Classic Literature for the Supernatural Lover

Tales of Mystery, Magic, and the Macabre

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If you are you a fan of supernatural fiction, be sure to check out these superb classic novels that explore supernatural themes. 

H.P. Lovecraft, a champion of the genre, once wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

In that spirit, the list below includes some of the best examples of early speculative fiction, for modern readers who might like to know where it all began!

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Anne Radcliffe

This is perhaps the quintessential Gothic romance. It is filled with now well-established themes of physical and psychological terror, including remote and crumbling castles, a dark villain, a persecuted heroine, and supernatural elements. The extensive descriptions can be a bit much for some readers, but the effort is worth it in the end.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson

Although only a novella, this story packs a wallop. Split personalities, science gone wrong, an inquisitive friend and a trampled young woman. What more could one want from a supernatural thriller? Well, how about a number of film adaptations and incessant cultural references? You got it!

Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley

Shelley's work is the standard-bearer for the Romantic genre. The 1800s were a time of rapid scientific advancements, and literature of the time reflects these marvels and the fears and doubts they generated. Frankenstein is written in epistolary form and is inspired by a number of epic predecessors, including John Milton's Paradise Lost, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and, of course, Ovid's Promethean myth.

The Tempest (1611) by William Shakespeare

The Tempest is a romantic tragicomedy inspired by the courtly masque that differs quite substantially from Shakespeare's other works. It follows a neoclassical style and seems to comment on itself as a play quite openly, in what critics would later discuss in fiction as "meta-narrative." Theatrical illusion mirrors story magic and supernaturalism to create a play that is both entertaining and self-reflective.

The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw is a strange sort of ghost story. James's novella is perhaps most brilliant in its open-endedness and in its ability to create in the reader a personally significant confusion and sense of suspense. There is an evil hinted at throughout the story, but the nature of it is never really explained.

Christabel (1797/1800) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge's long narrative poem was published in two parts, with three more parts planned but never completed. There is an odd sensation created by the rigid rhythm of the poem's form (a consistent four beats to each line) juxtaposed against the mysticism of the tale itself. Modern critics have examined the poem through lesbian and feminist lenses, but it is the demonic presence which drives the action that makes Christabel so supernaturally appealing, even to the point of inspiring the great master of macabre, Edgar Allan Poe.

Carmilla (1872) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

The lady Carmilla gains strange powers at night but is oddly restricted from crossing the threshold of a house. What rules keep her out without invitation? What mysteries of ​at midnight drive her strength? This Gothic novella comes replete with castles, forests, and outlandish romantically-charged relationships between young women.

The Complete Tales and Poems (1849) by Edgar Allan Poe

Although Edgar Allan Poe wrote poetry (some macabre, some not) as well as being a literary critic and journalist, he is probably best known for his mysterious and imaginative short stories. Tales such as , The Pit and the Pendulum, Mask of the Red Death, and The Tell-Tale Heart, along with eerie poetry such as The Raven have made Edgar Allan Poe a household name worldwide.