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Sequels, and Trilogies, and Series, Oh My!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Few pleasures compare to delving into a series of novels by an author you love. Writing a fiction series gives an author a chance to really flesh out a cast of characters, and to embellish a setting with such fine details that it becomes almost real. What a delight, to spend your rainy weekends or long road trips in these places that feel like a second home!

There’s a flip-side to this pleasure. It’s the frustration of picking up a promising novel, only to realize you have no idea what half the characters are talking about, or even who they are – and the author seems to think you should. That’s what happens when you pick up the sixth book in a series without realizing it.

Sometimes, the book’s cover art does not make clear that the book you’re about to read is part of a series. Other times, the “other titles in this series” list at the front of the book is incomplete, or even out of order. Why would publishers do this to us? Who shall be the savior of the sequel-seeker?

I can answer that second question for you. One of the resources you have access to, as a card-holding member of the Williamson County Public Library, is a database called eSequels.com. eSequels promises to keep current, accurate records of thousands of fiction series. Note: the collection seems to focus on general fiction, so most Young Adult series will not be included.

To access this amazing resource for free, click here. You need to be directed there from the WCPL website, so I’ll describe how to find it by searching our website, too. Starting at http://lib.williamson-tn.org, type eSequels into the gray search bar on the top right corner of the screen. Hit enter, or click the magnifying glass icon, to search. On the page that comes up, click Databases by Title, then click the shortcut to E-F (or just scroll down until you find it). Find the eSequels link, click on it, and use your library card number to log in where it says “Patron Barcode.” Once you get to eSequels.com in this way, bookmark the page so you don’t have to go through these steps every time.

Search Features on eSequels

Upon logging in to eSequels, you land on a page with links to various search features. As you will see, with multiple ways to search and browse, eSequels.com is the resource you never knew you needed – but won’t be able to live without!

If you’ve heard your friends talking about a particular author, but can’t remember which book comes first in the series, Search by Author to figure out where to start. By default, authors are listed alphabetically by their last names. You can choose to list them by first name instead.

 Search by Book Title brings up a list of every book in eSequels’ database. Let’s say you want to dive into author Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic worlds of sci-fi or fantasy. You know she has written a book called The Dispossessed, but you aren’t sure where it falls in the chronology. Finding The Dispossessed in Search by Book Title will bring up all the books in Le Guin’s Hainish series, and you will learn that the first book in that series is called Planet of Exile.

I find it interesting to Search by Character, because the database lists not just the main characters, but some important supporting characters, as well. So, if you want to start reading books featuring Sherlock Holmes, you will find that he’s not only a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original series, but that several authors over the years have used him as a character in their series, as well! You can also search for characters like Winston Churchill, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Oscar Wilde, all of whom appear in some capacity or another in the eSequels.com database. Just keep in mind that the characters are listed alphabetically by first name, not last.

Next, you can Search by Location. Whether you’re fascinated by Tampa or Tuscany, this is a great way to discover a series that takes place somewhere you’d like to spend a lot of time in.

 Search by Subject – really, it’s browsing – is a great way to find a new series to explore. Say you want to read a series on Celtic mythology, but you don’t know where to begin. The Celtic mythology page on eSequels lists 24 different authors who have written Celtic mythology series. Clicking on any of those author links will bring up a summary of each book, and tell you the correct reading order of the series.

Lastly, you can Search by Keyword. This can help you if all other searches have failed. Searching this way takes a little longer, the website warns; but you can enter up to two keywords or terms. The search will only return results that contain all the terms you enter. I tested this function by entering the terms “Prince Edward Island” and “orphan.” The search took me right to the page for L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables series.

Now that you know about these cool features, I hope you’re excited to start browsing on your own. But if you’d like some guidance on popular and classic series, keep reading to find a few random selections. When the series description appears in quotation marks, I have taken it from eSequels.com.


Emily of New Moon series by L. M. Montgomery (classic, all-ages)

This is one of my personal favorite series. Like Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon takes place on Montgomery’s native Prince Edward Island in Canada, with an intelligent, passionate heroine who grows from childhood to adulthood. But, as wonderful as Anne Shirley is, Emily Starr is a more three-dimensional character. The stories are deeper, more introspective, and more realistic, which makes sense when one considers that Montgomery identified more strongly with aspiring writer Emily than with Anne. The author explored some of her real emotions and experiences through the character of Emily Starr. Emily’s adventures are sometimes dark, sometimes joyous, sometimes funny – and sometimes all three – but they are always beautiful.

Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams (sci-fi, humor, action)

“Dirk Gently is a “holistic” private eye, brilliant but rather seedy, who uses his psychic powers to find lost cats or to save the human race. Like the [Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] series, the “holistic” detective series is a blend of science fiction, humor, and action, entertainingly presenting some mind-boggling ideas.”

Jack Reacher series by Lee Child (action, thriller)

“Jack Reacher is the linchpin of a series of thrillers which are regarded by some critics as the best going today. Jack is a tall, 250-pound, taciturn, ex-U.S. Military Police Major, who can kill with his bare hands. He is a Robin Hood type with his share of problems, which he doesn’t brood about, being basically a rather cheerful fellow. These very exciting, action-filled novels, which take Reacher all around the U.S., are character-driven more than plot-driven with a protagonist who is basically likeable despite his lethal potential.”

Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander (mystery, historical)

“Lady Emily Ashton is an unconventional Victorian widow. After her husband of six months, Philip, Viscount Ashton, big game hunter and classical antiques collector, dies on an African hunting expedition, she uncovers a number of Philip’s secrets, which lead her to the first of her adventures. Eventually Emily acquires a new husband, debonair British intelligence agent Colin Hargreaves, with whom she shares a series of romantic, suspenseful adventures in places as far afield as Constantinople.”

Myth series by Robert Asprin (fantasy, humor)

“Next to Thieves’ World, Asprin is best known for his fantasy series, Myth, which he started as a satire on what he regarded as the overblown and pretentious heroic fantasy series of the 1970s. … Although the series started as satire, it acquired a regular cast of characters, … and became more farcical than satirical. “Myth” has remained extremely popular, especially with young adult readers and fans of humorous fantasy novels laced with puns.”

The Mitford Years series by Jan Karon (cozy, Christian-themed)

“The series set in the fictional North Carolina mountain town of Mitford … has been a publishing phenomenon. Readers have really taken to their hearts Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanaugh and his neighbors. Mitford, unlike many fictional hamlets, has no violence or illicit sex. Its characters are slightly eccentric but nice, mainly concerned with their relationship with God and Jesus. The main storyline concerns Father Tim’s realization of his loneliness, his adoption of a stray dog, and his relationship with [his neighbors].”

Pendergast series by Douglas Preston (supernatural thriller, mystery)

“The Pendergast books are a series of wild adventures which feature more than a dollop of horror and SF elements. Interesting villains, such as Pendergast’s brilliant but evil brother, Diogenes, populate the novels. Serial killers abound, along with mad scientists, and feisty women.”

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Libby, by Overdrive: a new app for your library experience

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

As a library card holder, you already know that you have access to a vast collection of books, periodicals, movies, and audiobooks at the Williamson County Public Library (not to mention all the other fantastic resources the library provides for the community). But here’s what you may not know: if you also have a smartphone, tablet, computer, or eReader, you can easily gain access to your library’s digital collections of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more. It’s like discovering a new wing of your favorite library, full of additional content. And the digital collections are available around the clock!

At WCPL, we give you access to these vast, additional resources through various apps, which you can read about on this page (http://lib.williamson-tn.org/e_library). One popular collection is known as Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. Previously, the books and audio in this collection were accessible only through the Overdrive app. Now, Overdrive has released a second app called Libby.

Libby has much of the functionality of the original Overdrive app, such as checking out eBooks and audiobooks, placing holds, and sending to Kindle. Some library patrons have already made the switch to this new app, with no looking back. But there are some differences between the two to be aware of before you dive in. Let’s look at how Overdrive and Libby compare, so you can decide which one might be best for you.

Why Libby?

Designed to be simple, attractive, and user-friendly, Libby makes it easy to get started downloading eBooks and audiobooks right away. This is the feedback I read over and over, from novice and experienced users alike: Libby is so easy to use! If you have never used either app before, I would recommend you start with Libby, because of its easy setup.

Libby makes managing multiple library accounts painless, whether you have a library card in another library system (for example, Davidson or Maury county), or even a household member’s card you’d like to add. All checked-out materials live on the same “shelf” within the app, streamlining the way you access your digital loans.

