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Scary literature offers lots of tricks and plenty of treats, university literary experts say

Friday, Oct. 25, 2013



MANHATTAN -- Whether you're looking for a spine-tingling classic or a lighter take on the holiday, great Halloween stories can be found across many different types of literature, according to faculty members at Kansas State University's English department, who offer some suggestions for readers of all ages.

Mark Crosby, an assistant professor of English, says that one of the best characters in scary literature is the monster created in "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus" by Mary Shelley. Crosby said that Frankenstein has remained an enduring figure in literature not just because of a monstrous or evil nature, but because Shelley's novel raises questions about whom her story's true villain is.

While Frankenstein is typically portrayed in popular culture as a horrible monster, Crosby said Shelley actually leaves much up to the reader's interpretation when it comes to the true nature of Victor Frankenstein's creation.

"Shelley's novel is, in many wonderful ways, ambiguous when it comes to the creature's monstrosity," Crosby said. "Indeed, one of the key questions that Shelley prompts readers to ask is who the monster really is: the creator or the creation."

Also high on Crosby's list of best scary characters is Bram Stoker's 1897 creation "Dracula,"which he calls the founding myth for nearly all 20th- and 21st-century vampire stories. The well-known story features a charismatic aristocrat who seduces women and threatens to transform society into undead vassals.

"Stoker presents a tale that is self-consciously modernist in approach, yet invokes antiquarian folklore in the depiction of its titular character," Crosby said.

Anne Phillips, an associate professor of English who specializes in American children's and adolescent literature, suggests Neil Gaiman's Newbery Award-winning novel "The Graveyard Book" for readers of all ages. The story's main character, Nobody "Bod" Owens, grows up in a graveyard after escaping from a mysterious killer. Phillips also recommends Gaiman's popular "Coraline," which as been adapted for film by Henry Selick.

For younger readers, Phillips recommends Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Gordon Tessler's "Six Creepy Sheep" and its illustrations by John O'Brien. Phillips says that the book is an excellent Halloween-themed story that features great teaching tools for children.

"It's a counting book, a Halloween book and a wonderful celebration of alliteration and assonance that is sustained not only in the authors' words but also in the choices the illustrator has made," Phillips said.

Phillips said that Jan Waldron's picture book, "John Pig's Halloween," illustrated by David McPhail, is another popular pick for young readers. It features a timid pig that finds the fun in Halloween with the help of a friendly witch. She also suggests "Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt" for fans of Marjorie Weinman Sharmat's popular Nate the Great series. The Halloween installment of the series follows the chaos that ensues as Nate attempts to rescue his missing cat, Little Hex, and escape from a haunted house with his dog Sludge.


Anne Phillips

Mark Crosby

Written by

Stephanie Murray

At a glance

Members of Kansas State University's English department say scary literature a great way to treat yourself this Halloween.