In Haunt

An article by Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley (Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University and member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies).

Twenty First Century Children's Gothic Chloé is an academic working in the fields of literature, film and cultural studies, specialising in the Gothic, games and children’s literature. She is the author of Twenty-First Century Children’s Gothic Fiction: From Wanderer to Nomadic Subject (Edinburgh University Press, 2017) – pictured left – Co-Editor of Telling it Slant: Critical Approaches to Helen Oyeyemi (Sussex Academic Press, 2017) with Dr Sarah Illot, and has contributed a range of book chapters, journal content and online articles. Haunt Manchester also previously interviewed Chloé about her academic work here and ahead of her participation in the academic panel at Manchester Folk Horror Festival II here. She went onto write a retrospective of the experience, and provided a further review of Gothic Manchester Festival 2019’s event ‘The Witching Way’.

Terrifying Tales

Independent booksellers have reported an increase in telephone and email orders during the pandemic as people turn to books for entertainment in efforts to stay at home. Children and teens are in need of the same, of course. Normally, teachers and librarians are a fantastic source of book recommendations and reading enthusiasm and, without their support, it can be tough to find fun and suitable titles for young readers. However, if your tastes tend to the spooky and macabre, there’s no shortage of great books out there. While researching my book, Twenty-First-Century Children’s Gothic, I read a lot of scary stories written for children and young adults and here I share my top 10 reads...

Although the Gothic has always been part of children’s literature, it has exploded in popularity since the turn of the twenty-first century. Nowadays, children’s Gothic ranges across multiple genres, showcasing a real diversity of themes and styles. In the children’s section of your local bookshop, you will find literary ghost stories, dark fantasy and paranormal romance series, neo Victorian novels, zombie horror, and Weird fiction. In this “Top 10 Must Reads” I’ve picked out some notable examples and personal favourites dating from the eighteenth century to the present. To make the task of selecting only ten books slightly easier, I’ve limited the list to British and Irish writers. This means I’ve not included the superlative Lemony Snicket and his Series of Unfortunate Events ... Writing a Top 10 is really difficult!

Gothic Children's Fiction Top Ten, 1798 - Present

  1. Horace Walpole’s Hieroglyphic Tales (1798): Walpole published the first self-proclaimed Gothic novel, Castle of Otranto in 1764; the same year that the first children’s novel went on sale. Hieroglyphic Tales couldn’t be more different to Thomas Newbery’s Tale of Goody-Two-Shoes, though. As Dale Townshend, notes, “horror drips darkly from Walpole’s pen” in these tales of witches, devils and an archbishop who swallows a human foetus! All purportedly penned for a 9-year-old girl. Read the free e-book here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14098
  2. Lucy Lane Clifford’s “The New Mother” (1882): This is very strange story from the Victorian Golden Age when writers inspired by the Grimms penned new fairy tales for the nursery. Here, two little girls determined to misbehave have their mother replaced by a “new mother” with glass eyes and a wooden tail. A key inspiration for Coraline (2002). Read the story online for free: https://weirdfictionreview.com/2011/11/creepy-classic-lucy-cliffords-the-new-mother/
  3. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911): A lovely tale of gardening and blossoming childhood friendship, which also happens to riff on the Victorian Gothic. Although, in this case, the “madwoman in the attic” turns out to be Colin. Read the free e-book here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/113
  4. Helen Cresswell, Moondial (1987): Moondial was a childhood favourite of mine. This creepy time-slip ghost story turns real-life National Trust site, Belton House, Lincolnshire, into an emotionally charged Gothic space. 
  5. Celia Rees, Blood Sinister (1997): Rees’ page-turning spin on Stoker’s Dracula (1897) has everything. Its dual timeline narrative tracks a nineteenth-century Vampire as he closes in on his prey. There are gory scenes of blood transfusion, a terrifying private medical institution, and a strong feminist message.Gothic Books
  6. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (2002): Gaiman’s terrifying tale of a haunted house playfully rewrites elements of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass by way of Freud’s essay on the “Uncanny”. Adapted by director Henry Selick into a sinister stop-motion animation in 2009, Coraline really kickstarts 21st Century Children’s Gothic.
  7. Bali Rai, City of Ghosts (2009): Rai’s novel is a ghost story of sorts, one that takes readers back to Amritsar in 1919 when the British army murdered hundreds of Indian civilians. Harrowing stuff, but a truly important book about Britain’s imperial past, which is all too often whitewashed.
  8. Chris Priestley, Mister Creecher (2011): I don’t like to have favorites, but I do, and it’s Mister Creecher. This is a fantastically inventive reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with a striking ending.
  9. Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant (2007 – 2014): These books are a lot of fun. Landy hybridizes elements from so many genres, including the Lovecraftian Weird, his books are impossible to summarize in a sentence. Skulduggery Pleasant opens when a twelve-year-old girl is saved by a fire-ball throwing detective, who is also a skeleton. It gets weirder from there.
  10. Francis Hardinge’s The Lie Tree (2015): This book won the overall Costa Book of the Year award and it’s not hard to see why. A neo-Victorian novel about a girl who aspires to escape the confines of her class and gender, The Lie Tree explores tensions between religion and science, the construction of gender, and contains a dark kernel of weird magic that will not be explained away.

I would also like to add an honourable mention to the amazing Barrington Stoke collection which features a superb range of titles for reluctant readers and dyslexic readers. My favourites include Tanya Landman’s retelling of Jane Eyre, Chris Priestley’s Seven Ghosts, Juno Dawson’s Grave Matter and Catherine Johnson’s Race to the Frozen North.

By Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley, who also provided the images for this article

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