The horror subgenre called Christmas horror was started by the Victorians. The Victorian era encompasses the reign of Queen Victoria: 20 June 1837 until the day of her death, 22 January 1901.
The forerunners/pioneers of this horrific Christmas tradition were Dickens and M. R. James. Charles Dickens actually wrote five horror novels explicitly for Christmas-tide:
- A Christmas Carol (1843)
- The Chimes (1844)
- The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
- The Battle of Life (1846)
- The Haunted Man (1848)
- plus the short story The Signal-Man (1866)
A Christmas Carol was originally released in serial form in a British periodical just before Christmas in 1843, the very same year the first commercially produced Christmas cards were sold and sent.
The Audible recommendation for this episode is the version of A Christmas Carol narrated by the sublime Tim Curry. Just go to www.audibletrial.com/mightbecupcakes.
M. R. James, the provost of King’s College, Cambridge, would have his servants make wassail and eggnog, and would invite friends and select students to his rooms on Christmas Eve, where he would gather them before the fire and read to them a scary story he had written just for the occasion. Those stories are anthologized in the two-volume set Ghost Stories of An Antiquary.
Other major storytelling names in this horror subgenre of Yule horror:
- Elizabeth Gaskell
- E. F. Benson
- Algernon Blackwood
- Mrs. J. H. Riddell aka Charlotte Riddell
- Sir Andrew Caldecott
- A. M. Burrage
- Sheridan Le Fanu
- Amelia B. Edwards I discussed her in episode 58: Terra Incognita
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- Oscar Wilde
- Rudyard Kipling
- Henry James
Latin from A School Story:
- memino librum meum: “my book belongs to me”
- meminiscimus patri meo: “I know to remember my father” (which makes me think of The Dark Tower’s Gunslinger: “I have forgotten the face of my father.” Stephen King is so well-read that this influence would not surprise me; see episode 61 for Roland and the Dark Tower.)
- memento putei inter quatuor taxos: “Remember the shaft between the four yews.”
- Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te: “If you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you.”, or “If you have failed to come to me, I will come to you.”
Also referenced in the episode:
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
- post-mortem photography
- The Society of Psychical Research, founded 1882
- spiritual photography
- memento mori, when mourning would involve wearing jewelry made from the hair of the deceased
- Jack the Ripper (1888)
- and The Goonies for my friend Brent from the Sofa King Podcast, “Dead things, Mikey, dead things!”
Oh, and the batty featured image for this post? It’s an actual Victorian Christmas card (source: artuk.org/discover/stories/art-matters-podcast-weird-dark-and-wonderful-victorian-christmas-cards). Because when the Victorians thought of Christmastide, they really did think of horror.