It’s October, and you know what that means! Leaves turn red and yellow, the American population puts pumpkin spice into absolutely everything, I start humming Nightmare Before Christmas songs to myself, and we all become obsessed with ghouls, ghosts, and other ghastly creatures in preparation for Halloween!
This is the first in a series of reading lists to get you in the mood and what better way to start than with the most famous monsters in all of literature?
(And if you’re wondering why Cthulhu isn’t on this list, don’t worry, we’ll get to him. Oh, we’ll get to him. Or rather, he will get to us.)
Beowulf (recommended: 2000 translation by Seamus Heaney – pdf)
Grendel was the name of this grim demon
haunting the marches, marauding round the heath
and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time
in misery among the banished monsters,
Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed
and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel
the Eternal Lord had exacted a price:
Cain got no good from committing that murder
no because the Almighty made him anathema
and out of the curse of his exile there sprang
ogres and elves and evil phantoms
and the giants too who strove with God
time and again until He gave them their reward.
Frankenstein (1818), Mary Shelley
‘Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.’
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870), Jules Verne
With its untold depths, couldn’t the sea keep alive such huge specimens of life from another age, this sea that never changes while the land masses undergo almost continuous alteration? Couldn’t the heart of the ocean hide the last–remaining varieties of these titanic species, for whom years are centuries and centuries millennia?
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Robert Louis Stevenson
There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a millrace in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine.
Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker
Never did tombs look so ghastly white. Never did cypress, or yew, or juniper so seem the embodiment of funeral gloom. Never did tree or grass wave or rustle so ominously. Never did bough creak so mysteriously, and never did the far-away howling of dogs send such a woeful presage through the night.
I Am Legend (1954), Richard Matheson
Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), J.R.R. Tolkien
‘You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.’
The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.