The book that haunts me – seven experts on the scariest thing they’ve ever read

With Halloween approaching, The Conversation asked six academic experts including Dr Nick Freeman, to talk about the scariest book they’ve ever read.

A truly scary story never really leaves you. It lurks in long evening shadows, calls out through mysterious bumps in the night and blows down your neck whenever you feel a sudden shiver.

From haunted houses to murderous beasts and villainous vampires, these are the spooky reads that have stayed with them long after they turned the final page...

A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts, by Carey Miller (1974)

Lady Macbeth says it’s “The eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil.” She’s right. I bought A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts at a school book fair when I was seven. I was intrigued by the glowering goblin on the cover (who looked like my science teacher) and the jacket’s promise of creatures “fair and foul, fascinating and frightening” (another Macbeth allusion, not that I knew it).

I relished the weirdness of amphisbaenas (two-headed ant-eating reptiles), basilisks (which hatched from cockerels’ eggs and had petrifying breath) and manticores (which somehow combined a man’s face, a lion’s body and a scorpion’s tail). But nothing prepared me for page 172. Mary French’s drawing of a werewolf gave me nightmares.

But I kept looking at it until I moved gradually to stronger fare: anthologies of classic gothic tales edited by Peter Haining and, as adolescence arrived, the thrillingly visceral horrors of James Herbert and Guy N. Smith. Miller’s book was undeniably a landmark in the development of my literary interests. I never go anywhere without silver bullets.

Review by Dr Nick Freeman, a Reader in late-Victorian literature at Loughborough University.

Article continues on The Conversation website.