By G. Connor Salter, Crosswalk.com
Is it okay for Christians to read scary books at Halloween?
Different Christians have different views on the matter. However, the fact that the Bible contains some fairly scary stories suggests that the question is not whether Christians should read scary stories. The better question is, what the scary story is about—a warning about avoiding evil or celebrating evil? For centuries, Christian authors from Dante to C.S. Lewis have embraced the opportunity to use scary stories to explore why evil should be avoided, the nature of evil, and other important spiritual questions.
These 10 books, some old and some modern, are all written by professed Christians who used their talent to write fascinating stories exploring spiritual themes.
Note: Many of these books feature suspenseful scenes, and are not necessarily recommended for children. Readers are advised to research the books for themselves before reading or before recommending the books to others.
Further Reading: A Christian Perspective on Horror in Movies and Culture
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1. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis may best be known for apologetics books like Mere Christianity or fantasy works like the Chronicles of Narnia, but he could tell a scary story when he wanted to. The Screwtape Letters isn't his scariest book. However, it is the most accessible of his scary stories.
The story is communicated through letters. The sender, a demon named Screwtape, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, how to corrupt his first "patient." Screwtape's advice shines a light on temptations we all face—from pride at our own spirituality to angst when serving God isn't as easy as we assumed. A great satire about common spiritual struggles, using dark humor to make important points.
Further Reading: 10 C.S. Lewis Books You Haven't Read Yet
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2. Thr3e by Ted Dekker
Ted Dekker has leaned more toward fantasy in later years (such as the Beyond the Circle series). However, even his fantasy works have a hefty helping of scary material—and that scariness was never more visible than in his early novel Thr3e.
The title refers to a conundrum: What would you do if someone called and said you had three minutes to confess sin or you would die? Seminarian Ken Parson faces that one morning as he's driving home. The caller seems to know things about Parson that only someone close would know. Is he being stalked, or is something more supernatural involved?
Further Reading: 10 Exciting Christian Suspense Authors You Should Read Now
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3. Old House of Fear by Russell Kirk
Most people today remember Russell Kirk for his writings on government—including the classic The Conservative Age. However, he had a side career writing short stories and several novels—mostly gothic stories featuring ghosts or Scottish castles. Old House of Fear is his first novel and an entertaining mix of scariness and adventure.
The novel opens with an attorney, Hugh Logan, getting an unusual assignment. His employer wants to buy an island off the coast of Scotland. Information is hard to find, but the island doesn't appear to have much except a castle the locals call The Old House of Fear. When Logan arrives at the island to make final inquiries about purchasing it, he discovers something strange is controlling its inhabitants. The controller has connections to Soviet spy rings . . . and maybe something more sinister. On part spy thriller, one part gothic mystery, Old House of Fear continues to be a fun read today.
Further Reading: 10 Scary Novels that Christians Can Read for Halloween
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4. Sinner by Mike Nappa
Mike Nappa is well-known to many for his Christian living writings, including the wonderful book Reflections for the Grieving Soul. However, he's also written some great thriller novels, most recently the Coffey & Hill series co-written with Melissa Kosci. Sinner was his first thriller, originally published under the pen name Sharon Carter Rogers (an interesting story Nappa explains in his introduction to the new edition). It begins as a crime story but delves into something more mysterious.
C.K. Ivors is a bestselling true crime author seeking a subject for her next book. When a vigilante begins punishing people in her town, people who appear to have criminal pasts that no one knew, locals wonder whether a legendary figure has returned. The problem is that the last records of "The Sinner" dealing out punishment in town date back to the Civil War.
Further Reading: 10 Inspiring Christian Mystery Authors You Can Read Today
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5. Black Spirits and White by Ralph Adams Cram
Ralph Adams Cram is probably best known for his work as an architect—he designed multiple historic buildings for Princeton University. Cram also wrote several books on religion (including Gold, Frankincense, and Myrhh) and various short ghost stories.
Black Spirits and White (referring to evil or good spirits) collects six of Cram's stories. Most of them feature castles or mansions, and the respectable British families (or their friends) trying to determine why these old homes always scare away guests. Cram's stories have their chilling moments but little gore. Because his writing style is older (long sentences about the house's history, lots of British phrases) and feels a bit creaky by today's standards, the stories have an element of silliness. The stories all sound a bit funny today without reaching the Scooby-Doo level of silliness.
