No. 1 | Allow Us To Explain
Halloween's about dressing up and eating candy (and, for many adults, getting incredibly drunk). But that doesn't have to be all it's about. Back in 2010 Neil Gaiman suggested a new Halloween tradition of giving away a scary book to a friend on that most spooky of holidays. Since then that basic idea has evolved into All Hallow's Read, and we here at The Mary Sue are supporting it by highlighting eight of our favorite literary horror heroines. All of the books we’ve mentioned here—including one by Gaiman himself, which is only fitting—come with the TMS stamp of approval if you want to participate in the AHR tradition of book-gifting.
As always, this one goes out to the runners-up: Carrie from Carrie, Eli from Let the Right One In, and the godmother of horror herself, Mary Shelley. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 2 | Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classic books to explain to folks who've never read them (second only to The Count of Monte Cristo). See, the uninitiated might take a look at a novel written by a woman in the 1800s and assume that it's a society romance with plenty of upper crust social politics. Then I explain that sure, I guess the rigid social rules of the 1840s informed the narrative of the novel, but the scandal fodder in Jane Eyre begins with an illegitimate child and probably tops out at a man hiding his murderous and insane wife in the attic of his house for years.
And, of course, the book opens with a young Jane in the care of an abusive aunt and bullying cousins, locked in the room in which her uncle died as punishment. She encounters (or hallucinates) his ghost, has a panic attack, and passes out. The book ends with fire, death, madness, disfigurement, blindness, and marriage. Gothic romance, everybody! Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 3 | Michonne
If you’ve only watched AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg that is Michonne. Not only is she a top-notch character, she has one of the best introductions in literary history.
In The Walking Dead universe, things are fairly normal. You know, beside the whole zombies thing. When people die, they don’t magically come back to life (they just come back as zombies), cars run out of gas, guns run out of bullets, and no one has superpowers. But Michonne sort of changed all that. She arrived on the scene trailing two zombie pets and wielding a katana.
Zombie pets. And a katana.
Seriously think about that within the realm of the zombie apocalypse we’re experiencing through The Walking Dead. People are clubbing zombies, shooting zombies, but Michonne chooses to slide and dice them with no prior experience with the edged weapon. FYI, her old day job was as a lawyer.
As if that awesomeness wasn’t enough, Michonne is an amazing literary horror heroine because of the true horror’s she’s faced and overcome. Her journey from apocalypse to when she found the survivors was not an easy one physically or mentally. It took its toll, but she kept fighting both the evil zombies and the evil humans she encountered. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 4 | Sabriel
Sabriel is the first protagonist of Garth Nix's Abhorsen series (followed by her similarly badass half-sister Lirael in the two second books), which takes place in a mysterious land bisected by a massive wall. Below the wall, society is roughly equivalent with the Victorian era. Above the wall (and just below it, when the wind blows from the north), complex machines break down, wild magic rules, and the dead walk the earth.
Four families share hereditary responsibilities over the Old Kingdom in the North: the royal rulers, the clairvoyant Clayr, the industrious Wallmakers, and the Abhorsen. There is only ever one Abhorsen at a time, and the death of her father (and the arrival of his risen and bound servant with his things at Sabriel's southern, all-girls boarding school) makes Sabriel the only thing standing between the Old Kingdom (and by proxy southern Ancelstriere) from the ravening army raised by the angry spirit of a long-dead necromancer whose last living act was to destroy the Old Kingdom's monarchy.
Fortunately, Sabriel has been training with the Abhorsen's particular kind of magic her entire life, a combination of kinder Charter magic and unpredictable wild magic performed by the ringing of bells, one just as likely to carry the unwary practitioner to death as it is to vanquish zombies. No biggie. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 5 | Batwoman
DC Comics might not be your first thought on where to go for horror comics. Vertigo, sure, and the characters who originated in DC's mature readers imprint. There's a lot there. The Sandman, John Constantine, Swamp Thing, all characters who were technically in the DC universe and now are officially in the New 52. If you're looking for horror in the New 52, you might overlook Batwoman. After all, she's just fighting criminals in Gotham. If you think that, then I accuse you of not really paying attention.
Ever since her debut in the New 52 Kate Kane has been fighting not criminals... but urban legends. Her eventual target is Medusa, the mysterious leader of a cult/organized crime syndicate with the power to transform ordinary people whose lives resemble those of figures of folklore and urban legend into actual avatars of myth. Imagine, if you will, Killer Croc, empowered magically with the raw force of every person who believes, deep down, that there are alligators in the sewer.
