The Chilly Joys of a Winter Horror Read

George Billions George Billions

I found frost on the inside of my windows when I woke up this morning. A white blanket covered everything I could see outside, where the temperature had dropped to fifteen below zero while I slept. My old building’s insulation could only do so much to keep the chill out. The baseboard heaters did their part, but I still bundled up in a few layers before I made my morning coffee.

Some dread this seasonal dive in temperature. To the avid reader who loves immersion, it has its upsides. With nowhere to be until the afternoon, this cold moment was perfect for dipping into a winter horror read. I grabbed a book, a blanket, and my steaming mug, and headed to the couch.

Cold Weather and Chillier Chills
I first noticed the complementary effects of horror fiction and winter weather in middle school. I read The Mummy, The Will and The Crypt by John Bellairs while on a family road trip from Indiana to California. We drove through snowstorms for the first half of the journey. The physical chill seemed to intensify the goosebumps I got from the spooky adventures of Johnny Dixon. Snow swirled around the character in the book just as it did around me the car.
The cold and the snow eased up as we made it further west. The mood of the book somehow became lighter, even as Johnny continued to snoop around in a deserted mansion.
The escapist nature of fiction is one of the major reasons we love it so much. We can become someone else and travel places that may not even exist outside of the pages. Still, our enjoyment and immersion into these made-up realities can be intensified by echoing their conditions in real life. Scary stories are scarier with the lights out. Reading the Beats just seems appropriate in a coffee shop. The smell of burning incense puts you right there with Siddhartha. Bukowski always goes down well with a stiff drink and a cat in your lap.
Horror novels set in the snow feel perfect in the winter.
Feeling Cold and Lonely? Good.
There’s something isolating about heavy winter weather. I’m not Jack Torrence, snowed in at the Overlook hotel, but I may as well be when I’m reading The Shining. Technically, I can go out and brave the elements if I really want to. It just takes a lot more effort and discomfort than in warmer months. A lot of us end up with considerably less human interaction in the winter, even if we’re not held captive like Paul Sheldon in Misery.
It’s not just the barriers created by snow and ice that cause that feeling of isolation. Studies have shown that drops in the temperature really do make people feel lonely, even when their level of contact stays the same. Like the cold itself, embracing this uncomfortable psychological effect can help you slip deeper into a winter horror story.
Nobody can save you when you’re cold and alone. Anybody who might be able to help is cut off by the elements. You’re out of luck if you’ve got a killer or a monster after you while a winter storm is brewing.
What to Read When You’re Snowed In
Stephen King isn’t the only author who has multiple cold, creepy novels to his name. The Terror, by Dan Simmons, is about a ship crew stranded in the Arctic and stalked by a monster. He hits similar notes of cold isolation and fear in his more recent The Abominable. Next I’ll check out his aptly named A Winter Haunting.
Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is a prime example of horror in distant, freezing, isolated mountains. This type of setting is conducive to chills, even when the story isn’t horror in a strict sense. For example, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors is the harrowing true story of an Uruguayan rugby team trying to survive in a similar locale after a plane crash.
Winter takes up a quarter of the year, so naturally a good chunk of all stories written take place in the frozen season. In some fictional worlds, cold is all they ever know. The father and son traversing The Road in the novel of the same name live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that never sees summer. Reading the book while there’s snow outside your window, you get the feeling you, too, might end up trapped in never-ending winter.
The time we choose to read a book plays a factor in how well we remember that book. Even mentioning a book can evoke feelings and physical sensations of the time we spent reading it. For me, thoughts of winter horror reads bring a chill and a longing for cold, nasty weather. There’s no better time for a cold, nasty story.

 George Billions is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including   Fidget Spinners Destroyed My Family and Buying Illegal Bugs with Bitcoin.

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