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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Celebrating the Female Writers of Horror

Women don’t get a lot of credit in any field that they may excel in, so why should the world of literature be any different? While, they get recognized by their peers, how many of you can name more than a handful of famous female horror authors off the top of your head? It’s unfortunate that most can’t, to say the least, but that’s something that we plan to remedy here today.

Woman in the dark
Photography by H.F.E. & Co.

While we are asserting that all of the writers listed here are horror writers, a lot of these amazing women have actually produced written work that is outside of the horror genre–or, even more astoundingly, their main genre of work may not even be horror.

Mary Shelley

(08/30/1797 – 02/01/1851)

Mary Shelley

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein (1818) which is quite widely cited as the very first Science Fiction horror novel. Unfortunately, her career wasn’t quite as prolific as some modern writers, but her work seems to have been more about quality, rather than quantity. Unsurprisingly she wasn’t the first writer within the horror genre, but she was the first female horror writer and she did invent two completely different subgenres of horror. I do find it rather nice though, that all of her works are within the public domain and can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to read her Gothic-styled genius.

Check out our coverage of Mary Shelley in her Dead Author Dedication we did earlier this year.


Daphne Du Maurier

(05/13/1907 – 04/19/1989)

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier has generally been classed as a romantic novelist, but the stories she produced in her lifetime have been described as “moody and resonant,” and most if not all of them have paranormal and supernatural overtones. Critics never gave her a fair shot when her bestselling works were first published, but her exceptional talent with her voice in narrative changed their minds and earned her a persistently unparalleled reputation.

A few of her novels have been adapted into films—quite successfully in fact, including Rebecca (1938), adapted by Alfred Hitchcock to film in 1940—which starts off as such an innocent romance, but quickly turns into a story with such a haunting atmosphere, you can’t be sure if it’s a ghost story, or one of subterfuge. Don’t even get us started on his adaptation of her novel The Birds (1952) which was released in 1963!

Some Books to Read by Du Maurier

  • Jamaica Inn (1936)
  • Rebecca (1938)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • The Birds (1952)
  • Not After Midnight and Other Stories (1971)

Unfortunately, we haven’t covered the life and times of Daphne Du Maurier as of yet, but believe us when we say that her style of writing is phenomenal–actually, don’t believe us, read some of them and decide for yourself! Since we’ve been trying to cover a single dead author per month, in memoriam during the month in which they passed, we won’t be visiting the life and achievements of Daphene Du Maurier in full until April of 2021.


Shirley Jackson

(12/14/1916 – 08/08/1965)

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of those writers that the weird, dark, and haunted can thoroughly relate to–personally, I believe that she is the one writer I can relate to the most. Not because she was insanely talented–I’m not self-centered enough to believe I rank on her level–it’s because she never made an attempt to pretend that she was in any way normal and I mean that in complete admiration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Shirley Jackson, take a look at the articles we did to honor her for August’s Dead Author Dedication:


Lois Duncan

(04/28/1934 – 06/15/2016)

Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan made a name for herself by writing for young adults–those transitioning from childhood to adulthood, who needed a voice to relate to that would help them understand what it was like to have to evolve into a responsible human being, even under the worst of circumstances. As a horror writer for the young and the young-at-heart, Duncan left a legacy, not only for her readers, but for those who were inspired to follow in her footsteps.

She paved the way for writers and creatives to finally be able to appeal to the younger audiences who, otherwise would only have had adult horror to turn to–because, let’s be honest, those among us who love horror now have loved horror for a long time and if it hadn’t been for Duncan’s books we might not have had age-appropriate content for our nerdy dark brains to dive into.

You can learn more about Lois Duncan through our exploration of her life, literary achievements, and legacy–Puzzle Box Horror style, in our Dead Author Dedication in July 2020.


Anne Rice

(10/04/1941 – Present)

Anne Rice

She is a best-selling American author and having sold nearly 100 million copies of her books, is one of the most widely read authors in modern history. World-renowned, among her works the most well-known are the Vampire Chronicles, where she demonstrates her ability to convey love, death, immortality, existentialism, as well as the human condition under the umbrella of the gothic horror genre. One thing is certain, aside from Mary Shelley, Rice is possibly the most popular female author on this list!