But Medusa isn't above manipulating lives to make better matches for her magic. As is the case with the poor alcoholic mother who was led to believe she was responsible for the drowning deaths of her children so that she could be transformed into La Llorona, the spectral, child-snatching Weeping Woman of Mexican folklore. In myth, La Llorona is unable to enter heaven until she finds her children... who she drowned in order to win the heart of her lover. In Batwoman she terrorizes the vulnerable poor children of Gotham in disappearances that law enforcement is unable to make any progress on until Kate unravels her true identity and her connections to Medusa, the Mother of All Monsters. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 6 | The Woman in The Yellow Wallpaper
Says Alan Ryan of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “One of the finest, and strongest, tales of horror ever written. It may be a ghost story. Worse yet, it may not.”
The story was written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the late 1890s, and at its simplest it describes in first person an invalid woman on prescribed bed rest, allowed no visitors and no activity, mental or otherwise, by her doctor. Then she is slowly driven mad by the wallpaper of her sickroom. In this sense it has much in common with Poe and Lovecraft’s own stories of encroaching madness, like The Telltale Heart.
But Gilman’s story hid a dire second layer: it was based on experiences in her own life. Gilman once had a doctor who attempted to cure her postpartum depression (diagnosed, surely, as the Victorian "hysteria") with a "rest cure" where she was forbidden from writing so that she could lead the most "domestic" life possible and was allowed only two hours of "mental stimulation" a day. It was a treatment which she eventually chose to break after realising that she was slipping even further into mental illness.
Whether the context of misogynistic psychiatric practices of the 1890′s makes the story scarier or not for you, we highly recommend it. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 7 | Clarice Starling
In both the movie and the book on which it was based, The Silence of the Lambs heroine Clarice Starling is a smart, tough FBI agent-in-training who doesn't let the mostly male world in which she operates hold her back from doing her job and doing it well. The book focuses more on the procedural aspect of the FBI's investigation into serial killer Buffalo Bill than does the movie, at the same time providing more individual instances of Starling being condescended to and insulted by those who think less of her investigative abilities because of her gender.
Clarice doesn’t mind, though. Well, OK, she probably minds. But she doesn’t let the attitudes of those around her stop her from going toe-to-toe with Hannibal Lecter and finding Buffalo Bill before he kills his next victim. And though very few of us have to deal with serial killers and cannibals (or serial killer cannibals) in our lives, Clarice Starling’s determination in the face of adversity serves as a good example for all. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 8 | Coraline
Coraline is one of those books I wish I’d read growing up. Sure, a lot of horror books passed my way in my younger days, but none of them had quite the charm of Neil Gaiman’s novella. And none of them had a heroine quite like Coraline.
What can we say about this precocious youngster? Well, for one, she’s young. It’s not specifically said how old she is in the book, but she’s “small for her age.” Maybe that’s why she’s so awesome, or maybe she was just born that way. Regardless, the bravery Coraline presents in the face of the most horrific danger a little girl can imagine, having your family replaced (with button-eyed people no less), is more than most adults can muster.
When Coraline rebuffs her Other parents’ suggestion to stay with them, she heads home only to find her real parents missing. Does she panic? Does she curl up into a ball and cry? No. Coraline fights back and she does so by using her brain.
Oh, and did we mention the ghost children? Coraline is a seriously tough cookie.
Some people say Coraline is too scary for young kids to read. Perhaps they just don’t realize they have a little Coraline living with them already. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
No. 9 | Merricat Blackwood
Merricat is unique in our list of literary horror heroines in that in addition to being the protagonist of her horror story, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, she's also the monster. The textbook definition of an unreliable narrator, Merricat is the youngest surviving member of the Blackwood family, most of whom were poisoned several years before the story begins. Merricat's the only one of the Blackwoods who has any contact with the nearby villagers, who shun the family out of their belief in older sister Constance's guilt. It's only near the end of the novel that we find out Merricat is the one who murdered her family.
The revelation doesn't come from nowhere—seeing the story through her eyes, it's apparent that something's not quite right with Merricat. She never admits the murders, though, even to herself, which makes the following exchange, after Constance and Merricat have escaped a mob of angry villagers, all the more unsettling:
One of our mother’s Dresden figurines is broken, I thought, and I said aloud to Constance, “I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”
Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way you did before?” she asked.
It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years.
“Yes,” I said after a minute, “the way I did before.”
I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jackson, though; one of the few commercially successful female writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, she’s best known for short story The Lottery and seminal horror novel The Haunting of Hill House, neither of which skimp on the creepiness. Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?
8 Favorite Literary Horror Heroines