Over the years I’ve read a lot of short horror fiction by many authors, both modern and classic. Recently that got me to thinking about which ones I would consider my favorites overall. To that end, I put together the following top ten list. I initially considered making it a top twenty list but it became much too difficult to rank them as the list grew longer. This list may change over time as I continue to read more stories, but for the moment this is it. Keep in mind, there a lot of writers whose work I adore which would fall just outside this batch and which may in time supplant one from this present list. Beside each name below I’ve noted three of my personal favorite pieces of short fiction by them.
So, without further ado, here is the list:
MY TOP TEN FAVORITE HORROR WRITERS OF ALL-TIME
A LIST BY MATT COWAN
1. Ramsey Campbell – “At Lorn Hall”, “Down There”, “Worse Than Bones” and basically every other story of his I’ve ever read (which is a lot!).
2. Algernon Blackwood – “The Willows”, “The Wendigo”, and “The Glamour of Snow”
3. M. R. James – “A Warning to the Curious”, “Number 13” and “The Ash Tree”
4. Reggie Oliver – “Trouble at Botathan”, “The Striding Edge” and “The Druid’s Rest”
5. Thomas Ligotti – “Dreaming in Nortown”, “The Last Feast of Harlequin” and “The Christmas Eve’s of Aunt Elise”
6. Edith Wharton – “Pomegranate Seed”, “The Eyes” and “Mr. Jones”
7. E. F. Benson – “Caterpillars”, “How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery” and “The Step”
8. Simon Kurt Unsworth – “The Cotswold Olympicks”, “The Pennine Tower Restaurant”, and “The Merry House, Scale Hall”
9. William Hope Hodgson – “The Derelict”, “The Whistling Room” and “The Voice in the Night”
10. D. K. Broster – “Clairvoyance”, “The Window” and “From the Abyss”
Article by Matt Cowan
4 thoughts on “MY TOP TEN FAVORITE HORROR STORY WRITERS OF ALL-TIME”
What a great list Matt. I often check out your website for both new and old ghostly-horror tales as you’re forever coming up with some great ones, and ones I’ve never heard of before.
This current list is wonderful and should keep me easily going for the next couple of months. Of the 10 authors, I have heard of most of them, though I have never always been a fan of reading their works. M.R. James I love, though alongside A Warning the Curious that you mention, I’d have placed ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ and, as a third, Casting the Runes (filmed as Night of the Demon in 1957). A possible fourth would be A View from a Hill.
E.F. Benson is another favourite of mine, though apart from The Step, which I like, I’d certainly have included The Face (my all time favourite tale from Benson’s collection), with the likes of A Tale of an Empty House and The Gardener coming close runners up.
Algernon Blackwood, who I think in a post you ran some years back, topped M.R. James. I’ve read a few of his stories, though as they are generally longer than those of James and Benson, I usually end up tiring after a while, due to time constraints, and leave the story unfinished. By the time I return to the tale, the gap has been so long that I have to start afresh! The Empty House is an example of a short tale, though other popular stories like The Willows, which you mention, and The Wendigo tend to be fairly lengthy tales.
(I’ve just noticed a number of links to Algernon Blackwood on your site that I’ll look at for further recommendations. Hw, if you can name a few Blackwood stories that are similar to James’ tales in atmosphere and content and of a similar length, then I’d be grateful.)
As for Ramsey Campbell I’m currently reading The Booking which, so far, I’m thoroughly enjoying. Must admit, I’m a little surprised to find Edith Wharton in 6th position above E.F. Benson in 7th. I always knew she’d written some supernatural tales but never imagined they were so good, or so popular as your rating suggests. I must read them and see what I make of them myself.
There are others on your list that I have never even heard of, such as D.K. Broster, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Thomas Ligotti. So reading these will be a new experience for me.
But what a great list. Over the next couple of months I’ll see how I get on with these tales. It would be great if you revisited this list in six-months or so and perhaps added a few additional stories by these authors, or even extended it making a total of 15 in the list. But thanks for posting.