With Libby, you can download eBooks and audiobooks for offline access. If you’re online, you can stream the audiobooks instead, which saves space on your device. Libby will also deliver eBooks to a Kindle, if you prefer.

Since Libby is a new app, new features are being added all the time. Just this month, the developers added new search features. For example, you can now search by the title of a series, instead of the names of the books within the series, which sounds very helpful! If you give Libby a try, be sure to keep it updated regularly. That way, you won’t miss out on any added capabilities.

Why Overdrive?

As is often the case with technology, we sometimes have to choose between something that’s feature-heavy and something that’s easy to use. That’s the case when it comes to Overdrive and Libby.

It’s important to know that, right now, Overdrive has better accessibility support than Libby. Libby currently lacks support for text-to-speech, voiceover, and multiple languages. Overdrive also has more amenities for the visually impaired. However, many of these features are planned for Libby’s future updates.

Overdrive gives you better control when it comes to searching content. You can exclude mature content from your searches, or set your searches to show only children’s books. This is not possible in Libby.

If you use Overdrive’s “Wish list” function, stick with it for now. You can “tag” books in Libby, but you cannot import your Overdrive Wish list to Libby.

With Overdrive, you can stream videos from your library’s collection. You can also access checked-out material through your computer’s web browser. Neither feature is planned for Libby.

If you’d like to read more about Libby, you will find some helpful links at the bottom of this article. They include the official getting started guide, a great FAQ page, and an accessibility review.

I bet you will find Libby easy to set up, and a pleasure to use. Remember, if you get stuck, you can always come in to the Reference department for help. Enjoy!

Helpful Links

Classic Southern Fiction Writers

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Nashville is changing. It’s changing A LOT. And so is our little town of Franklin, one of Nashville’s major suburbs. Since 1980, Franklin’s population has increased more than 500%, which you’ll have no trouble believing if you want to go anywhere during morning rush hour – or lunch hour – or evening rush hour – or a Saturday – you get the gist. Whereas we used to be the “#1 small town in Tennessee,” we are now ranked as the 7th largest city in the state!

While Franklin has maintained its classic southern charm, we’ve also welcomed a healthy number of transplants from all over the USA, and from other countries, as well. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to talk about classic Southern Fiction writers. These writers have played an important role in capturing, communicating, and preserving some of the cultural aspects of the South, from the hills of Appalachia to the bayous of Louisiana, and the states in between.

Whether you’re new to the southern states, or you’re a native southerner who wants to get more familiar with a writer who shares your family culture, I hope you’ll find an interesting, new-to-you author by the end of this post.

 (As with any society, the South is responsible for both positive and negative contributions to culture. Some of these authors may use racially insensitive language, or potentially upsetting plot points, but I won’t address specifics in this post. If you prefer to avoid literature of this nature, I encourage you to further research these authors and books before you start reading.)

Mark TwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).
“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1935 essay. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature,” and Twain’s obituary acknowledged him as “the greatest humorist [America] has produced.” Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn deal with boys growing up and adventuring along the Mississippi River in the antebellum South. Twain was known for his use of satire, and both of these books carry with them heavy doses of social criticism.

Kate Chopin – “Désirée’s Baby” (1893); “The Story of an Hour” (1894); The Awakening (1899)
Living in late 19th century Louisiana, Kate Chopin denied being a feminist or a suffragist. But she viewed the culture around her with a probing eye. With a knack for clear, compassionate observation, and the boldness to write honestly – even if some subjects were deemed controversial, even immoral, at the time – Chopin nonetheless helped pave the way for 20th century feminist authors. The Awakening, about a young woman who determines to discover her identity beyond “wife” and “mother” despite societal conventions, is a staple in English literature classes. She also published several important short stories.

William FaulknerThe Sound and the Fury (1929); Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
Mississippi native William Faulkner created the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, placed it in his home state, and set most of his short stories and novels there. This allowed him to explore a variety of social groups within the same locale. He is known for including passages of “stream of consciousness” writing his stories, where he eschews proper grammar and punctuation in an attempt to convey the state of a character’s mind. Faulkner’s novels can be considered allegories for southern history. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

Zora Neale HurstonTheir Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
In addition to her works of fiction, Zora Neale Hurston collected African-American folk tales, published anthropological studies on voodoo practices, and wrote plays, non-fiction, and poetry. Their Eyes Were Watching God is her most well-known novel. It explores themes of race, gender roles, and gender inequality. The heroine, Janie Crawford, comes to learn what it means to take ownership of her life, and what it means to be an independent woman in early 20th century Florida.

