10 Best Animal Horror Books of All Time
What are the 10 best animal horror books that have shaped our thinking of animals in the horror story?
Compiling a list of the 10 best animal horror books of all time was extremely difficult. I had a few titles that immediately jumped to mind and then . . . nothing.
You'd think that animal horror would be abundant -- after all, a bad dog is a lot easier to accept than the animated, hungry, dead.
Except that usually, animals do not make good sources of conflict. Unless you modify the animal with hyper intelligence (as in Dean Koontz's Watchers) or anthropomorphize them (as Richard Adams did in The Plague Dogs), they don't have the ability to consciously come into conflict as the protagonist or antagonist.
For those of us who took a creative writing class, Man vs. Nature is the weakest of the conflict possibilities because nature (animals, weather, geological phenomena, outer space, etc) does not actively set itself against the protagonist to prevent him or her from achieving their goal. Nature just . . . happens.
Thus it can be difficult to create the kind of conflict a writer need t keep a reader glued to the page.
Difficult . . . but not impossible.
The authors below have tacked the challenge and in their own way, over came the limitations in Man vs Nature and told a gripping horror story.
Stephen King did this with rabies in Cujo. In Jaws, Peter Benchley didn't bother to explain the great white shark's motivation.
In the Ratman's Notebooks, Stephen Gilbert's unnamed notebook writer trains the rats to carry out his will. In Michael Crichton's Congo, Amy is a gorilla who has learned more sign language than any other before her -- she is instrumental in helping the scientific party when they encounter the strange white haired, hyper intelligent gorilla-like creatures lurking deep in the jungle.
In Jack Ketchum's Red, Red is the dog who is killed which precipitates a growing war between the Red's owner and the pampered rich kids who are incapable of valuing any life other than their own. In Red, it is the humans who are the monsters.
Here you go. Animals as protagonists, animals as antagonists and animals as the inciting incident that leads to much horror. So grab a book, sit back and enjoy a good story with that beloved pet curled up in your lap.
Attention Rifflers: Riffle now has Discussions Boards. Click on the link below the list to tell me what you think of my selections. Do you agree? Disagree? Have suggestions? Wanna just talk about it?
This book list is now complete -- no more titles will be added. Published 8/7/2015.
Updated 8/29/2017 -- updated the book list post again.
Daphne du Maurier
BONUS BOOK: The novella "The Birds" (1953). "The Birds and Other Stories" was originally published in 1952 under the title "The Apple Tree" and reprinted, with its current title in 1963. This is a collection of short stories by Daphne Du Maurier, which includes "The Birds", a novella about birds inexplicably attacking a small town in Cornwall. Yes, it was the basis for the infamous Hitchcock movie called "The Birds".
1 / 11
"Ratman's Notebooks" (1969) by Stephen Gilbert is a short novel about an unnamed young man who befriends several rats and trains them to do his bidding. He uses them in a series of robberies. Unfortunately his despised boss, Mr. Jones, finds the rats and kills the young man's favorite, a rat named Socrates. Afterwards, the young man turns to the brown rat he disliked, the one called Ben, to get revenge on Mr. Jones. This was the source for the movie "Willard" and its sequel "Ben".
2 / 11
"The Rats" (1974) by James Herbert eventually spawned three sequels: "The Lair" (1979), "Domain" (1984) and a graphic novel "The City" (1993) -- the last two deal with the rats after a nuclear holocaust. "The Rats" was Herbert's first novel. Giant dog sized rats attack the London slums, aided by packs of regular sized black rats in this horrific tale.
3 / 11
"Jaws" (1974) by Peter Benchley. This was journalist Benchley's first novel. A huge great white shark begins feeding on humans off the coast of Amity, New York. Police chief Martin Brody tries to protect the citizens and tourists visiting Amity but the mayor, not caring for the reality of the situation, refuses to close the beaches. Meanwhile the shark, not caring for human politic and economics, continues eating.
4 / 11
"The Plague Dogs" (1977) by Richard Adams. Two dogs, Rowf and Snitter escape from an animal testing facility only to find themselves unable to survive on their own. Snitter has realistic hallucinations while Rowf has a powerful fear of water and complete mistrust of humans. Humans begin hunting the dogs when the facility claims they may be carriers of the bubonic plague.
5 / 11
"Congo" (1980) by Michael Crichton. An expedition is sent to the legendary lost city of Zinj in the Congo (Zaire) to find a diamond mine. In the group is a gorilla names Amy who communicates with people using American Sign Language and he trainer Peter Elliot. They discover the city and a strange race of light gray furred gorilla-like creatures who attack only at night.
6 / 11
"Cujo" (1981) by Stephen King. Written during the worst part of his alcohol abuse, Stephen King once wrote in his book "On Writing" that he really likes this book and wishes he could remember writing it -- especially the good parts. All of those memories are lost. Cujo is a loving saint Bernard who contracts rabies and turns into a killing machine in Castle Rock, Maine.
7 / 11
"Watchers" (1987) by Dean Koontz is a story about a man disenchanted with life, a woman imprisoned by her fears and a golden retriever genetically engineered to be very intelligent who all come together to face the threat of the Outsider, another genetically engineered creature, more monster than baboon and full of rage.
8 / 11
"Red" (1995) by Jack Ketchum. Three teenagers rob Avery who only has thirty dollars. Enraged, one of the boys shoots Avery's dog Red and kills him. Avery seeks justice but the kids are protected by wealth. Thus Avery begins to hand out his own style of justice. Red dies early on in the book but he becomes the motivation for revenge which is scary in its extreme.
9 / 11
John R. Little
"Ursa Major" (2011) by John R. Little is the story of a stepfather and daughter on a camping trip when they encounter an enraged grizzly bear that traps them in a ramshackle log cabin and waits for them to emerge and become dinner.
10 / 11
"Jagger" (2015) by Kristopher Rufty is the story of a 180 pound mastiff who belonged to Amy but was stolen by Clayton, a scumbag who needed Jagger to replace his dead prize fighting pit bull and win back some money for him. To that end, he has Jagger pumped full of drugs that turn the dog into a killing machine. When Jagger escapes, he heads back home, savaging anyone he meets, looking for Amy.
11 / 11