Octavia E. Butler

(06/22/1947 – 02/24/2006)

Octavia E. Butler

Butler started her writing career in her twenties after studying at several universities and she blended elements of science fiction and African American spiritualism in her novels. Her first book, Patternmaster (1976) which would kick start her first series of books. It wouldn’t be her last series, however, as she continued to write and publish books up until her death in February of 2006. Although Butler was better known to be an author of science fiction, she often incorporated elements of our favorite genre, horror. Her most horror-inspired novel was published just a year before her death and told the story of a girl who discovers she’s a vampire. Often hailed as a genius, Butler worked to address racism from her vantage point as a writer and exposed the horrors of oppression in American history. When talking about one of her most popular books, she explained that, “[she] wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”

Join us in February of 2021, for when we honor Butler’s contribution to horror.


Kathe Koja

(01/06/1960 – Present)

Kathe Koja

As a writer, director, and independent producer, Kathe Koja is a multiple platform powerhouse of a woman—her talent allows her to work within several different genres, from Young Adult, to contemporary, to historical, as well as horror fiction genres. Several of her novels have won awards and have also been translated into multiple different languages and her work has also been optioned for film and performance pieces.


Caitlín R. Kiernan

(05/26/1964 – Present)

Caitlín R. Kiernan

As an Irish-born American, Caitlín R. Kiernan is a published paleontologist and author of both science fiction and dark/horror fantasy. An accomplished author in her own right, Kiernan has published ten novels, a series of comic books, and over two hundred fifty short stories, novellas, and vignettes—for all of her hard work she has received both the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards twice!


Tananarive Due

(01/05/1966 – Present)

Tananarive Due

Tananarive is an all-around wonder when it comes to the horror community, not only is she an award-winning author, she also teaches about Black Horror and Afrofuturism at the University of California Los Angeles. But wait, there’s more—as a prominent figure in black speculative fiction over the last twenty years, she and her husband collaborated to write “A Small Town” for the second season of the reboot of The Twilight Zone. This is by no means a complete biography for Due but we hope it’s enough to interest you in her incredible literature and work for equality as she helps to educate in the exclusionary history of not just American history, but horror history.

To get better acquainted with Tananarive Due, check out her official website and the upcoming article we have dedicated to her work in horror.

For a more in-depth look at the history of horror and the role that black people have historically played within the genre, keep an eye out for Shudder’s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Tananarive Due is listed as an executive producer for this highly anticipated documentary and it’s coming out in February 2021, just in time for Black History month!


Gemma Files

(04/04/1968 – Present)

Gemma Files

London-born, Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic—but she had quite a meager start as a freelance writer until she landed a continuing gig with an entertainment periodical called Eye Weekly. It was this position that led to her gaining local traction, as she began critiquing horror, independent, and Canadian films. In 1999 Gemma won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story, with The Emperor’s Old Bones. Since then, five of her short stories have been adapted to television for The Hunger series. She’s been nominated for countless awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award in 2009 and 2010 for a short story and novelette respectively.


Jemiah Jefferson

(01/01/1972 – Present)

Jemiah Jefferson

Another elegant African American horror author, Jemiah Jefferson toes the line between horror and erotica through her gift to horror-loving women everywhere—her Voice of the Blood series about the famous creatures of the night has been called “smart, beautiful, sexy, and vicious.” (I’m not going to lie, I may have purchased all four of them the very same day I discovered her.) Jemiah has a lot more to offer in the way of novels and short stories, however, and we’re exceptionally excited to share her with you all.


Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi

(12/10/1984 – Present)

Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi and her writing are equally unique, her writing transcends any genre that attempts to confine or define her, so the best way we can describe her work is a blend of horror, fantasy, fairy tales, and folklore. While not a dedicated horror writer, her work is often unsettling (just the way we like it), frightening, and she often explores the paranormal, bizarre, and supernatural elements of fiction. When she was a young woman, just twenty years of age, she published her first novel The Icarus Girl (2005), which mixed the paranormal with Gothic horror themes and Nigerian folklore. In 2009, her novel White is For Witching, was published and is considered one of the great modern cosmic horror novels—we personally loved it!


Kat Howard

(09/14/19** – Present)

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As a modern-day writer in a genre dominated by a more masculine influence, Kat Howard is a refreshing change of pace–since the best writing is when you are allowed to immerse yourself in the story and are otherwise unaware of the writer’s gender, skin color, sexuality, or how they otherwise identify themselves.

