Book Club Nominees

6 Fearsome Folk Horrors

By @ProbableHag, curator of HOWLS book club nominees for May’s “Dancing ‘Round The May Poll” category

The Folk Horror Revival & Urban Wyrd Project states that “in a bid to answer ‘What is Folk Horror?’ one may as well attempt to build a box the exact shape of mist; for like the mist, Folk Horror is atmospheric and sinuous. It can creep from and into different territories yet leave no universal defining mark of its exact form.” Some common trends in the genre, however, include a focus on landscape, isolation, skewed moral beliefs, and a happening or summoning. Folk horror has crept into the poll lists before, but there is a lot of uncovered ground that I thought might be fun to explore. Also, I need more corn memes in my life (Editor’s note: The members of HOWLS highly recommend you give Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon a read).

Cover of Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucy McKnight Hardy. Cover is an image that is tinted orange. The image shows a young woman with long hair standing outside.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy

The heatwave of 1976. Following the accidental drowning of her sister, sixteen-year-old Nif and her family move to a small village on the Welsh borders to escape their grief. But rural seclusion doesn’t bring any relief. As her family unravels, Nif begins to put together her own form of witchcraft – collecting talismans from the sun-starved land. That is, until she meets Mally, a teen boy who takes a keen interest in her, and has his own secret rites to divulge.


This is considered to be a classic of the genre, and a number of reviews include comparisons to authors like Shirley Jackson (*We Have Always Lived in the Castle* in particular). I will add that I have come across trigger warnings related to ||animal cruelty|| so I hope that helps in making your decision. I’m completely sold on the idea of witchcraft and personal rituals – as well as a British story in which there’s an actual heatwave (so probably about 15 degrees Celsius?).

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Devil's Day by Andrew Michael Hurley. Cover shows a leafless tree in the middle of a grass field.

Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the Lancashire farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep from the moors. Generally, very little changes in the Briardale Valley, but this year things are different. His grandfather – known to everyone as the Gaffer – has died and John’s new wife, Katherine, is accompanying him for the first time. Every year, the Gaffer would redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper but also through the remembrance of folk tales, family stories and timeless communal rituals which keep the sheep safe from the Devil. This year, though, the determination of some members of the community to defend those boundary lines has strengthened, and John and Katherine must decide where their loyalties lie, and whether they are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to join the tribe…


I read this one a couple of years ago and I felt completely haunted by it. If you’ve read *The Loney* and weren’t completely sold on Hurley’s writing, don’t let that put you off. This story is saturated with rural mythology and gothic influences. This book captures the eerie unfriendliness of the English landscape better than anything else I’ve ever read.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein. Cover shows some sort of reptile claws encircling the planet earth.

The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein

Jeremy Freirs is a graduate student and teacher who decides to spend his summer working on his dissertation and preparing for the class he will be teaching in the fall on Gothic Literature; he thinks he has found the perfect place in Gilead, New Jersey, is a world all to its own, the home of a strict religious sect with extremely puritan ideas. Moving into a former storage building on the farm of Sarr and Deborah Poroth, he expects to spend a productive summer free from essentially all distractions – he is quite wrong in this assumption. 


Upfront warning that this one’s a long read, with Goodreads putting it at about 550 pages. It’s described in reviews as a slow burn, with a strong focus on atmosphere. It is also compared to authors such as Machen as well as Lovecraft’s non-mythos stories, which I’m completely sold on. (Another quick warning: although I haven’t read the book, I felt that the Goodreads blurb had a *lot* of spoilers, so I’d recommend not reading it, if you are of the spoiler-hating persuasion).

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers. Cover show the silhouette of a man with long hair and pink 70s style sunglasses against a green background. There is a very small image of a noose hanging in the upper left hand corner of the cover.

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

“I saw them. Stag-headed men dancing on the moor at midnight, nostrils flared and steam rising…” An England divided. From his remote moorland home, David Hartley assembles a gang of weavers and land-workers to embark upon a criminal enterprise that will capsize the economy and become the biggest fraud in British history. They are the Cragg Vale Coiners and their business is ‘clipping’ – the forging of coins, a treasonous offence punishable by death. A charismatic leader, Hartley cares for the poor and uses violence and intimidation against his opponents. He is also prone to self-delusion and strange visions of mythical creatures. When excise officer William Deighton vows to bring down the Coiners and one of their own becomes turncoat, Hartley’s empire begins to crumble. With the industrial age set to change the face of England forever, the fate of his empire is under threat. Forensically assembled from historical accounts and legal documents, The Gallows Pole is a true story of resistance that combines poetry, landscape, crime and historical fiction, whose themes continue to resonate. Here is a rarely-told alternative history of the North. 


Set in 18th century Yorkshire, this book stood out in how many reviewers referred to its pervasive violence and grotesque scenes – as well as the beauty of its natural descriptions and the author’s evident love of the Yorkshire moors. I’m particularly excited about this book due to the often-mentioned “epic folk quality” of the prose and the authentic way in which the novel represents the 1700s. The latter makes me imagine that this might be similar in tone/authenticity to the film The VVitch, although only reading the book will prove me right or wrong. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. Cover shows a close up of a pile of interwoven or stacked sticks.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs—particularly their sacrifices to the bog. 


This novella seems to pack a lot into 150 or so pages. I’m a little cautious about the reviews that all seem to refer to it as a “post-Brexit” fable, but I love the idea of a story centred around recreating the past. Again, I would caution against reading the Goodreads blurb as I felt it was possibly a little spoilery. This is probably the book that I know the least about, but you just need to mention the word “bog” and I immediately think of bog people and ritual sacrifice, so I’m going in with those hopes in mind.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files. Cover shows a woman in a cloak walking down a street of small houses at night.

We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files

Every family has its monsters…and some are nothing but. In the woods outside Overdeere, Ontario, there are trees that speak, a village that doesn’t appear on any map, and a hill that opens wide, entrapping unwary travellers. Music drifts up from deep underground, while dreams – and nightmares – take on solid shape, flitting through the darkness. It’s a place most people usually know better than to go, at least locally – until tonight, when five bloodlines mired in ancient strife will finally converge once more. Devize, Glouwer, Rusk, Druir, Roke – these are the clans who make up the notorious Five-Family Coven. Four hundred years ago, this alliance of witches, changelings, and sorcerers sought to ruin and recreate the Earth in their own image, thwarted only by treachery that sent half of them to be burned alive. Driven apart by rage and hatred, their descendants have continued to feud, intermarry, and breed with each other throughout the centuries, their mutual dislike becoming ever more destructively intimate. But now, from downtown Toronto to the wilds beyond, where reality’s walls grow thin, dark forces are drawing the Coven’s last heirs to a final confrontation. Psychics, ex-possessees, defrocked changeling priests, shamans for hire, body-stealing witches, and monster-slaying nuns – the bastard children of a thousand evil angels – all are haunted by a ghost beyond any one person’s power to exorcize unless they agree to stand together once more – at least long enough to wreak vengeance upon themselves!


At first, this didn’t really seem like folk horror to me, despite coming across it on a number of lists. But I love the idea of a sprawling cast and a series of short stories all of which intertwine to tell a greater story. This book seems a lot more overtly supernatural than the rest, but Gemma Files is one of my favourite short story authors, and I’m curious to see just how much folklore she can pack into a full novel. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. Join HOWL Society on May 10, 2021 to begin discussion!

Philippa/@Probable Hag studied and taught ancient history in South Africa and now lives in Scotland. When not giving herself nightmares reading horror fiction, she gives herself nightmares co-producing the history podcast Everything Is Awful Forever. Feel free to sample her ramblings here:

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