As I said earlier, I checkout your site regularly for spooky tales. It’s wonderful discovering new authors and stories from someone who clearly knows the genre so well.
Thank you for the kind words, Gary! This site is a true labor of love for me as I myself am always thrilled to come across an author who’s stories awe me as these on this list do, and I love to spread the word about them. There were a bunch more I had to leave off (Lisa Tuttle, Manly Wade Wellman, Paul Finch, Joanna Parypinski, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Basil Copper and countless others) simply because it was getting too difficult for me to rank them.
I really love nearly everything by M. R. James, but I decided to limit myself to just listing three works by each author because I knew I’d go on too long otherwise (the Ramsey Campbell section alone could go on forever).
I’ve been trying to think of a Blackwood story which would be similar to James but can’t come up with a good comparison. My favorite stories by Blackwood tend to be centered around the spirit of nature itself as a terrifying and hostile presence, with James’ tales being primarily antiquarian-centric, it becomes a difficult comparison. Let me think on it some more and see if I can come up with some that’s similar.
Ramsey is my undisputed favorite author and that’s one spot I can’t see ever changing for me. He’s the grandmaster of them all in my book.
My discovery of Edith Wharton’s great tales actually came about because of this blog. Several years back a reader sent me a collection of her ghost stories, none of which I’d previously read, and I loved them. Still, I could easily switch Benson and her spot on any given day as both produced such excellent tales.
D. K. Broster has been largely forgotten these days, but I think people would be surprised at how good her stories were (I’d add “The Juggernaught” and the often anthologized “Couching at the Door” as superb as well).
Ligotti is a modern master with his own unique style. I have a ton more stories by him which I’ve read and need to post about here in the near future (same goes for Reggie Oliver and Simon Kurt Unsworth).
I do think Ligotti has a few stories which are difficult to get around (I struggled with understanding “The Greater Festival of Mask” for. Instance), but the vast majority are brilliant.
Simon Kurt Unsworth has long been a favorite of mine. He’s a man who really knows how to bring the chills!
I’d love to hear your thoughts as you read some of these authors. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with any of them.
Thanks again for such a kind response to my list and about the site in general! I know a lot of people view this site by the stats it get but most don’t ever comment, so I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. And, as you can see, I really love discussing this topic.
By the way, if you need help tracking down where I found any of these stories don’t hesitate to ask here and I’ll help you find them.
Thanks for your reply Matt…
I see what you say about how difficult it is to make such a list. It’s probably easier to think of the first 7 or 8 as these authors would always be around the top position. But working out what should come 9th or 10th, right at the cut off point, becomes harder to judge when your choices for 11th and 12th position are just as good, if not better, than the ones you’ve placed before them. Not an easy task at all, but the result you’ve come up with captures the essence of the genre, I’d say, particularly well.
I notice that H.P. Lovecraft doesn’t get a mention in the list. In a previous blog I recall you likening Lovecraft’s writing to that of Ramsey Campbell’s writing, seeing greater similarities between them than with M.R. James for example. I personally think this is the case too. But having placed Ramsey Campbell at the top of your list I was wondering why Lovecraft is absent, not even in those extra authors you mention above that almost made it into your list but didn’t?
It would be great to have some dialogue about these authors and their stories. And your list, with so many authors and so many new stories to acquaint myself with, not only provides further inroads for me into a genre I particularly enjoy, but also provides an excellent starting point for any one interested in these gifted authors and their stories. I’ll certainly be using it over the next month or two and will feedback, using this same page, as to my thoughts on what I’ve read.
Thanks again, Matt.
There was a time some years back when I would have put Lovecraft in the top ten. I think as I’ve discovered other writers, or more stories by writers I was previously less familiar with, several of them have come to appeal to me more and thus climbed higher on my list. I still enjoy most of Lovecraft’s stories and think his themes of cosmic horror proved to be tremendously influential for the genre, though. Incidentally, my favorite Lovecraft works would be “The Music of Erich Zann”, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Colour Out of Space”.
Thanks for your feedback, Gary. I look forward reading your thoughts on these writers in the future.