We were lucky enough to be able to speak to Kat Howard recently—so, check out the interview that we did with Kat Howard, where she speaks about her novel The End of the Sentence (2014), horror, and what it’s like to be a writer. You can check out that interview here if you’d like to know more!

You can find out a bit more about her on her official website, kathowardbooks.com and you can also follow her on twitter!


We reserve the right to update this list in the future to further represent female writers of the horror genre that we may currently be unfamiliar with–an exclusion of an amazing female horror author here only means that we have yet to be introduced to her work! Let us know if you believe someone should be included here!

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Best Of Best of Comics Comics and Graphic Novels Featured Horror Books

Puzzle Box’s Best of Gothic Horror Comics and Graphic Novels

We’ve covered a lot of different genres here at Puzzle Box, and it’s been a blast giving you guys recommendations and sharing our favorite comic book and graphic novel stories. 

This Best Of is a classic subgenre, and perhaps one of the most defining subgenres of horror: Gothic Horror. This dark extension of Romanticism produced classics like Dracula and Frankenstein, as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s signature masterpieces. These dark, haunting tales are deeply personal and, at times, disturbing. The comics and graphic novels in our Best of Gothic Horror bring the darkness of our minds onto the page, with terrifying effect. 

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Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya, a Russian immigrant, is struggling to fit in at her private school in New England. One day, she falls into a dry well and finds a human skeleton at the bottom. The skeleton’s ghost Emily appears and starts to help Anya at school. But as their relationship grows, Emily’s amiable nature belies a darker past and a sinister truth. This may not be the Ring, but still, dead girls in wells don’t turn out to be friendly.

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Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola

Part of D.C.’s Elseworlds series, this graphic novel finds Bruce Wayne transposed into 1889. Following a long missive with Dr. Sigmeund Freud, Bruce Wayne dons the cowl as a series of murders grips Gotham. What follows is a long trail of conspiracy involving the Wayne family and Jack the Ripper, with the terror closer to the Batman than he would have imagined. 

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From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

The story of Jack the Ripper is as terrifying as it is gruesome, and From Hell is the second story based on the serial killer to make the list. The darkness surrounding the terrible murders allows writers and artists to weave so many narratives into the legendary figure. Alan Moore is another one of those brilliant minds to use the mystery of Jack the Ripper to reveal a darker reality, while portraying Jack in very twisted, yet human, terms.

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Hellblazer by D.C. Comics

John Constantine, the hellblazer, is a D.C. anti-hero who embodies the idea of the occult bad boy. A world-class cynic and working-class warlock, Constantine’s dark societal themes mix perfectly with the demons he tracks down and cults he takes down. Constantine’s stories, both mythical and earthly, are a strong representative of modern American gothic storytelling. 

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Gloomcookie by Serena Valentino

Gothic horror can certainly lend itself to campiness, and Gloomcookie is no exception. Gloomcookie is about a goth girl named Lex, a more than willing participant in goth culture, and the mundane and supernatural encounters in her life. Featuring star-crossed lovers, Reality Warpers, and demon worship, Gloomcookie will take you back to the best part of your weird years.  

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The Crow by James O’Barr

This dark superhero comic is tragic and disturbing, and takes the emotional weight of gothic horror to a pretty dark place. Our protagonist, Eric, is dead, and so is his fiancee. A crow revives him and acts as a guide to help him take his revenge. Eric and the Crow’s relationship is complex, especially as Eric wallows in his own pain and suffering. Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven, is infused throughout the story, making this a great comic for gothic horror fans. 

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Dracula by Jason Cobley and Bram Stoker

The classic vampire is incredibly adapted by Jason Cobley and illustrated by Staz Johnson and James Offredi. A foundational piece of gothic horror as well as horror at large, the blood-sucking creature of the night, inspired by Vlad the Impaler, attempts to move from Transylvania to England, with Van Helsing standing in his way. Dracula is one of the most well-known stories in horror and this graphic novel does it justice.

