The best books with themes of theological horror

The Books I Picked & Why

The Taking

By Dean Koontz

Book cover of The Taking

Why this book?

I highly recommend The Taking because it continues to haunt me with existential terror—I have never been as frightened by a horror novel in my life. The struggles of a young couple in the face of an apparent alien invasion are frightening enough, but the imagery is overwhelmingly frightening and powerful. When the reveal comes at the end, the surprise was almost too scary to bear, since it concerns entities in which I truly believe. This book lingers with me… and lingers…. and lingers….

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By William Peter Blatty

Book cover of Legion

Why this book?

I prefer this book to Blatty’s The Exorcist. The story of the return of a character from the original story who happened to be thoroughly dead, of demons more powerful than Pazuzu of The Exorcist, of the seemingly magical ability of the possessed to escape detection after murdering people lend a sense of creepy mystery to the book. Blatty is obsessed with the possibility of death being annihilation, and this is also my greatest fear. The level of sophistication in the discourse is exceptionally high for a horror novel, but this does not detract from the terror or the powerful climax of the book.

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Imaginary Friend

By Stephen Chbosky

Book cover of Imaginary Friend

Why this book?

This is one of the books that made me wonder at the world. What begins as a conventional story of a boy haunted by an “imaginary friend” turns into something far more complex and frightening. For most of the novel I had no idea of a theological element in the book, so when that element hit it was a surprise, at least to me. The effect reminded me of Rudolf Otto’s description of meeting a supernatural being as “mysterious, tremendous, and fascinating”—I was pulled in even as I was drawn away.

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Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales

By Russell Kirk

Book cover of Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales

Why this book?

As I read this collection of ghost stories, a sense of awe, wonder, and even joy, came into my mind and heart. These stories are better than those of M. R. James—the twist at the end of each story made me literally chill. Kirk’s world is a Christian world, but he is never preachy, focusing on the storyline. Like Poe, the single effect in the stories is stunning, surprising the reader with marvels and an expanded view of the world. 

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By Stephen King

Book cover of Revival

Why this book?

As someone seeking proof of an afterlife to strengthen my faith, I have an affinity for the ex-preacher in this novel who uses electricity to contact the realm of the dead. Hating God and heartbroken over the death of his wife, he wants to find her in the afterlife, should there be one. The main character journeys from childhood to adulthood, meeting the preacher as a child and then, as an adult, he runs into the former preacher. He witnesses the final experiment that reveals a conclusion that is a complete surprise.

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