Carson McCullersThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
Of her craft, McCullers said, “Writing, for me, is a search for God.”  Born in Columbus, Georgia (225 miles from Nashville, as the crow flies), Carson McCullers was another author who keenly observed her culture, and translated with great empathy (and perhaps a touch of comedy) the pain and loneliness she saw. Her friend Tennessee Williams summed up “Carson’s major theme: the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love.”

Eudora WeltyA Curtain of Green (1941), The Optimist’s Daughter (1972)
Welty is a much-loved, much-awarded author who lived most of her life in Mississippi. Also a documentary photographer during the Depression era, she often found inspiration in the subjects of her own photographs. A woman ironing clothes behind a post office became the subject of one of her finest short stories, “Why I Live at the P.O.” Some southern authors have a reputation for world-weary cynicism. Welty instead managed to address difficult subjects – race relations, poverty, aging, loss – with a tender, artistic, even optimistic, voice.

Robert Penn WarrenAll the King’s Men (1946).
Warren was born just over the Tennessee line in Guthrie, Kentucky. Another staple of English literature classes, All the King’s Men won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, and its 1949 film adaptation won an Oscar for Best Picture. For this dramatic story of a once-idealistic lawyer’s descent into brutality and corruption, Warren likely took inspiration from the real life of Huey Long, former governor of Louisiana and a US Senator, who was assassinated in 1935. The novel, known for its “dramatic tension[,]… fierce emotion, narrative pace[,] and poetic imagery,” offers important insight into one facet of southern politics in the 1930s.

Ralph EllisonInvisible Man (1952)
Born in Oklahoma, Ralph Waldo Ellison attended Tuskegee Institute (“the prestigious all-black university in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington”) in the 1930s. He was something of a renaissance man, at various times delving into football, trumpet, classic literature, sculpture, and photography. But his most enduring works are his essays, and his classic novel, Invisible Man. In it, he explores issues affecting not only African-Americans, but society as a whole. As his narrator summarizes, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
I can’t say anything about To Kill a Mockingbird that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t read it, make it first on your list.

To find even more southern authors worth your time, check out the members of the Fellowship of Southern Writers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellowship_of_Southern_Writers). Their charter members include several authors from this post. You will find modern, influential southern writers among them as well, including Wendell Berry, Kaye Gibbons, and Tony Earley, well worth exploring in addition to the classics listed above. Enjoy!

ATTN: History Buffs!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

You probably already know about the huge quantity of great, nonfiction history books at the library. But when you get to wanting something a little different that still scratches that historical itch, where do you turn? I’d like to suggest that Historical Fiction is the genre for you. Whether you’re a voracious reader of historical accounts, or a fiction lover who prefers facts taken with artistic license, this long-established genre is broad enough to hold something for everyone.

Historical Fiction has a few debated definitions, but it is not a work written around the time of the book’s events. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, though now over 200 years old, is not “Historical Fiction,” as it takes place around the time Austen wrote it. (Some critics disagree on that anti-definition.) Wikipedia does a great job of defining the genre in this article, and from it I’ve compiled a working definition for us:

“An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions[,] and other details of the period depicted,” and is “written at least fifty years after the events described,” with “the author … writing from research rather than personal experience.”

Why read Historical Fiction? Why mess with facts? (Assuming the facts as we know them were recorded accurately and without bias in the first place.) Simply put, a good work of fiction can illuminate real-life truths. Fiction allows the freedom to process real issues in an abstract way, while maintaining distance from real, multi-faceted, potentially overwhelming events. A work of Historical Fiction can explore the thoughts and emotions of larger-than-life heroes and villains – those who have become so lauded or reviled, they no longer seem human – , and obscure commoners – forgotten by history, but transformed into composite characters who demonstrate the state of the world in the time they lived. For some readers, this is the best way to make an emotional connection to the past and gain fresh insight.

Let’s look at some great examples of historical novels you can find at the Williamson County Public Library. Because I love classics, I’ll list some classic examples first; then we’ll move on to more modern selections.