That’s a wrap on our Best of Gothic Horror comics! This is probably my favorite horror subgenre, with its emotional weight making the twists and turns all the darker. A lot of our favorite tropes and classic works come from gothic horror too, so this subgenre plays a role in more kinds of horror than you may realize. Make sure you represent your favorite gothic horror in the comments below. Your favorite comics could make the list. Thanks for reading!

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Shirley Jackson: Novels, Short Stories, and Other Works

The Lottery (1948)

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The Lottery is a short story that Shirley Jackson wrote in 1948—it was written within the month of its first publication. It appeared within the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and describes a fictional account of a small town that participates in a lottery of sorts. This particular short story has often been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.”

Conceptually, two creative stories come to mind immediately after reading this story–no doubt the authors of which were inspired greatly by the Jackson original. The cult classic film The Wicker Man (1973), then later the novelization and The Hunger Games franchise both echo the idea of a ritual where the town comes together and holds what they call a lottery.

This lottery is, unfortunately, not the type that anyone hopes to win, but mirrors the dystopian attitude where the losers rejoice in the winner’s predicament. Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, let’s just say it’s most definitely worth the read (or simply listen below). What is truly interesting with this story–one that leaves the reader with a feeling of utmost terror and despair–is that Jackson apparently wrote within the confines of a single morning. The agreed-upon account of its creation is that Jackson came up with the idea for the story while she was shopping for groceries in the morning, came home, set her two-year-old daughter in her playpen to play, and had it finished before her son came home from kindergarten for lunch.

Talk about a whirlwind turn-around for something so utterly and terribly fantastic. Along with other myths that surround the creation of The Lottery, there was a time when people actually believed that the story was a factual report–this is in part due to the fact that at the time The New Yorker didn’t distinguish between fact and fiction when it came to the stories within its publications. As a result of the misunderstanding, much to the chagrin of Jackson, subscribers sent her several hundred letters that in her words could be summed up to, “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” It was especially alarming to her that some of the letters were from people who wanted to know where such lotteries were being held and whether they would be allowed to watch.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

This gothic horror novel stands in the same class as those by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker—to the point of even being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. While Shirley adhered more to the thrilling psychological aspects, which successfully elicited stronger emotions in her readers. It has since been adapted into two feature films, a play, radio theater, as well as a Netflix series which premiered in 2018, although considerable liberties were taken with Shirley’s original story.

Shirley’s initial idea for this particular novel came to her after she read about a real-life group of researchers from the nineteenth century who had spent time in a reportedly haunted house and then published their experiences while investigating the site. She spent quite a bit of time researching and studying floor plans of large, potentially haunted houses around the country, and also spent time reading several volumes on hauntings and ghost stories before she sketched out the grounds of Hill House, as well as the floor plan for the house itself. Suffice it to say, she took her time considering how the characters might move about the house and made sure she had a clear vision of how a haunting would play out in such a house.

Check out this trailer of the Netflix series of The Haunting of Hill House and see how this novel translated to a television series.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962—just a few years before the radical social movement of the 1960s and 1970s—and served as her reaction to the movement of traditionalism that followed the Second World War. The fifties was an exceptional decade when women were transitioning from having jobs that supported the war effort while the men were overseas, to being expected to stay at home in order to support their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.

This novel takes place in a small New England town where the remaining members of the Blackwood family stay in their ancestral home—they seem to live a peaceful, if not removed life from the rest of the town and its oppressive atmosphere. The initial perception of the people in town is one of apprehension when the main character Mary Katherine admits the anxiety she feels when having to pass the general store when the men are sitting out front. The mood of the novel changes to reflect what many literary scholars believe might have been Jackson’s own response to the changing social climate of the fifties and how stifling it would have been to be a housewife with a job. It also bears mentioning that it brings attention to the ways women had been oppressed in the past, referencing witch hunts where women would be killed for even the slightest misstep.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle echoed a lot of the same themes that were found in her profoundly popular short story The Lottery, with special emphasis on the strange and hostile townspeople who take on the type of mob mentality that allows otherwise sensible people to commit horrible acts with little to no impact on their conscience. It is said that this particular novel served as inspiration to many writers—including authors like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates—who, after reading Shirley’s work, felt liberated in taking leaps with horror, speculative fiction, and just enough realism to create creepy atmospheres within their own novels.

Take a look at the trailer for We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019) and let us know what you think between the differences you’ve found between it and the original novel.

