), but it also does a wonderful job of exploring bigger themes and issues such as religious faith and faith in mankind in general. It takes a bold and close look at the attributes of a deity that would allow such a thing to happen in the first place and looks at why (supernatural) evil exists in a world that is supposedly so modern and beyond that kind of thinking.