Halloween is one of the best holidays out there. It’s a perfect excuse to curl up with a hot beverage of your choice and read a spooky novel. Perhaps you break out some H.P. Lovecraft to get your yearly quota of monsters or maybe you grab a classic like Dracula or The Hound of the Baskervilles. What if I told you there was the perfect Halloween book out there that combined all these things and more?
Let me introduce you to the best Halloween book you’ve never read.
Every October I re-read Roger Zelazny’s outstanding yet forgotten book, A Night In the Lonesome October. Zelazny was a science fiction legend known for his Books of Amber series and his Hugo award-winning standalone novel Lord of Light. He earned a Nebula nomination for A Night In the Lonesome October in 1994. It’s one of Zelazny’s best works and it’s been sadly forgotten and out of print for many years.
The novel is a science fiction lover’s dream and the perfect book for Halloween. Told in thirty-one chapters — one for each day of October, plus an introduction — the novel is written from the point of view of Snuff, a smart guard dog that belongs to a gentleman named Jack who has a predisposition for knives and dark alleys. They live in a quiet home in the country where various things are kept trapped in mirrors and steamer trunks. The neighborhood is full of colorful characters such as a crazy woman with a black cat, a mad scientist who always seems to have storm clouds over his home, a Transylvanian noble, a mad Russian monk and a detective who wears a deerstalker hat.
Yes, friends, Jack the Ripper lives in the London countryside with a witch, Doctor Frankenstein, Dracula, Rasputin and Sherlock Holmes. What’s even better is that these well-known characters have familiars; clever animals that share information about their game they’re playing. A game of life and death. Every few decades a full moon rises on Halloween and the veil between this world and others become thin and porous. This unlikely cast of characters have come together in October to summon (or prevent the summoning) of the Old Ones. The Elder Gods. Cthulhu and Nytharlohotep and Shub-Naggorth.
It is the most meta work of science fiction in the history of literature. Lovecraft and Stoker and Shelly, oh my! Where else can you see the Wolf Man hanging out with Jack the Ripper while they gossip about Sherlock Holmes? How often have you wished that Dracula could fight Lovecraftian horrors?
The novel starts innocently enough. A man and his dog wander London, collecting items they need for Halloween with a sacred knife. The game slowly unwinds as the October moon waxes and wanes. Characters slowly reveal their affiliations and what magic items they control (such as the sacred knife, a magic bowl and a small icon painted by Abdul Alhazred). The name “elder gods” aren’t even mentioned until the middle of October. There are tantalizing hints and tidbits littered in the novel as you get glimpses of people you know and love from history and fiction. Zelazny picked some of the most iconic characters to populate his novel and he pulls it off with aplomb. It’s a wildly original and captivating story, told with a charm only Roger Zelazny possessed.
Besides being stuffed full of amazing characters, the story is also deeply funny and surprisingly terrifying. You’re purposefully kept in the dark about the affiliations of the players. Could Crazy Jill the witch be trying to stop the elder gods while Doctor Frankenstein is trying to summon them? It’s suspenseful and dramatic and yet told with such gentle care.
Zelazny’s writing talents shine in A Night in the Lonesome October. His descriptions, while short, are evocative and he juggles all the competing legends, mythologies and stories easily. It’s an absolute delight to see some of the most iconic monsters of literature and history roam freely in such a deliciously demented story. Zelazny really did his research and each character feels authentic. The Lovecraftian mythos is spot on as well, and there are fun Easter eggs for devoted fans to chuckle over such as a cat visiting the city of Ulthar in a dream.
If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft or classic literary monsters, this book is sure to please. It’s become my October tradition to read one chapter a day and discover if the world is saved from the gibbering mad Old Ones. It’s woefully out of print, but many libraries have it in their collections and copies can be found on eBay, Amazon or Alibris. Get your hands on it before Halloween or else it might be too late! You never know when the closers will fail and Cthulhu will wake up.