Samhain Reading List: 13 Frightening Works of Fiction for Celebrating Halloween’s Celtic Roots

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Pumpkins are appearing on porches and stoops. Front yards are being festooned with all manner of macabre decorations. The oppressive heat of summer is fading, giving way to cool breezes and dark, brisk evenings. And all the leaves on the trees are falling to the sound of the breezes that blow.

Wait…that last one was a Van Morrison lyric. But you get the idea.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, fall is upon us, and Samhain is right around the corner.

Along with Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, Samhain is one of the four major Celtic festivals. Beginning on the evening of October 31st (since the ancient Celts measured their days from sunset to sunset), the festival marks the end of the harvest and has traditionally been celebrated with fires, costumes, and jack-o’-lanterns.

Samhain is also a time when the boundaries between the land of the living and the land of the dead, i.e., the Celtic Otherworld, are believed to thin, allowing demons, monsters, fairies, and the souls of the dead to cross over and wander among us.

It’s a spooky time. A time for warm blankets and stiff drinks. Flannel shirts and pumpkin-spiced everything. A time for makin’ love in the green grass behind the stadium. (Shit, I did it again.) And yes, it’s definitely a time for curling up with a good book — preferably one that sends shivers down your spine.

For those of you who wish to celebrate Samhain — Halloween’s Celtic progenitor — with some spooky stories rooted in Celtic mythology and folklore, boy have I got the list for you. Check it out below… if you dare. Muahahaha.

(Too much? You’re right, that was probably too much. You can go check out the books now. Or, if you prefer audiobooks to traditional books, you can snag 3 months of Audible Premium Plus for free using this link.)

The 13 Best Celtic Horror Books to Read This Samhain

1) Hobgoblin

by John Coyne

Per the publisher: “Scott Gardiner is already shattered by the demise of his character in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy. When his father dies at almost exactly the same moment, the line between nightmare and reality begins to erode. Scott and his mom attempt to start over by moving to Ballycastle, a medieval Irish manor house rebuilt on the banks of the Hudson. A new role-playing game captures Scott’s imagination: Hobgoblin, in which he takes on the identity of the legendary Irish hero Brian Borù. Before long, he’s seeing a black annis ― a terrifying creature of Celtic myth ― darting about the estate.” Learn more…

2) Irish Gothic: Tales of Celtic Horror

by Ronald Kelly

Per the publisher: “As the sun takes leave and dusk descends, deep shadows and the dank of an evening mist claim the Land of Saints. Within the cloak of night, boogies and beasties roam the moors, keen for the echo of lonesome footsteps and the alluring scent of fear and dread. Banshee, selkie, leprechaun, and fairy alike. The restless spirit of the Sluagh and the bestial form of the werewolf, hungry and on the prowl. In Irish Gothic: Tales of Celtic Horror, Ronald Kelly returns to the land of his ancestry and explores the dark superstition and frightful folklore of Ol’ Éire. Seven stories of Celtic gothic terror… tales to quicken the beat of the heart and chill one’s bones to the very marrow.” Learn more…

3) In the Name of the Wolf

by John F. Deane

Per Publishers Weekly: “In western Ireland, in the xenophobic atmosphere of the 1940s, Patty O’Higgins is born in a van at the side of the road. Her father reads Poe at her christening, and from this beginning, Patty’s life only gets more difficult. As she comes of age, she develops a progressive and at-first unnamable illness whose onset parallels that of the mysterious disappearance and murder of sheep on the local mountain. Moreover, Patty’s face becomes increasingly distorted into wolflike features. Given that some of the superstitious villagers still believe in banshees, it’s not long before the more lycanthropic-minded start spinning tales: the sheep are being killed not just by ordinary wolves–in a country that hasn’t had wolves in centuries–but rather by werewolves.” Learn more…

Furry fact: werewolves (and shapeshifting in general) have been staples of Irish mythology and Irish folklore for centuries, and stories about them continue to grow and evolve. For example, the Oscar-nominated animated feature WolfWalkers is based on the 12th century Irish folk tale “The Man-wolves of Ossory.

4) Irish Ghost Stories

by multiple authors

Per the publisher: “Blend the wild and fevered Irish imagination with their wonderful facility for recounting a dark, compelling tale, add a dash of the supernatural, and you have a potent brew of spine-tingling tales. This anthology of the best ghost stories from Ireland and Irish writers includes contributions from such masters of the art of raising as Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats and Rosa Mulholland. Within the pages of this collection you will find strange accounts of haunted houses, death warnings from beyond the grave, and revengeful spirits, all guaranteed to stir the imagination and chill the blood.” Learn more…

5) Hyde

by Craig Russell

Per the publisher: “Edward Hyde is truly a good man… though he wrestles fiercely with his own unique demons. When Hyde finds himself at the scene of a heinous murder, with no idea of how he got there or the events leading up to the discovery, his alarm is triggered on two levels. First, the crime scene is brutal and involves the Threefold Death, an ancient Celtic rite of sacrifice entangled with dark Scottish spiritual mythology. Second, Hyde’s inability to remember any detail of his arrival at the crime scene makes him immediately fret about the secret he keeps from all but his physician.” Learn more…

6) Irish Ghosts and Hauntings

by Michael Scott

Per the publisher: “What is it about Ireland’s past that so haunts the imagination? More than one answer can be found in this collection of 29 tales. To start with, in a newly Christianized Ireland, monks do battle with a devilish monster that has killed a river. All the water in this collection, from rivers to lakes, conceal dangers that men and women would best avoid. Ready to tempt Ireland’s new conquerors — humankind– supernatural forces hide beneath waves, in bogs, in the very land, waiting. Scott juxtaposes the old and the new, the ancient and modern, showing that in everyday situations, the curses of Ireland’s mythic past lie imp-like, threatening destruction.” Learn more…

