Book Club Nominees

6 Shuckingly Good Folk Horrors

by @_ghostgrrrl, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for May’s “🌾The Books Are Not What They Seem”

Folk horror has always been my favorite subgenre, as an avid fan of folklore around the world. What is Folk Horror? It’s secret cults and strange practices. It’s small towns and the secrets they hide. It’s liminal spaces and the things that thrive in them. Or, if you want a more textbook answer: Folk horror is horror that stems from the clash between what is considered “normal” and what is rural, “savage,” misunderstood, or mythical. Other features of folk horror literature are: religion or cults, the power of nature, darkness in small towns or rural areas, and isolation.

Cover of Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Cover shows trees in the foreground and on either side of the background. In the center of the background is a white landscape with a blue cloaked figure walking through it. A small black house is in the background, and a large, red setting sun hovers at the horizon.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll. Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…


Emily Carroll’s illustrations are dark and beautiful, setting the perfect eerie backdrop for the tales within. They may not be the scariest stories, but it’s a quick, pretty foray into the world of horror comics. Plus, it freaked Patrick Rothfuss out.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Durham. Cover shows a black and white drawing of a rabbit's or a hare's head with spiky fur growing where its eyes should be.

Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Durham

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book-a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It’s Barley Day…and you’re invited to the hunt. (Goodreads)

I chose Winterset Hollow because it seems very divisive. The people who love it really love it, and the people who hate it really hate it. I’ve seen a ton of praise for the book in the Books of Horror Facebook page and on Goodreads, but there are passionate reviews in both directions.

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

The Gallows Pole is a novelisation of the true story of ‘King’ David Hartley and the Cragg Vale Coiners, a gang of weavers, land workers and hill-top peasants who embarked upon the biggest forgery that this country had ever seen. Their crimes resulted in great wealth and resonated all the way to Westminster, and ended in torture, murder and hanging. It is, I think, a story that is as vital a part of British history as those of Robin Hood and Dick Turpin (or Billy The Kid in the US and Ned Kelly in Australia), yet is little known beyond the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire.

It is also a tale of delusion, myth, folklore, the moorlands, landscape, occultist practices, class and the divide between rich and poor. (Goodreads)

I wanted to include a more nonfiction-leaning book on the list, though this one is slightly less horror than the rest. The Gallows Pole is acclaimed – it even won the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction in 2018.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Cunning Folk by Adam Nevill. Cover shows a black boar with red glowing eyes and tusks against a red background.

Cunning Folk by Adam Nevill

Deep in rural South West England, with an ancient wood at the foot of the garden, Tom and his family are miles from anywhere and anyone familiar. Within days of crossing the threshold, when hostilities break out with the elderly couple next door, Tom’s dreams of future contentment are threatened by an escalating tit-for-tat campaign of petty damage and disruption. Increasingly isolated and tormented, Tom risks losing his home, everyone dear to him and his mind. Because, surely, only the mad would suspect that the oddballs across the hedgerow command unearthly powers. A malicious magic even older than the eerie wood and the strange barrow therein. A hallowed realm from where, he suspects, his neighbours draw a hideous power. (Goodreads)

Again, I picked Cunning Folk because I know Adam Nevill is a divisive author. There is much praise out there for his work – and for Cunning Folk in particular – but there are just as many people who dislike what they have read. I think this would inspire a spirited discussion.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley. Cover shows the title of the book, but sideways at a 90 degree angle. At the top, out of the side of the y, a branch grows out of each part of the letter. On top of the letter y is a house.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

“If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is. I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget….” (Goodreads)

The Loney is another book that people get passionate about. The premise seems interesting, and it fits the bill, so I threw it on in.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories compiled by Neil Christopher. Cover shows a very dark, almost completely black, image of either a crow or raven.

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories compiled by Neil Christopher

“Taaqtumi” is an Inuktitut word that means “in the dark”—and these spine-tingling horror stories by Northern writers show just how dangerous darkness can be. A family clinging to survival out on the tundra after a vicious zombie virus. A door that beckons, waiting to unleash the terror behind it. A post-apocalyptic community in the far North where things aren’t quite what they seem. With chilling tales from award-winning authors Richard Van Camp, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Aviaq Johnston, and others, this collection will thrill and entertain even the most seasoned horror fan. (Goodreads)

I found this anthology while searching for folk horror books by BIPOC (it’s an incredibly white subgenre at the moment and I hope to see that changing as we move forward). It sounds like a very diverse collection, from an area of the world that isn’t recognized nearly enough in the world of horror. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories compiled by Neil Christopher. Join HOWL Society on Monday, May 9, 2022 to begin discussion!

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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