Sometimes the scariest things are best left to our imagination. Many well-known authors have taken their scary stories one step further by having characters encounter a horrifying book within the book. The inclusion of a fictional story is sometimes a focal part of the main narrative, and other times it’s just a small detail to keep readers on edge. In honor of Halloween, here is a list of eight books we wish were real so they could scare the pants off of us.
Necronomicon from the works of H.P. Lovecraft
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Let’s start off with a classic. Even people who have only a borderline familiarity with the work of horror author H.P. Lovecraft are likely familiar with the macabre tome that exists within many of his stories, the Necronomicon. It holds the secrets to powerful dark magic, including the method of summoning terrifying gods The Old Ones. Since Lovecraft’s passing, many writers have tried to make a real version, but none of these hold a candle to what he created. At the same time, it goes to show what an impact a book within a book can have on popular culture–most notably, the Necronomicon’s prominent role in media such as the Evil Dead film series.
Poe stories from The Man Who Collected Poe
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What’s scarier than one of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories? One that doesn’t exist! That’s the premise of short horror story “The Man Who Collected Poe,” which follows the eccentric Launcelot Channing, a collector of everything Poe. Some of the spooky works Channing has collected include fabricated stories The Crypt and The Worm of Midnight. If you had any doubts that these snippets capture what made Poe’s work great, know that the short story was written by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho.
Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
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This wizarding textbook takes on a life of its own– literally. Given to Harry by Hagrid, the Monster book is itself a monster, moving around and gnashing its teeth. It is impossible to actually read the book without the proper technique: Stroking its spine. Those who open the book are treated to expert knowledge on the monsters that inhabit Hogwarts and beyond.
Misery Chastain Series from Misery
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One of prolific author Stephen King‘s most enduring stories is Misery, the chilling tale of an author held captive by his biggest fan. The books that Paul Sheldon writes are Victorian romance stories starring a heroine named Misery Chastain. When Sheldon wants to end the series to work on more mature novels, he concludes it with Chastain’s grisly death. This is what causes the even scarier turn of events in Misery itself.
Book of Mazarbul from The Lord of the Rings
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This Lord of the Rings book isn’t necessarily a horror story, but what it describes is certainly horrifying. This book is the historical record of Balin the Dwarf’s travels, and how he and his comrades get ambushed by the Orcs and the terrifying Watcher in the Water. It’s an important moment in Middle-Earth history, and definitely adds a layer of fear and tension to the book and films.
The King in Yellow from The King in Yellow
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Fans of the intriguing HBO show True Detective know all about “The King in Yellow,” a collection of short horror stories by Robert W. Chambers that involves artists and decadents who encounter a fictional stage play of the same name. The “King in Yellow” play is forbidden to perform, because it causes madness and despair in the people who read it. Today, the collection is considered a horror classic, and plays a prominent role in the mystery behind True Detective.
Inkheart from the Inkheart trilogy
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The popular YA novel series Inkheart centers around a powerful evil overlord named Capricorn. He is the villain of a medieval fantasy book called Inkheart and escapes into the real world, unintentionally released from the pages when someone reads his name aloud. Every little detail that author Cornelia Funke plants about the story within the story makes it sound incredibly fascinating and well-developed. Even taking the risk of unleashing a monster, we’d jump at the chance to read the Inkheart that doesn’t exist.
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The bone-chilling novel House of Leaves is notable for its use of transmedia, which means different angles of the story are told across different forms of media. In addition to music and film, the narrative also uses letters that are a correspondence between two of the characters. Unlike the other texts on this list, though, you actually can read the Whalestoe letters. Author Mark Danielewski published a collection of them alongside the release of House of Leaves. Even with this bounty of information, readers are still theorizing about what the letters mean today, 15 years after the book was published, on the book’s official forums.
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