A chill in the air

As the leaves turn crimson and the air grows crisp, we anticipate the arrival of the festival of Halloween. It’s a time of year that has captivated the human imagination for centuries. The origins of our modern-day Halloween, with its spooky tales, elaborate costumes and sweet treats, can be traced back over 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrated on the night of October 31. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that on this night, the boundary between the living and the dead blurred, allowing spirits to roam freely on Earth. To ward off these spirits, people lit bonfires and wore costumes made of animal skins.

When Christianity spread across Europe, Samhain blended with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Christian holidays meant to honour saints and the departed. This fusion of traditions gave rise to All Hallows’ Eve, which eventually morphed into Halloween.

Halloween’s association with the supernatural and the macabre finds its parallel in the world of fiction, where writers have long explored the depths of human fear and fascination with the unknown. H. P. Lovecraft, the American master of cosmic horror, created a mythos populated by ancient cosmic entities indifferent to humanity’s existence. His stories, including The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Thing at the Doorstep, explored the insignificance of humanity in the face of incomprehensible cosmic forces, leaving readers with a profound sense of existential dread. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, English author M. R. James, a master of the ghost story, crafted tales filled with subtle horror and a sense of creeping unease. His stories, like Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, often featured academic protagonists stumbling upon supernatural phenomena, highlighting the vulnerability of the human mind when confronted with the inexplicable.

While primarily known for his heart-warming tales, Charles Dickens also dabbled in the supernatural. His short ghost stories, of which The Signalman and To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt are among the most well-known, inspired many writers that came after him, including Edgar Allan Poe and the aforementioned M. R. James. Similarly, while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is undoubtedly best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, he too had a passion for suspense, the supernatural and the macabre and ventured into the realms of horror with numerous Gothic short stories including Lot No. 249, The Horror of the Heights and the truly stomach-churning The Leather Funnel.

A pioneer of detective fiction, Wilkie Collins explored themes of madness and the supernatural in his novel The Woman in White, and also crafted many short but equally disturbing tales of ghosts, deadly visions and family curses. And Victorian writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu delved into Gothic horror with works like his novella Carmilla, centred on a female vampire, which challenged traditional gender roles and explored themes of desire and forbidden love, captivating readers with its eerie atmosphere.

The themes of horror and the supernatural explored by these and other literary masters illustrate the boundless possibilities of the human imagination. As Halloween approaches each year, it serves as a reminder of our enduring fascination with the mysterious and the unknown, both in the real world and within the captivating pages of fiction.

You’ll find all of the above stories and many more in Fantom’s unrivalled collection of classic horror audiobooks, currently available from as little as £1.99. As the shadows lengthen and the moon rises high, why not take a moment to immerse yourself in a spine-chilling tale, celebrating the spirit of Halloween and the enduring legacy of the macabre in literature.