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History of Horror: How Horror Stories Have Evolved Over Time

When readers think of horror, they tend to imagine authors like R.L. Stine, Edgar Allen Poe, or Stephen King. They think of stories like Dracula, The Woman in Black, or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Many of these stories are considered to be some of the defining stories of the horror genre. In fact, some of the authors that come to mind might be thought of as the first to ever conjure up such horrific tales.

The truth is, though, that the history of horror goes back even farther than Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. The history of the horror genre goes back almost to the beginning of human history.

The History of Horror from the Earliest Stages

Many people think the history of horror literature begins in the 18th century, with authors like Ann Radcliffe, who was referenced at least once by Jane Austen in her novels.

However, evidence suggests that the history of horror dates back not decades, but centuries, before that time period.

One of the earliest accounts is actually in The Holy Bible, in the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 28. The story is that of King Saul who, after Samuel’s death, goes to spirit mediums (or a witch, in some translations) to consult her about his future and to “bring up” Samuel for him. The books of Samuel were written between 630 and 540 B.C.E.

The second century of the common era saw the first tale of a vampire in the story Life of Apollonius of Tyana, about a Phoenician woman who admits she’s a vampire.

Other stories written later than that include the Odyssey, written by Homer in the eighth century of the common era. That story contains immortal, irresistible monsters that try to trap Odysseus, as well as a cyclops, sea monsters, a sorceress, a cannibalistic race of giants. 

Horror in the Modern Ages – the Stories Most People Are Familiar With

During the Inquisition, around 1235, witchcraft was a major sin and crime. The label “witch” meant almost certain death. However, since that time, stories of the macabre and supernatural have fascinated the masses, resulting in horror stories that would be recognizable to modern readers.

In the mid-to-late 1700s and early 1800s, the stories of horror that many modern readers are familiar with were written. These stories often put their predecessors to shame, the authors of which are commonly touted as geniuses in their genre. These include the following authors.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe, who was born in the mid-1600s, started writing horror stories in the early 1700s. The story The Apparition of Mrs. Veal was a pamphlet that was published anonymously in 1705 and was attributed to Defoe. It’s considered the first modern ghost story. Before his death, Defoe published his most famous work of fiction:  Robinson Crusoe.

Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is viewed by many as the father of modern horror stories.

Most of Poe’s stories consisted of short stories and poetry, as opposed to novels. His handle of the macabre, smart, and heart-pounding storyline is incredible. It’s all done with less gore than is seen in many of the horror movies and books released in recent years.

The most popular Poe stories include:

H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft was born in the late 1800s and started writing horror fiction around 1914 and into the 1920s.

For the most part, Lovecraft was unknown during his lifetime and he died a pauper. It took approximately 20 years before people really started to grasp his genius for horror. Writers of today, like Neil Gaiman and Guillermo Del Toro, have been inspired by Lovecraft’s work, a writer who is now considered the father of cosmic horror.

Some of Lovecraft’s best-known works include:

Note to readers: quite a bit of Lovecraft’s writing, particularly that which was written in his later years, contains coarse, racist, and xenophobic language.

Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe is considered a pioneer of Gothic fiction. She’s also considered the Shakespeare of romance writers. Her stories are dramatic, scintillating, and thrilling. They’re the type of stories that will keep a reader hooked so they end up reading the story to its completion, even if it’s 3:00 in the morning.

Some of her most famous works are:

  • The Italian
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho
  • The Haunted Chamber
  • Mistress of Udolpho

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the best-known and beloved horror stories. Frankenstein is also considered the first science fiction story ever written. The story is so well-known and evokes such strong feelings of fear and dread that it’s been transformed into multiple movies. In fact, it’s one of the most re-made horror movies of all time, with a total of four remakes so far.

Not Quite a Horror Fan Yet? Enticing Genres with a Dash of Spine-Tingling Goodness

Some horror stories are a bit much for certain readers. Does this mean they should give up on the genre altogether?

Absolutely not! In fact, readers can find many stories that are only mildly horrific, some offering more “edge-of-your-seat” thrills than actual horror.

However, for those readers who simply aren’t interested in exploring the horror genre, there are other genres that can offer a bit of spine-tingling action without reducing them to hysterics.

Thrillers, suspense, mystery, fantasy, and even sci-fi genres are some entertaining options. World-building isn’t the only thing that keeps readers enticed with these works of art. Quality storytelling with a dash of action, adventure, and fear-inducing scenarios keeps readers coming back for more.

Readers can enjoy curling up with a thrilling audiobook that has just the right number of frightful situations to keep them on the edge of their seat during the brisk evenings of the season.

Are you a lover of horror and thrillers? We have a wide selection of stories that will send chills down your spine and keep you on the edge of your seat! Check them out to find your new favorite horror story.   

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