I have successfully dodged friends’ attempts to take me to haunted houses, graveyard tours, or even scary movies this Halloween, because I finally accepted that I have a low tolerance for terror.
It’s sad, true, and extremely Scrooge-like in how I tried to humbug the holiday this year. But there’s no running away from it, and apparently, I have to join in if I want to partake in candy corn and Kit-Kats later.
So in the spirit of the macabre, this literary list focuses on spooky destinations!
1: The Tihuţa Pass – Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Carpathian Mountains – photo via Pixabay
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is pretty much the king of Halloween, so for our first spooky destination, we’re taking a trip to the Tihuţa Pass, called the Borgo Pass in the novel, located in the Carpathian Mountains. This is where Jonathan Harker first meets Count Dracula and sees the crumbling, remote castle. Cue lightning and organ music.
In his journal, Harker describes the area as “being practically on the frontier [with] a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it.” It’s the perfect setting for someone of Dracula’s noble prestige, seeping with his ambiguous evil. To be fair, Harker was on his first job when he met the vampire, so he really didn’t expect that coming. He was just there to be a solicitor.
From looking at photos, the Carpathian Mounts look pretty luscious and green, hardly the looks of evil or terror, but maybe that’s what makes Dracula’s charm—and yes, need for sustenance—all the more uneasy and suspicious.
There’s also a Hotel Castel Dracula if you’re in need of a place to stay. I’m sure Dracula’s brides aren’t running around, wanting to suck your blood. Plus, I hear it’s a nice place for skiing and hiking.
2: Essex – Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Nothing says frightening like an unreliable narrator in charge of two children during Victorian England, am I right? When I first read The Turn of the Screw in college, I had to stop and move to a highly public, super trafficked area to feel safe, but I still had trouble sleeping that night. Thanks a bunch Henry James!
In the spirit of Halloween, let’s recapture that eerie, unsettling feeling, that questioning of your own senses, with a visit to Essex, where the novella takes place, and the second of our spooky travel destinations.
I won’t spoil the story, but to give you an idea, picture a governess in a big house taking care of two children with a dark, ambiguous history. Then mix in slow mental decline, add ghosts, and throw it into what James described to be a “big, ugly, antique but convenient house.”
Nothing captures creepy quite like that. So to capture that sense of isolation, let’s visit grand buildings like Audley End House or Colchester Castle, though they are nowhere near ugly. If you’re feeling brave, visit Beeliegh Abbey, haunted by a monk and some poltergeists.
3: The Stanley Hotel – The Shining by Stephen King
I admit that I wouldn’t want to visit the Stanley Hotel in Colorado—mainly because it gives me the creeps thanks to Stephen King and TV ghost hunters—but for the sake of this literary itinerary (and our third of our spooky travel destinations), it’s ideal.
While staying in room 217, King found inspiration at the Stanley Hotel for his novel The Shining. The novel counterpart, the Overlook Hotel, is located in the Colorado Rockies—a family moves in during the off-season, and as if that isolation wasn’t enough, the young son is a psychic and the father is already unstable. It’s the perfect cocktail for the undead to rise up, wouldn’t you say?
I find the novel and subsequent film pretty frightening already, but if you’re feeling the Halloween spirit, there are actual claims that the Stanley Hotel is haunted. Guests have reported seeing ghosts appear and disappear in their rooms, while employees claim to have heard music playing in the ballroom without anyone there.
4: Italian Catacombs – The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe has a way of haunting your head for days. I had to climb into my sister’s bed after I read The Masque of the Red Death and then later Annabel Lee. Yes, I know, if one short story already scared me, why keep reading his works? Well, I was 11 and clearly a glutton for terror.
Yet, the short story The Cask of Amontillado is actually one of my favorites to read, and no, it isn’t because of the entire buried-alive concept.
During a festival in some Italian city, the narrator, Montresor, leads a guest named Fortunato down into the catacombs for some rare wine, an Amontillado. As they go further down, you realize that things really won’t end well for one of them.
Poe always sets you at unease with his descriptions and repetition, and the exactness in which he captures the catacombs makes it especially eerie: “[w]e passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeux rather to glow than flame.”
If there’s any place that you need to go for Halloween, I say it’s a good catacombs, like the Catacombs of the Capuchins in Sicily. It’s open to tourists and has almost 8,000 of Palermo’s dead, though a visit isn’t advisable for the squeamish sort.
Of course, this is only a sample of terror travel. I’d love to hear of any good, ghoulish place or any hair-raising stories of your own. I’m getting into the spirit of things! Like eating my weight in candy corn and Kit-Kats.
Featured image by Kristin Baldeschwiler from Pixabay