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6. This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti
Fans debate whether this is a supernatural thriller or a Stephen King-style horror novel. Others will argue whether it is Peretti's best book (many prefer his later book, The Oath). No matter your view, This Present Darkness is worth reading at least once. It's a fun adventure story and a glimpse at how a whole new Christian publishing category started. It launched Peretti's career and opened the door for later writers like Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee.
The story is simple. In a small town called Ashton, something wicked has arrived. A shadowy organization is buying up property. People have been mysteriously fired from the local college. Journalist Marshall Hogan can't get any answers when he starts investigating. Pastor Hank Busche worries his church must close soon. Their journeys to see who (or what) is behind the town's problems soon put them on the same trail, but the trail may not lead to a simple answer. Something supernatural may be involved.
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7. The Visitant by Mike Duran
Pastor-turned-novelist Mike Duran has written about the history of scary stories and whether it's okay for Christians to read them. He has also contributed to the genre through books like the Reagan Moon series. The Visitant is one of his standalone stories and a stylish homage to the weird monsters-from-space stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
Counselor Katherine Purnell doesn't think there is much behind her latest patient's claims to be part of a secret organization. However, the more she delves into GenUs and its claims to be connected to a super-powered alien race, the more she becomes unsettled. Is there something to these claims? If so, what do the alien invaders want? What are they planning with their "Great Awakening" they claim will change everything?
Further Reading: 15 Great Christian Sci-Fi Books for Kids and Adults
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8. Many Dimensions by Charles Williams
A good friend of C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams wrote many things, from reviews of detective novels to Arthurian poetry. Most people who read him today discover his work by reading his seven supernatural thrillers. Many Dimensions is one of his earliest thrillers and features an Indiana Jones-style plot about magic relics and what happens when people misuse them.
The story begins with a Middle Eastern ambassador visiting London and displaying an interesting artifact: a stone from King Solomon's crown. Legend claims the stone can do two things: replicate itself and allow people to travel through time and space. Sir Giles Tumulty wants the stone to see if he can harness its powers. Giles' nephew wants to exploit the stone to make money. Friends who hear about the stone worry that toying with it will have dark consequences. And if Giles gets the stone, its embassy owners will stop at nothing to get it back.
Further Reading: Why Was Charles Williams the Odd Inkling?
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9. Hideous Beauty by Jack Cavanaugh
Jack Cavanaugh is better known to many readers for historical fiction novels like the American Family Portrait series. Hideous Beauty begins his Kingdom War trilogy, which combines the spiritual warfare themes of This Present Darkness with forensic investigation themes.
Grant Austin thinks he is doing great. He has just won the Pulitzer for his biography of the President of the United States. However, a trip to his hometown unleashes some strange questions about his past. Strange forces that could be demons appear to be stalking him. People who gave him unrestricted time while he was writing about the President seem afraid to speak to him. The only people who can give him straight answers to his new questions all seem to believe there is a war between demons and angels in another realm.
Further Reading: What Is Spiritual Warfare?
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10. Elsewhere by William Peter Blatty
Throughout his life, William Peter Blatty insisted that his novel The Exorcist was more than just a scary story. It was a story about the nature of evil and whether God is present (in visible or invisible ways) when we face supernatural evil. In that respect, his novel is similar to This Present Darkness, without the angel-demon battle scenes. While The Exorcist is a scary read with some challenging ideas, it's a little intense for some readers. Elsewhere is a better entry point into his fiction.
The story opens with a realtor, Joan Freeboard, who has a problem. She needs to sell a property that is believed to be haunted. She gathers a group—a writer, a paranormal investigator, a woman who claims to have paranormal powers—to stay at the house and investigate. The story plays with all the conventional haunted house imagery but in a playful way that suggests Blatty isn't aiming to prove ghosts exist. He's more interested in how the concept of ghosts (someone unable to move on from life to the afterlife) allows us to ask interesting questions about guilt and repentance.
Further Reading: What Made William Peter Blatty's Stories Christian?
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Extra Recommendation: The Dead Man and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe was best known for his science fiction stories, but he could also write a scary story when he wanted to. Like his contemporaries Dean Koontz and William Peter Blatty, Wolfe found ways to explore spiritual questions in mainstream fiction rather than talk about them to a specialized Christian audience.
Peace is probably Wolfe's only novel that could be considered a horror story—an interesting ghost story with little violence that slowly turns into a story about the consequences of sin and regret. However, it's a complex book, so it's probably best to explore Wolfe's short stories first. This collection includes ghost stories, science-fiction stories featuring monsters in space, and even a few retold fairy tales. Each is a scary but fun read that keeps readers entertained and thinking.
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