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A Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural: Six Novels

by Henry James Robert Louis Stevenson Oscar Wilde Horace Walpole Bram Stoker Mary Shelley

A GOTHIC TREASURY OF THE SUPERNATURAL. What sends chills down our spine when we read a good horror story? Contrary to some modern trends, it is not merely how much blood is spilled or how grotesquely an alien creature or monster is portrayed. Rather, the thrill of terror comes in exploring the depths of the human soul and in discovering the capacity for evil that lies hidden there: the monsters that lurk within us are the most frightening ones of all. These six gothic masterpieces of supernatural horror and suspense provide a wealth of such terrors. The first true gothic novel appeared in 1764: Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Inspired by a dream in which Walpole saw a huge, armored hand in an ancient castle, the story contains all the elements that have become the earmarks of the gothic novel: a medieval castle, a lost heir who must prove himself in order to claim his fortune, a villain, a love interest, and various supernatural phenomena. The Castle of Otranto influenced countless literary works throughout the nineteenth century. In Geneva during the summer of 1816, Lord Byron, John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) amused one another by making up ghost stories. Mary Shelley's tale was the seed from which her timeless novel Frankenstein grew. Subtitled The Modern Prometheus, it is the spellbinding story of Victor Frankenstein, a doctor who plays God by creating a living being from the bodies of the dead; the tragic monster is ultimately seen as Frankenstein's alter ego. A similar theme appears in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A doctor discovers a potion that has the power to transform him into a fiend whose deeds become more and more horrifying. Awakened by a nightmare, Robert Louis Stevenson feverishly wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days, destroyed it, and wrote it again in another three days. In Dracula, Bram Stoker created a monstrous being founded in folklore and legend; it is a tale made the more horrifying by the enduring belief in the possible existence of real vampires. With superhuman power, the vampire Count Dracula lures victims into his clutches and drains them of life until they too join the living dead. Oscar Wilde portrays a beautiful, ever-youthful Adonis who leads a life of decadence in The Picture of Dorian Gray. As Dorian ruins and corrupts those around him, his portrait strangely alters with each new crime he commits. We follow him down this path of decay to a shattering, inevitable climax. In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James, the master of ambiguity, tells the story of a governess, her two charges, and the spiritual presence of a dead valet and a dead governess. If we cannot be sure that these ghosts are real or imagined, there is no doubt about the terror this tangled tale inspires. Complete and together in one volume, these six gothic classics of the supernatural, by great writers who are masters of the macabre, provide new insights--and heightened terrors--with each reading.

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