For some of us, the idea of sitting through a horror story, be it on screen or on the page, sounds almost as appealing as sitting in five-o’clock traffic, hangry, with an overwhelming urge to pee. Horrific visuals stay with me, and when I do try to take one for the team at a movie night and convince myself that my grounding and meditation skills will get me through the night with the lights off, I inevitably end up paranoid during showers, sprinting back into bed during late night bathroom breaks, and with a sky-high electricity bill, because I cannot fall asleep when I’m terrified to look around my dark room and imagine that the table shadow is there to take my soul.
In short, I am never going to be a horror person. What I am, though, is a Halloween person—with every fiber of my being. So, I spend a good amount of my disposable energy during the Fall embracing witchy, earthy, magical, ghosty vibes in ways that aren’t effing terrifying, and dodging every evil clown Halloween party poster under the sun. Yech.
If you’re on the same broomstick, I salute you—we should hang out over Hocus Pocus sometime. Having struck horror off this season’s (and every season after that) to-do list, here’s what I do find irresistibly autumn-esque: a hot drink, and a book that won’t give me nightmares—preferably one in which I can travel to a forest, meet witches, or go on an adventure with woodland creatures of any sort. Every reader’s experience of autumn is different, so while the books I have included below resonate with the mood I personally embrace when fiery leaves are everywhere, they are more of a loose map of where to begin searching when you’re up to your elbows in your best friends’ Stephen King content.
Before Disney took a handful of these, sanitized them and made them into actually appropriate versions for children, parents in the olden days used to tell their children cautionary tales featuring characters like the devil’s grandmother, a den of cannibals, Baba Yaga, creepy men with murder chambers, and the devil himself. I guess the world was a dangerous place, and anything was fair game as long as kids didn’t go into the forest by themselves at night. Anyway, contrary to popular belief, the Grimms didn’t write the tales they are so famous for nowadays, but traveled throughout Europe collecting them, so when delving into this anthology, you’ll likely to be able to tap into some ancestral folklore (provided you have any European ancestry). If your lineage includes no European blood whatsoever, you’ll dive vicariously into a world of cottages, old hags, journeys away from home (sometimes into the underworld and back), unexpected neo-paganism (AKA, the post-Christianity remnants of pagan lore and custom) and even some olden humor?
2. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
If I’m going to talk about fairytales, I may as well bring the conversation home. Angela Carter may very well have been the feminist mother of Once Upon a Time, because the concept of her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, is all about putting classic folktales on their heads and retelling them from a more modern, insightful perspective. We don’t get Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf’s innocent prey; we get a fully grown woman as our heroine and in-depth thoughts on what makes a wolf. Any reader drawn to folklore—classic tales and folklore in the making—should make a beeline for this.
3. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman
A tale of sisterhood and witchcraft in equal measure, this story’s setting in a picturesque Massachusetts town by the sea gives a story about a witch family an extra fresh-out-of-the-garden feel. Alice Hoffman gives us the lives of Gillian and Sally Owens, who, upon their parents death, grow up with their two aunts amid their crowd of black cats and questionable herbal concoctions. As they grow increasingly restless in their outcast status (for the past 200 years, the Owens women were blamed for everything that ever went wrong in their town), Sally and Gillian seek their freedom, finding that they have a bond that keeps them coming back to each other.
4. Brooklyn Brujas series, Zoraida Córdova
Currently on my TBR list (and not for long), this fantasy series has everything: sister witches, a coming-of-age journey as our heroine develops her powers, and an epic quest. The story spans across a three book saga, which is an added perk for those of us who enjoy literary commitments.
5. Stardust, Neil Gaiman
This happens to be one of my favorite love stories of all time, and I am stoked that I can count on it to also validate my autumn-y mood. Neil Gaiman’s prose is something I’m already a fan of; make him talk about a fallen star, a shop boy from a rural English village, and a magical realm in which royal siblings fight each other literally to the death for a claim to the throne, and I am happy as a cat napping by the heater.