I don’t know about you, but when the Autumn pine needles shiver to the ground and candy corn finally arrives on the store shelves, my imagination turns to gobble-uns and “ghosties and ghoulies, long-leggetie beasties, And things that go bump in the night.”
Storytellers have been taunting and teasing us for centuries about horrific creatures—about ghosts and golems and monsters—but we’ve only been writing these stories down for the last 250 years (or so).
How about we set our mythical time machine to the 19th century and visit three writers whose menacing creatures continue to terrify us?
Mary’s story—Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus—features a reanimated eight foot tall, yellow-skinned, black-lipped creature who rampages against the man that created him.
While not quite a ghost story, Mary Shelley’s terrifying Gothic tale of ambition, science, and desperation has been scaring us for centuries now. It’s been transferred endlessly to the theatre, tv, cinema, ballet, and even opera, proving over and over again that people like to be scared.
Fun Fact about Mary: Although she cremated her husband, Percy Shelley’s heart did not burn entirely amongst his ashes. Instead, Mary carried it with her everywhere until her death in 1851. The heart was eventually buried in the family vault in 1889.
The Tell-Tale Heart. The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The Cask of Amontillado. American Edgar Allan Poe’s stories of horrific death, imprisonment, and plague still resonate one hundred and seventy-one years after his untimely death in 1849.
If you want to trod the same floors and look out the same windows that Poe did, you’re in luck! The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is open and displays such Poe artifacts as his boyhood bed, vest, and his walking stick. Also, the gift shop sells Poe bobble-heads! There’s also a Edgar Allan Poe National Site in Philadelphia, but it is closed right now.
Fun Fact about Edgar: Although Poe’s stories are hideous and horrible, many of them were based on facts. Just proving how treacherous mid-19th century life really was.
Back in the British Isles, just before the turn-of-the-century, Irish-born Bram Stoker—inspired during a vacation in Scotland—writes the big daddy of Vampire stories Dracula. Stories of vampires had been told-around-the-fires for centuries, but Stoker’s novel arrived just in time to catch a popular imagine already primed by fictional monsters like Frankenstein and the very real Jack the Ripper.
Published in 1897, Stoker’s novel (originally titled THE UN-DEAD) introduced Count Dracula, a “tall old man…clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of color about him anywhere” who can only stay alive by drinking the blood of human beings. When the Count is hungry, no person is safe.
Although Stoker kills off Dracula at the end of his tale, the world demanded more of the blood-sucking Count. The silent film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)—with a villain named Count Orlok—was clearly based on Dracula, while a talkie version arrived in 1931. And since then…doesn’t it feel like there’s no getting away from Dracula?
Actor Sir Christopher Lee, who many people consider as the best Count Dracula, recorded an audio version of the book. This version is especially creepy because it features the pages of a graphic novel published in 1966. Want to read it yourself?
Now that Dracula has chased us into the 20th century, our short hop to visit 19th century writers of horrific, scary tales comes to a close. I’m sorry that we didn’t have time to drop in on Sheridan Le Fanu, Elizabeth Gaskell, or Varney, the Vampyre, but there’s always next Autumn!
About the Blog Title:
*Written in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley, the poem Little Orphant Annie scared children to pieces with the repeated warning (or was it a promise?) “An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!” Years later Riley’s poem inspired the much-loved American folklore character Little Orphan Annie.
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.