The Classics

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) deals with characters and events in England and France around the time of the French Revolution of 1775. Dickens often included members from all strata of society, but he did not necessarily sketch them in black and white. Wealth did not always equal virtue; poverty did not always equal ignorance; and the powerless did not always stay that way. A Tale of Two Cities features sympathetic characters, diabolical villains, and some of English literature’s most well-known passages. The description of the storming of the Bastille left me breathless with its intensity. In addition to the book, you can find READS eBooks and audiobooks, children’s adaptations, and DVD versions.

Other classic, historical works available in a wide variety of adaptations and formats are Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (set around Scotland’s 1715 Jacobite uprising), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (taking place during the 1757 French and Indian War), and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (though we don’t carry the chocolate adaptation of that one at our library – sorry!).

The Middle Ages

A popular setting for Historical Fiction is medieval Europe, which covers the 5th to 15th centuries AD. Series abound, which means plenty of reading material in your new favorite genre! Here are some popular medieval historical series to check out. Series titles are in bold. The first novel in the series follows in italics. While not every book in a series may be available at this library, you can always request books through the Inter-Library Loan program!

  • Paul C. Doherty, Hugh Corbett, Satan in St Mary’s. Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, The Nightingale Gallery (under pen name Paul Harding). Doherty is a highly regarded historian, educator, and writer. He uses various pen names. He has also written about ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, first century Rome, and more.
  • Ken Follett, Kingsbridge, The Pillars of the Earth.
  • Margaret Frazer, Dame Frevisse series, The Novice’s Tale.
  • Philippa Gregory, The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, The Other Boleyn Girl (first published) or The Lady of the Rivers (first chronologically). Gregory’s popular novels have inspired controversy in historical circles.
  • Michael Jecks, Knights Templar Mysteries, The Last Templar. The Medieval Murders series, The Tainted Relic.
  • Sharon Kay Penman, Welsh Princes, Here Be Dragons. Plantagenet, When Christ and His Saints Slept. When researching for a book, Penman keeps in mind the saying, “History is written by the victors.” She scours new and alternate sources and uses deductive reasoning to come up with versions of events you may not have heard before, but may yet approach the truth.

Selections from Other Periods

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun — Nigeria’s struggle for independence in the late 1960s.
  • Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord — The life of King David from the prophet Nathan’s point of view.
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See Occupied France during WWII.
  • Emma Donoghue, The Wonder Mid-1800s Ireland, shortly after the official “end” of the famine.
  • Robert Graves, I, Claudius A pseudo-autobiography of misunderstood Roman emperor Claudius.
  • David Liss, The Whiskey Rebels Post-revolution America.
  • Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove 1870s Texas: the Wild West.
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved An escaped slave’s memories and experiences after the Civil War.
  • Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine A Japanese-American family is held in an internment camp during WWII.
  • Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens 1920s Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
  • Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl A light-skinned African-American woman has to make choices about her identity as she tries to become a pilot in WWII-era America.
  • Markus Zusak, The Book Thief Germany during WWII.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest, or given you some new authors to check out. Is your favorite book missing from this list? Leave a comment below!

Mind-bending Monsters in Literature

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

It’s October, and what better time of year to pick out a book that will give you the creeps? Today we’re going to look at five works of fiction that feature terrifying creatures. (Sticklers may feel that some of these descriptions contain spoilers, but I’ve tried not to include any details that aren’t already well-known by horror buffs or pop culture aficionados.)

When it comes to monsters, what frightens me most is a sense of inevitability. A monster doesn’t have to be hideous or enormous to cause you to lose control: think the fatal allure of Dracula, or the overwhelming numbers of a zombie invasion. And what about a creature that can cause you to descend into madness, living — perhaps eternally — after having lost the essence of who you are?

“The Call of Cthulhu”

“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

“Cthulhu and the Ninth Wave,” by DeviantArt user “fantasio.”

One creature with such terrifying powers is Cthulhu, first introduced in horror writer H. P. Lovecraft‘s short story “The Call of Cthulhu.” Portrayed as an ancient, dead-but-waiting god, his giant form a strange combination of octopus, bat, and human, Cthulhu embodies a powerful evil. One look at him will drive anyone insane, simply because the human mind cannot comprehend such terror. Unsurprisingly, he is a favorite subject of death metal bands! And you poetry scholars might recognize that Lovecraft seems to have been inspired by Tennyson’s sonnet, “The Kraken.”

