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The Best Stories to Read Aloud on Halloween Night

Updated on October 1, 2013

Storytelling was a part of Halloween long before Trick-or-Treating and costume parties became the standard. People would get together for their harvest feasts and eventually, after everyone tired of dancing, they would gather around the fire where the matrons would tell stories about the supernatural. There is no reason why this tradition should not be carried on to this day. Obviously, the ideal would be for someone to tell a ghost story extemporaneously, but very few people have the ability to do so. Most will be better off reading aloud a story from a book.

Painting by Daniel Maclise of an early 19th century Halloween party
Painting by Daniel Maclise of an early 19th century Halloween party | Source

The best stories to read on Halloween night are short and scary. Too long, and it will eat up all your evening. Too dull, and no one will have any fun listening. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find works in the horror genre that meet this criteria. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a genius; however, his writings are not particularly popular because of the weightiness of his prose. Henry James’ ghost story The Turn of the Screw is a bit too ambiguous to be immediately frightening. Frankenstein is great, but this book was probably a lot more effective during a time when people were shocked by the idea of life being created in a laboratory.

In fact, our perception of what is scary has completely changed over the centuries. This really is just a list of suggestions that will help you think about your own favorite horror stories. There are many other works – including stories by Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and even Daphne du Maurier – that are just as appropriate for Halloween. Light some candles, turn off everything that beeps, and have some fun getting a good scare.

Illustration by John Quidor of the Headless Horseman
Illustration by John Quidor of the Headless Horseman | Source

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

You can’t create a list of Halloween stories without included Washington Irving’s most famous work. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is also one of the few ghost stories which actually take place during a harvest celebration or, arguably, on Halloween Night. In all honesty, this story starts out rather boring - so boring you might want to consider omitting some of the early pages. However, the climax, when the Headless Horseman starts to chase Ichabod, is worth the wait. Word of warning, though: Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has basically nothing to do with the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie.

Chapters 2-4 of Dracula

Some of the scariest parts of Bram Stoker’s Dracula are right at the beginning of the novel. In the interest of brevity, Chapter 1 can easily be discarded as it only describes Jonathan Harker’s reason for being in Transylvania and the warnings he receives from the superstitious peasants. Chapters 2-4 describe Jonathan’s arrival at the castle, his first encounter with Dracula and later with the Three Brides, and his discovery of the supernatural phenomena going on around him. Chapter 4 ends with an excellent cliffhanger for anyone who wants to finish the novel later, as Jonathan must stay in the castle, facing certain death, or find a way out.

Illustration by Harry Clarke for The Fall of the House of Usher
Illustration by Harry Clarke for The Fall of the House of Usher | Source

Edgar Allan Poe

Basically everything Edgar Allan Poe wrote is completely creepy, but some of his stories are a bit long and complicated. For example, his Murders in the Rue Morgue is absolutely terrifying and even quite gory. However, it is so long it borders on being a novella rather than a short story.

Pretty much everybody will agree that there are three Edgar Allan Poe stories that are perfect for Halloween: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Masque of the Red Death. Those who are interested in poetry might also want to consider reciting Poe’s The Raven once the sun has set and the atmosphere has become dark and creepy.

Both The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, stories about murder, are written in a first person narrative and are therefore ideal if the reader would like to give a rather theatrical performance. If you are giving a large party, it might be fun to scare your guests by suddenly dimming the lights and reading The Masque of the Red Death, a story about a party that is cursed.

Vincent Price reads The Tell-Tale Heart

Anything H.P. Lovecraft

Pretty much all of Lovecraft’s works are horror stories. Most are also short stories or even flash fiction. Some suggestions of stories to read on Halloween night include The Dreams in the Witch House, the story of a man who encounters a witch from the Salem Trials, The Tomb, a tale of obsession with a family’s grave, and In The Vault, a story about premature burial.

What kind of scary stories do you like?

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© 2013 LastRoseofSummer2


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