Few scenes better encompass an ideal summer night than that of the campfire, weary adventurers huddled around a roaring flame to roast s’mores and hear the wild stories spun by any imaginative soul in their company. Don’t be surprised if the shadows appear longer as such stories go on; this is their purpose. The following ten tales, conceived by some of the greatest horror writers of the past century, make for the perfect additions to your wilderness repertoire.
The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood
Where else could we start but with a classic? In his time, Algernon Blackwood held a reputation as a sublime horror writer, oftentimes describing the settings of his stories in such a way that the wilderness itself appeared sentient and, at the eeriest of times, malevolent. The Wendigo takes Blackwood’s horror in the direction of a monster story while exhibiting the roots of “natural horror” at its finest. If you’re a fan, consider checking out The Willows next for some more peak Blackwood.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
It should come as no surprise that a horror veteran like SGJ could devise a story as heartbreaking and relentlessly brutal as The Only Good Indians. Justice comes relentlessly for a group of four Blackfeet men, all guilty of slaying a herd of elk on a forbidden hunting ground years before. The force of vengeance, in a refreshing leap from the familiar slasher villain, is Po’noka, an elk-headed spirit hell-bent on punishing the men responsible for murdering her unborn calf.
The Troop by Nick Cutter
If there wasn’t a merit badge for “worm slaying” before, Nick Cutter’s The Troop makes a good and terrifying case for one. The story, which imagines a parasitic abomination menacing a party of boy scouts, is a treat for camping enthusiasts and fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing alike. Cutter will have you checking around for mutated tapeworms instead of spiders the next time you pitch a tent.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
The King of horror fiction took a stab at wilderness horror in 1999, emerging with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. A lighter premise than some of his other works (which, for SK, is still pretty dark), the story centers around a young girl named Trisha who gets hopelessly lost in the Maine wilderness. Armed with only her wits and her Walkman and stalked by a shadowy beast who may or may not be the Wendigo, Trisha must blindly find her way back to civilization.
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
These late-nineteenth-century-to-early-twentieth-century writers, huh? Clearly, they knew something about nature that the rest of us were blissfully unaware of. This next title stars the literal god of the wilderness as the central antagonist. The writing’s a tad archaic, but the creeping sensation of a supernatural mystery beyond comprehension has held up well over a century since The Great God Pan’s publication.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
While not explicitly horror, William Golding incorporates several elements of the genre within this suspenseful tale of a group of marooned boys fending against the elements, then each other, as their innate savagery takes hold. Those scenes with “The Beast,” that unseen but ever-felt embodiment of the savage wilderness? Chilling.
Off Season by Jack Ketchum
Trigger warning: graphic violent and sexual content.
For hard-core horror fans only, Off Season follows a New York editor who escapes to her Maine lake house for some much-needed rest and relaxation. The only issue? A family of cannibals in the nearby wilderness, hungry for the opportunity to creep onto her property for a midnight snack.
Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1) by Jeff Vandermeer
Few contemporary names in weird fiction come close to the sublime, dream-turned–nightmare atmosphere that Jeff Vandermeer does so well. Annihilation is his best-known work, thanks to an acclaimed (albeit loosely correlating) film adaption of the same name. The story follows a team of scientists, the twelfth of their kind but the first to be composed completely of women, tasked with entering “Area X” for reconnaissance. What they find inside is a warped, ever-expanding amalgamation of nature, the flora and fauna of “Area X” having adapted to the alien presence with beautiful and terrifying results.
The Fisherman by Jeff Vandermeer
If any readers with a penchant for fishing thought they’d escape this list unscathed, think again. The aptly-titled Fisherman drops a Lovecraftian legend into Upstate New York, where a man grieving the death of his wife turns to fishing for healing. What he gets instead is a mysterious account of “Der Fisherman,” a shadowy figure from his town’s ancient past. Part first-person account, part oratory tale, Langan’s “big fish” story has teeth to spare.
The Ritual by Adam Nevill
It seems fitting to end the list with one last story about a few folks hopelessly lost in the woods with a shadowy entity stalking their every move. This final title is a real chiller, too. The setting: the Scandinavian wilderness, far from the relative safety of the American wilderness. The victims: four old friends who could really have done without all the cult killings and supernatural beasts on top of their individual life problems. The antagonist(s): Moder, spawn of Loki, and its less-than-hospitable followers. For those rare but dear readers who hate hiking with a passion, The Ritual is your perfect excuse to bow out of the next outdoor adventure your friends try to force you into.
For more spooky camp-related content, click here!