History of Horror Stories


horror story, a story in which the focus is on creating a feeling of fear. Such tales are of ancient origin and form a substantial part of the body of folk literature. They can feature supernatural elements such as ghosts, witches, or vampires, or they can address more realistic psychological fears. In Western literature the literary cultivation of fear and curiosity for its own sake began to emerge in the 18th-century pre-Romantic era with the Gothic novel. The genre was invented by Horace Walpole, whose Castle of Otranto (1765) may be said to have founded the horror story as a legitimate literary form. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley introduced pseudoscience into the genre in her famous novel Frankenstein (1818), about the creation of a monster that ultimately destroys its creator.

In the Romantic era the German storyteller E.T.A. Hoffmann and the American Edgar Allan Poe raised the horror story to a level far above mere entertainment through their skillful intermingling of reason and madness, eerie atmosphere and everyday reality. They invested their spectres, doubles, and haunted houses with a psychological symbolism that gave their tales a haunting credibility.

The Gothic influence persisted throughout the 19th century in such works as Sheridan Le Fanu’s The House by the Churchyard and “Green Tea,” Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, and Bram Stoker’s vampire tale Dracula. The influence was revived in the 20th century by science-fiction and fantasy writers such as Mervyn Peake in his Gormenghast series. Other masters of the horror tale were Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. Isolated masterpieces have been produced by writers not usually associated with the genre, such as Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla,” A.E. Coppard’s “Adam and Eve and Pinch Me,” Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar” and “The Open Window,” and W.F. Harvey’s “August Heat.” Some of the best-known horror stories owe their power to full-bodied characters that develop in realistic social environments and to the very absence of a mysterious atmosphere. In this category are Aleksandr Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” and W.W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw.”



33 thoughts on “History of Horror Stories”

  1. These reading recommendations were lovely, Amir. I have a small collection of Maupassant’s work in iBooks. Great afternoon tea time reading. It’s time I reread them with more focus. Have a great week ahead.

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  2. Interesting history, Amir. I know The Twilight Zone wasn’t straight horror, but I was totally creeped out with the psychological elements and the twisted macabre endings. It’s a good study for those interested in horror at least.

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      1. Mildly so. Honestly, I’m a big fraidy-cat. I blame it all on bad babysitting when my older brother had us watch The Exorcist, claiming it was a comedy. Brothers. What are you gonna do? I put coal in his stocking that Christmas.

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  3. Cool stuff. I’m a fan of horror stories and writers too. Thanks for visiting and liking my recent post, which is not horror. It’s a Christmas tale series for the holidays. But, you might want to check out some of my Freaktion (horror stories).

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  4. The Monkey’s Paw…phew! Some of the older stuff is better than newer things. But some of the modern horror is also good. I love all kinds of literature. My favorite, at this time of year, is a trio of anthologies. The last one is coming out soon. http://www.amazon.com/Little-Town-Deathlehem-Anthology-Holiday-ebook/dp/B00HHI05PS/ref=pd_sim_sbs_351_1?ie=UTF8&dpID=51Kq%2BP3WPuL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR107%2C160_&refRID=1CNKM8XV4GPFG151QZD6

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  5. Edgar allen poe and stephen king 💜 could read them for days. In the middle of “it” by stephen king again at the moment and have a few others of his. Great article 👍

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  6. I absolutely love the Horror genre! Horror films, books, real life encounter stories – everything. This blog is really my sort of thing. It is a bit strange I love horror quite so much because I am actually a massive wimp at heart, but I just can’t help but love it. – Rebecca

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      1. It’s a pleasure! You’re blog is extremely helpful for both of us who are just starting out on our writing journey. Surprisingly, I have not read any of King’s novels yet – although Heather (my twin) has two or three on her bookshelf, so it is only a matter of time before I do! Any recommendations for books in the horror genre?

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      2. I can recommend you some great books for writing better. “On writing” by King. Element of style by Strunk & White. Bird by Bird (don’t remember the author’s name). How to write dazzling dialogue.

        These books are the best for both of us. You can email me whenever you want, Rebecca 🙂 xx


      3. Thank you so much! I’ve heard about “On writing” by Steven King, and I am very keen to read it. I haven’t heard of the other ones but I will definitely check them out – especially the one about dialogue. Thanks again for all your help and your extremely useful posts, I will keep coming back! – Rebecca xx

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