Halloween is just around the corner, which means it is almost that time of year when monsters become a common sight. Most people have seen Frankenstein’s monster, a spooky ghost, a vampire, or even the headless horsemen casually strolling down the street and up people’s driveways driven by their desire for candy. These costume ideas are all great options for any Halloween outing since they celebrate the holiday’s focus on all things that are spooky and mysterious.
Halloween celebrates gothic fiction and the ingenious literary figures created by countless authors. So what better way to prepare for next’s week holiday than by exploring the origins of some of these iconic ghost-story figures and their talented creators:
The Headless Horseman
The Headless Horseman is one of the most recognizable ghost-story figures. This character comes from the infamous gothic short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” which was written by the American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) in the year 1820.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a short story included in Washington Irving’s great work The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. This book is a collection of stories recorded by Irving’s fictional historian Diedrich Knickerbocker.
This story is Knickerbocker’s retelling of Ichabod Crane’s hapless competition with Abraham “Brom Bones” to win the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. After a series of pranks and considerable tension, Ichabod Crane resigns to his failures and returns home. This ride brings him through the woods between Van Tassel’s farmstead and Sleepy Hollow, an area in the Dutch settlement Tarry Town (in which the story is set) that is renowned for its ghosts and eerie atmosphere.
Upon entering into Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane encounters a mysterious cloaked headless rider with his misplaced head on the saddle. When Ichabod flees towards the nearby bridge leading to the Old Dutch Burying Ground (where Knickerbocker says the upon entrance, the horseman would “vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone”). He is able to escape, though not without first having the headless horseman hurl his severed head at Ichabod.
Never to be mistaken for Victor Frankenstein himself, Frankenstein’s monster is an extremely popular character around the time of Halloween. This literary character is the creation of the gothic writer Mary Shelley (1797-1851) from her renowned novel Frankenstein, which was published in 1818.
Frankenstein is about the committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Overcome with a complete obsession for discovering the key to life and honing the ability to bestow life into lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being out of stolen body parts from cadavers.
Frankenstein successfully instills life into his creation. However, upon realizing the possibility of his obsession and the lines he overstepped in order to gain the key to life, Frankenstein recoils in absolute horror. The very sight of his creation incites Frankenstein with disgust. This leaves the Monster in a world of complete isolation and loneliness, a life that turns him towards a life seeking revenge against his creator, Victor Frankenstein.
Vampires are among the most popular of spooky and unearthly creatures in the horror genre. Though the notion of vampires—the undead who feed upon the blood of the living—originates in ancient legends, it was not until Bram Stoker’s take on the legend of vampires that archetypal vampire of today was established.
Bram Stoker (1847-1912) is the author of the famous gothic horror novel Dracula, published in 1897. The novel follows an English lawyer named Jonathan Harker as he leaves for his first professional assignment, traveling to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. Harker quickly comes to the realization that Count Dracula is actually a vampire who lures potential prey to the castle using supernatural powers. Harker eventually escapes Transylvania with his life, only to be pursued by Dracula. This leads to a dramatic pursuit ending in the death of Count Dracula.
Without the ingenious works produced by these gothic and horror authors, many of the iconic monsters and figures of Halloween would not be around today. Not only did these authors and their creations impact the world of literature, but they have had a profound influence on society and societal holidays.