Looking back on a career like Shirley’s it’s widely believed that despite the fact that raising four children is an extremely difficult task, Shirley couldn’t have been such a literary success without them—after all, her first success, The Lottery came only a few months before Shirley was set to deliver her third child. A cringe-worthy moment came when the clerk asked Shirley her occupation, when she responded that she was a writer, the clerk responded that he was going to put down the occupation of housewife instead. While it was true that being a mother was one of her jobs, Shirley was more than just a mere housewife—in fact, she was the breadwinner of the family.

Shirley Jackson happened to be both a housewife and a “talented, determined, ambitious writer in an era when it was still unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.” The appearance of a conventional American household generated material for this sassy mother of four—who thrived on the tensions that it created between both roles. The expectations of herself, her husband, family, publishers, and readers gave life to her writing since what was normal for her was unspeakably abnormal for the time. She made this clear during the early years of her career, when she drew, “a muscular woman, looking disgruntled, [dragging] her husband off by his hair as another couple [looked] on worriedly. ‘I understand she’s trying to have both a marriage and a career,’ one says to the other.” The truth of the matter was, that Shirley’s career only really took off after she became a mother, having gained an empathetic view of developing minds and the well of imagination that she drew therein. In this respect, Shirley was not only a sensational author, she was an admirable role model for any woman who may have wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Index of Sources

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Featured Horror Books

Stoker: More than Just the Author of Dracula

For fans of Bram Stoker, it’s no surprise that he wrote more than his infamous novel Dracula (1987); credited for being the major influence on popular vampire culture, Stoker was a master of Gothic horror. While not critically acclaimed in his day–even H.P. Lovecraft had critical words for some of his literature–Stoker was a successful author and did great work within the genre.

Leaving a Mark With Short Fiction

Authors like Bram Stoker had much more potential for short fiction works than they did in novel-length literature, at least in the opinion of this writer. While it’s true that Stoker is considered a master of the Gothic horror genre, his short stories were captivating and less drawn out. Below is a selection of just a couple of his short stories that are available on YouTube for public consumption.

Dracula’s Guest

This short story is an offshoot of Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula and proves to be an interesting side-plot of the story of our favorite evil blood-sucking fiend. Have a listen to this short story as it is narrated in a proper spooky fashion!

The Judge’s House

This classic ghost story as told by Bram Stoker is definitely one that people need to hear read aloud–listen here and enjoy!

Horror Novels by Bram Stoker

The Snake's Pass by Bram Stoker

The Snake’s Pass (1890)

Bram Stoker’s first full-length novel, The Snake’s Pass, is a story about Englishman Arthur Severn who inherits wealth and a title from an aunt who chose him as her heir, much to the chagrin of closer relations. What he inherits, is essentially the ability to become an adventurer and he seizes this opportunity as a man of leisure to tour western Ireland. A storm forces him to stop for the night in a mysterious village where Arthur hears the legend of “The Snake’s Pass,” which alludes to a hidden treasure hidden in the boggy hills near the village. This deadly bog, hidden treasure, and a sinister man from the village proved to give Arthur the adventure he sought after.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Snake Pass GoodReads Listing

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula (1897)

By far the most famous of Stoker’s literary works, Dracula became the foremost authority on vampires within fiction. Where introduced to Jonathan Harker a solicitor from England who is sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula with who has a need for legal assistance regarding real estate. Dracula’s ultimate plan, of course, is to spread the curse of vampirism as much as possible while supplying himself with a fresh source of blood. Through the course of the book, we see the malignant plans of Dracula come to fruition and are introduced to Abraham Van Helsing, a character that would become part of modern folklore of vampires.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

Dracula GoodReads Listing

The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker

The Mystery of the Sea (1902)

The Mystery of the Sea tells the story of an Englishman living in Aberdeenshire, Scotland–he falls in love with an American heiress who has a special interest in the Spanish-American war. Over the course of the novel, we see elements of the supernatural with instances of second sight, and other thrilling aspects such as kidnapping, and cryptic codes. More of a political thriller than any of his other novels, the story explored themes important during his own time, such as the changing concepts of womanhood, and the uprising of feminism.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Mystery of the Sea GoodReads Listing

The Jewel of the Seven Stars

The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903)