7) A Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness

Per the publisher: “At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.” Learn more…

8) A Celtic Darkness: Supernatural Tales of Ireland

by Eoghain Hamilton

Per the publisher: “A Celtic Darkness is a collection of short ghost stories based on the supernatural legend and folklore of Ireland. It is a new work that examines the hidden less travelled pathways of the Irish haunted landscape. Using local settings, Hamilton introduces a collection that takes the reader on several nightmarish journeys into an Ireland that is both rarely seen and very very disturbing. Read this collection with the light on for once the reader is immersed in the Celtic Darkness, they may find it difficult to find your way out.” Learn more…

9a) Dracula

by Bram Stoker

Per the publisher: “Young lawyer Jonathan Harker journeys to Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count Dracula only to discover that his nobleman client is a vampire who is thirsty for new blood. After imprisoning Harker in his castle, Dracula travels to England to seduce Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina, and the battle against an ineffable evil begins.” Learn more…

Hold up… Dracula? Isn’t he based on Vlad the Impaler? Actually, some scholars think the Vlad origin story is overblown and that Dracula was primarily based on a Celtic chieftain, Abhartach, who rose from the dead, drank bowls of blood, and was eventually killed with a wooden sword.

9b) Carmilla

by Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu

Per the publisher: “First serialized in the journal ‘The Dark Blue’ and published shortly thereafter in the short story collection In a Glass Darkly, Le Fanu’s 1872 vampire tale is in many ways the overlooked older sister of Bram Stoker’s more acclaimed Dracula. A thrilling gothic tale, Carmilla tells the story of a young woman lured by the charms of a female vampire.” Learn more…

10) Stoker’s Wilde

by Steven Hopstaken & Melissa Prusi

Per the publisher: “Years before either becomes a literary legend, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde must overcome their disdain for one another to battle the Black Bishop, a mysterious madman wielding supernatural forces to bend the British Empire to his will. With the help of a European vampire expert, a spirited actress and an American businessman, our heroes fight werewolves, vampires and the chains of Victorian morality. The fight will take them through dark forests in Ireland, the upper-class London theater world and Stonehenge, where Bram and Oscar must stop a vampire cult from opening the gates of Hell.” Learn more…

11) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

by Washington Irving

Per the publisher: “There is magic and mystery surrounding the vale of Sleepy Hollow. It is home to a host of ghostly sounds and goblin spectres, none more infamous than the Headless Horseman. This figure rides out in the witching hour of night. If one is not careful, a traveller can lose everything in one evening – their wits, their heart, their head… The foolish school teacher, Ichabod Crane, is besotted with the lovely Katrina Van Tassel. Surely there can be nothing to stand in the way of his designs on her fortune. Sadly for him, imagination is a dangerous thing in Sleepy Hollow.” Learn more…

Wait…what? Why is the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on this list? Isn’t that an American folk tale? Welp, turns out Washington Irving’s headless horseman may have been inspired by an Irish spirit, the Dullahan.

12) When Halloween Was Green

by Bernard K. Finnigan

Per the publisher: “The scare in Halloween is gone from Middle America. With its celebrity-obsessed culture preferring glitter, pirates, and princesses, Keith and Benny MacCool’s frightening haunted house attraction isn’t what it used to be. When the few remaining Halloween enthusiasts in town start turning up dead, the MacCools unearth the source of the problem: something has awakened from Halloween’s distant past. The Celtic monsters and legends of old Ireland have discovered modern man has dumbed-down every tradition that once protected mortals on the scariest night of the year. And they have plans this Halloween.” Learn more…

13) The God Provides

by Thomas R. Clark

Per the publisher: “The foothills of Upstate New York are alive with something terrifying. It hunts, it tempts, it traps, and there’s no escape. Thomas R. Clark re-invents Irish mythology and takes you on a bloody, emotional, and horrific journey back through time with the tale of the McEntire clan, and the devastating secrets they hold. The author of the Splatterpunk Awards nominated Bella’s Boys: A Tale of Cosmic Horror has crafted a story that’s part The Wicker Man and part Cycle of the Werewolf, but at the same time like nothing you’ve read before.” Learn more…

Want to learn more about Samhain and its ancient Celtic origins? Check out…

Samhain in Your Pocket (Celtic Pocket Guides 2)

Perhaps the most important holiday on the ancient Celtic calendar, Samhain marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new pastoral year. It is a liminal time—a time when the forces of light and darkness, warmth and cold, growth and blight, are in conflict. A time when the barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead is at its thinnest. A time when all manner of spirits and demons are wont to cross over from the Celtic Otherworld. Learn more…

Looking for some spooky short stories? This might be right up your ghoul-infested alley…

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy

“A thrilling romp through pubs, mythology, and alleyways. NEON DRUID is such a fun, pulpy anthology of stories that embody Celtic fantasy and myth,” (Pyles of Books). Cross over into a world where the mischievous gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes of Celtic mythology live among us, intermingling with unsuspecting mortals and stirring up mayhem in cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, from Limerick and Edinburgh to Montreal and Boston. Learn more…

More the listenin’ type?

I recommend the audiobook Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes by Philip Freeman (narrated by Gerard Doyle). Use my link to get 3 free months of Audible Premium Plus and you can listen to the full 7.5-hour audiobook for free.

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