Which scenes in literature have chilled you to the bone?

The Royal Society of Literature is posing the question ‘What have been your scariest reads?’ to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. Feel free to comment below if you have any good ideas. I think mine is Dean Koontz novel.

Addendum: The Dean Koontz novel which I mentioned above was called Fear Itself  (1998). I must have read it when I was about 14 or 15 (thank you local library for letting me take out Fear_Nothinginappropriate books). It’s about government conspiracy theories and animal testing and biological warfare.  The cover of the edition which I took out was particularly memorable and gave me a nauseous headache which seemed to fit the tone of the book very well.

The scene that has stayed with me the most (though I may be misremembering it) was when a police officer, who has been exposed to the chemicals being tested, is telling the protagonist, Christopher Snow, about the side effects. One of the side effects is increasingly violent dreams that involve a young female relative. The conversation ends with the officer telling Christopher that he knows that at some point in the future he will act on his dreams. Even today it makes my stomach clench.

A more canonical Gothic text which unnerves me is ‘The Great God Pan’ (1890) by Arthur Machen. It is the perfect example of how obscurity functions in the Gothic. The entire time I was reading it I felt I was at the edge of darkness peering into the gloom filled with a sick sense of dread.

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6 Responses to Which scenes in literature have chilled you to the bone?

  1. Alice Quinn says:

    Though not overall my scariest read ever I remember reading the scene with Cathy’s ghost in Wuthering Heights when I was 12ish and being terrified. It was my first gothic literature moment.
    Years later when I read the whole book I still got a shiver!

    • firekrank says:

      It is very creepy. I love that about literature, it morphs every time you read it. Cathy’s ghost is scary when you are younger because, well, she’s a ghost; and then, when you read it as you get older, you realise Heathcliff desires to be haunted and he is alone in a house on a wuthering moor, hating himself and kept alive by bitterness and the memories of a ghost. And that just gets more terrifying the more you think about it.

  2. Kate Harvey says:

    I gave my other half some gothic literature to read-and he genuinely freaked out at the hotel entrapment/escape elevator scene in ‘Fangland’. I did suggest he put the book in the freezer,but i don’t think he got the Friends reference.

    • firekrank says:

      I am not above admitting that I have hidden books, DVDS, video tapes (I am that old) that have scared me. I haven’t read Fangland for my sins. Is it good?

  3. Lucy Northenra says:

    I find ‘The Turn of the Screw’ very frightening but ‘The Innocents’ (1961) the film based on it is even scarier ….I can still picture the ghostly face of Quint at the window and the face of the lifeless child whose soul is stolen at the end. Interestingly, this was voted no. 11 in the Guardian’s Top 100 Horror Films of all Time recently and Sir Chris Frayling has done the book on it in the BFI classics list. It features an abusive relationship between the game keeper and governess who both battle for possession of the children from different sides of the grave. It features astral projection among other phenomenon. I also remember being scared witless by the TV version of an M. R. James story ‘Lost Hearts’ (child vampires with their hearts ripped out). The story is from James’s ‘Ghost Stories of Antiquary’ (1904). Interestingly, both of these feature demonic children – maybe this says something about me. A touch of the Jane Eyres. She frequently dreams of phantom children after having been locked in the red room!

    • firekrank says:

      Creepy children are, well, incredibly creepy. My partner still gets the shivers if I wiggle my forefinger and pretend to be speaking to it a la Danny from The Shining.

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