Written in a first-person narrative, we follow a young man by the name of Malcom Ross, a barrister. Summoned by Margaret, the daughter of a famous Egyptologist with whom he is enamored, to find that he had been called due to the strange sounds that were heard from her father’s room. When Margaret went to check on her father, she found he was bloodied and unconscious–as if in some type of trance–along with cryptic instructions to watch him, in case of his incapacitation, until he awoke.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Jewel of Seven Stars GoodReads Listing

The Man by Bram Stoker

The Man (1905)

Strangely, for a book entitled The Man, this story is initially about a tomboy named Stephen (at the behest of her mother who died shortly after childbirth). Stephen grows to be an assertive, free-thinking child and becomes friends with Harold, the son of a friend of her father. After her father’s friend passes away, Harold becomes a ward of Stephen’s father. She and Harold pass the time visiting her family’s graveyard. After reaching adulthood romantic storylines enter into play, causing characters to suddenly disperse and then later and unexpectedly come together unwittingly. This tale is wrought with death and romance, key components to gothic horror, and Bram wrote it fantastically.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Man GoodReads Listing

The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker

The Lady of the Shroud (1909)

An epistolary novel, narrated primarily by the central character Rupert Saint Leger, the black sheep of his family. Rupert finds out that he is his uncle’s choice to inherit a large million-pound estate, under the condition that he lives in the castle of the Blue Mountains for a year before he can claim his fortune. Needless to say, this is his uncle’s way of testing him, to find if he can truly be worthy of such a grand fortune–little does Rupert know what awaits him in the castle of the Blue Mountains and how completely his life will change.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Lady of the Shroud GoodReads Listing

The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

The Lair of the White Worm (1911)

Based loosely upon the tale of The Lambton Worm, Stoker gave us a horror story based upon a giant white worm who has the ability to transform into a woman. The story revolves around the Australian-born Adam Salton, who receives word from an estranged uncle who wishes to make Adam his heir.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

Bram Stoker’s twelfth and final novel before his death, The Lair of the White Worm (2011) is also sometimes titled as The Garden of Evil. Along with Dracula and The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Lair of the White Worm was actually one of Stoker’s most successful novels, which is interesting because the reception by the literary community was not entirely favorable. In 1988 it was adapted into a horror film, which starred Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe.

The Lair of the White Worm GoodReads Listing

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

The Bizarre Horror Novel That Outsold Dracula

How ridiculous would it sound if I said that the infamous novel Dracula by Bram Stoker—yes, the guy that essentially created the foundation of what we think of when we envision vampires—was originally outsold six to one by a novel that you probably have never heard about?

Well, it’s true. Richard Marsh, author of The Beetle: A Mystery gave Stoker a run for his money in 1897, however, after his novel fell out of print in the sixties, Marsh’s novel has been all but forgotten.

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The Beetle (1897) by Richard Marsh

To put this in better context, most people know about Dracula even if they have never even heard of Bram Stoker’s novel. Since the novel’s initial publication, Dracula has become the benchmark for vampires within horror culture. With Gary Oldman’s 1992 depiction of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or the most recently created Dracula Untold (2014) it’s clear that Dracula has been an influential character for over a century.

The character, with or without Stoker’s name attached, has made so many cameos throughout pop-culture that it might be near impossible to create a comprehensive list. Then again, unlike Marsh, Stoker had the good fortune to remain in print ever since its first publication in April of 1897.

After having read The Beetle: A Mystery (1897) I now know how strange this supernatural mystery-horror this novel truly is. A tale of possession, revenge and literal transformation, the author of this literary oddity was Richard Marsh—born Richard Bernard Heldmann—was actually more successful as a short story author throughout his career. That didn’t stop the fierce competition that this book posed for Stoker’s insanely popular novel. Now, I may have roused your interest on how, exactly, The Beetle: A Mystery is so bizarre? Well, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of it, but be warned, there may be spoilers if you haven’t read it and plan to.

The Beetle: A Mystery (1897)

This Victorian-era mystery is told from the perspective of four different characters; this aptly described motley crew of middle-class individuals find that they are the last hope for civilization when they discover that a shape-shifting monster has arrived in London from the East (specifically Egypt). Now, our ragtag group of gumshoes includes an actual detective by the name of Augustus Champnell, a man named Sidney Atherton, a forward-thinking young lady named Marjorie Lindon, and Robert Holt an out-of-work clerk who can’t seem to catch a break. This seductive, yet inhuman creature has its eye on a British politician by the name of Paul Lessingham (who happens to be the fiancé of Marjorie Lindon), but after enslaving Holt this creature decides to attack London society.