Lovecraft’s knack for capturing dread has inspired an entire genre known as “Lovecraftian horror,” described by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (and in some cases, unknowable) more than gore or other elements of shock.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles

“I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog.”


“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Adam Burke.

Sherlockian scholars consider this Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s perfect novel. The tale has been adapted, riffed on, referenced, and parodied dozens of times, taking new forms in every kind of media, including comic books, plays, radio dramas, video games, and more.

How has this story stood the test of time? Sherlock Holmes is, of course, one of literature’s most fascinating characters. But the spectral hound is the real draw. Tied to local legend and a family curse spanning generations, it is an unearthly beast that glows in the dark, pursuing members of the Baskerville family across the moors until they drop dead from fright. But the hound leaves the dead bodies alone. Therefore, the beast doesn’t hunt for food, making its motives inscrutable, but undeniably evil.

Life on the moor is full of secrets and intrigue, both stimulating Sherlock Holmes’ mind and hampering his investigation. Holmes, a man of science, remains skeptical about the supernatural hound’s existence, but he can deny neither the enormous paw prints left in the sodden ground, nor the chilling howls heard in the night. Doyle perfectly paces this novel, increasing the suspense until the climactic moment: the terrifying appearance of the hound!

“The Birds”

“Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas. What he had thought at first to be the white caps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands…”

Book cover for Pan Books edition of The Birds and Other Stories, artist uncredited.

You’re probably aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The Birds, but did you know he based it on a short story by Daphne du Maurier? While not a “monster story,” this is one of my favorite works of suspense. For me, the premise is all the more terrifying for being within the realm of possibility, especially as we see a growing occurrence of natural disasters in real life.

In remote, rugged Cornwall, a wounded war veteran named Nat becomes increasingly aware of flocks of restless birds. The flocks increase in number, and the birds grow more violent and daring. At first, Nat attributes this behavior to the unusual weather, but takes the threat more seriously than do his neighbors. Soon, however, the entire country is under siege, and it’s no longer safe to go outdoors. The tension mounts beautifully, as the narrator gradually comes to understand the enormity of the event: the birds are inescapable, and this isn’t a fight he can fight alone.

What I love most about this short story, as opposed to the film version, is how it activates my imagination. (The same could be said for every good book, I suppose.) Visualizing the growing threat, the brutal attacks, and the despair of the survivors leaves me breathless and full of adrenaline.

Bird Box

“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”

Promo photo for Bird Box, from Harper Collins Canada.

For a more modern look at the toll horror takes on a human mind, we turn to Bird Box, Josh Malerman‘s debut novel. No one can say what the creatures in this story look like, because anyone who glimpses them is driven to immediate, deadly violence, culminating in suicide. The victims lose their minds, as well as their humanity, before losing their own lives. A mother and her young children have survived by covering the windows in their isolated house, and learning to navigate blindfolded when they go outside. Now, they are driven to leave their home behind, and they set out on a blindfolded quest to find other survivors. Who can they trust? And what is following them?

Be warned: this intense novel doesn’t shy away from the disturbing, graphic descriptions of the victims’ deaths.

IT

“Want a balloon?”

Tim Curry as Pennywise in ABC’s 1990 miniseries, IT. Owned by Warner Bros.; photographer unknown.

When you think “scary clown,” you probably picture Pennywise, the creature Tim Curry played in the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel, It. The thought of a creepy guy in white makeup who wants to eat children is sufficiently scary for most people, but IT is more than that: the clown is only one of the forms IT takes.

Ancient, malevolent, and powerful, IT comes from an unknown dimension. It lies slumbering until atrocious acts of human violence awaken it (unfortunately, this happens fairly regularly). When it comes to earth to feed, IT can take the shape of anything it chooses, in order to lure its victims. Sometimes IT appears as a victim’s loved one; other times, IT appears as a victim’s worst fear. But, as with Cthulhu, if a person were to see IT’s true form, the absolute horror would so baffle his mind, that he would go insane.

In 2015, British costume company MorphCostumes voted Pennywise the scariest creature in literature. The clown trumped Dracula, The Lord of the Rings’ Nazgûl, and Harry Potter’s Dementors, among other classic horror standards, based on “appearance, powers, and evil intent.”

 

Did your favorite creature make my list? Leave a comment below! And if you’re looking for history on some of the most famous undead creatures, check out this blog post from last year, “How Monsters Are Born,” by reference librarian Sharon Reily.

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