Selling your soul…

A couple of weeks ago I featured a Best Book To… make you scared, and I chose Room by Emma Donoghue. This, to me, was scary because of its basis in current news stories. What happens to Ma and Jack could actually happen. But, of course, there are dozens and dozens of scary stories out there, and they are all frightening in different ways.

Last year on Halloween I picked a short story by Stephen King as my chilling read for the evening; just one of the many great horror stories he has written. I remember, though, before I ever picked up a King novel, my go-to horror writer was Dean Koontz. I would go to the local library as a teenager and borrow as many of his novels as I could carry (they were all large hardbacks and pretty weighty, so I could never get too many). One of my Desert Island Books was Intensity by Dean Koontz – an edge of your seat tale about one night in the life of a young girl who pursues (and is pursued by) a serial killer.

But, although I enjoyed them all at the time of reading them, apart from Intensity, I can’t say that any of Koontz’s other books stuck in my mind due to their scariness. So my Recommended Read for tonight will be something different; an older story, a gothic classic that creeped me out from the first moment. This book is by an author who didn’t normally write books and didn’t normally write horror stories.

“Now and then, however, he is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real delight in giving me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.” 

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde is a dark tale about sin, desire, selfishness, and regret. Written in 1890, it focuses on the eternal question on the existence of the soul, as an impressionable young man named Dorian is influenced by his peers into believing that the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Knowing one day his own youth and beauty will fade, he claims he would sell his soul to make sure that the recent portrait painted of him would age instead of he. His wish is granted, but as he pursues a life of pleasure and immorality, the picture of him becomes horribly aged and disfigured with every act he commits. This is a chilling tale due to the fact that Dorian’s actions become more and more sinful as the years go by, and that without a soul, he begins to forget about guilt, shame, and regret. Over many years he hurts people, takes advantage of them, and always can see how grotesque his soul has become when he looks at the once beautiful portrait of himself. I think I was most scared by the fact that, even when he tried to change and give up his sinful ways, the portrait continued to change for the worse, as Dorian realises that it is only vanity and self preservation that has made him want to try and be a good person. I remember before I ever read the book seeing the 1945 screen adaptation – in a time before fantastical special effects, the image of Dorian’s portrait was as frightening to me as anything from modern day cinema, and inspired me to read the original text.

Dorian Grey and his portrait - 1945 film

“I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what I must lose? Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now! Why did you paint it? It will mock me some day—mock me horribly!” 

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