The story itself is presented as a series of elaborate testimonies gathered by Champnell himself, who gives the context of the creature’s motives as well as the status of the rest of the Londoners, who were involved in the adventure, after the fact.

It’s up to these four Londoners to solve this mystery and stop the monster from achieving its goal—but when they find that the monster is actually a gender-swapping female that can transform into a giant Scarab beetle (I mean that part is pretty obvious from the title, but still wtf!) they’re a little bit more than unsettled! The situation gets even more terrifying for our protagonists when they learn that this evil creature, which originated in Ancient Egyptian civilization, is actually a High Priestess of a cult that worships the goddess Isis and has been kidnapping and subsequently sacrificing white British women to her goddess. Now, this is all happening years after Lessingham had been vacationing in Egypt when the Beetle monster, in her female form, had hypnotized him and then forced him to live as her sex slave until he was finally able to break free. During his escape, he attacked the Beetle and fled for his life; as a result of their previous run-in, the Beetle came to England specifically to seek her revenge through torturing and kidnapping his fiancée Lindon and then finally, killing Lessingham.

Of course, our characters are all intertwined in solving this mystery and defeating the beetle, but instead, it turns to a chase in an effort to save the life of Lindon after she had been abducted by the Beetle. They end up catching up with the monster, just to find that Lindon and her captor had been in a trainwreck—while Lindon was found relatively unharmed, they only find scattered burnt rags and bloodstains where the creature should have been. Of course, this uncertain ending marks where Champnell decided that he had exhausted his investigation, but had high hopes that the Beetle will never return.

Final Thoughts on The Beetle: A Mystery

Marsh wrote this novel to be a sort of literary fake, describing the events from each of the narrator’s points of view as if it were based on true events and insinuating that names had been changed to protect the identities of those involved. Even the year in which the events occurred is left ambiguous, with the reference to it having happened in the year of 18— around June 2, on a Friday. It was initially released piece by piece over the course of several weeks then finally released as a full novel later in the year—think of this in terms of Edgar Allan Poe’s Great Balloon Hoax in the paper, or H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds radio theater broadcast. Marsh, at the time, was an extremely prolific short story author so this story served as a heightened form of entertainment for the era.

I have a few objections about this novel, despite the fact that I thought it was a good read; to me, this novel was a little xenophobic—in the sense of what comes from the “exotic” East is dangerous or evil. In contrast to that blatant xenophobic message, there is also a message that speaks against colonization—that warning of something bad happening when we trespass into the lands of others and assume to have any authority. This, in my opinion, is a strange stance for a Victorian-era author like Marsh to take, but this was written during England’s colonization of Egypt during the late 1800s and England wouldn’t end its occupation of Egypt until the early 1920s. It’s safe to say that fear of foreigners was fairly commonplace, but that is but one of the

This novel provides a general commentary that would have been accurate at the time, with its anxieties over gender and sexuality—both of which are still providing consternation from the more conservative people in society. It also addresses the panic that white people may have had (or still have) in regards to traveling to non-English speaking countries, in fear of their precious white bodies and in particular white women’s bodies would be harmed or taken advantage of by the so-called evil foreigners.

The Beetle: A Mystery was published in 1897, so it’s well within the public domain laws and can be read here, or you can purchase a physical copy here. If you’re interested in learning more about Bram Stoker and his novel Dracula, you can always take a look at our article dedicated to the topic.

Works Cited

Rutigliano, O. (2020, April 27). This is the weird horror novel that outsold Dracula in 1897. Retrieved November 07, 2020, from https://lithub.com/this-is-the-weird-horror-novel-that-outsold-dracula-in-1897/

Marsh, R. (2019). The Beetle: A mystery. Sweden: Timaios Press.

Tichelaar, T. (2018, October 25). Dracula’s Rival: The Beetle by Richard Marsh. Retrieved November 07, 2020, from https://thegothicwanderer.wordpress.com/2018/10/24/draculas-rival-the-beetle-by-richard-marsh/