Arts & Culture Good to Know

Reasons 2 Read: Epistolary Novels for Teens

reasons 2 read teens

With Halloween approaching, there are certain classics of the horror genre that are not only famous but have inspired so many parodies, tributes, and references that anybody can understand and intuitively know the lore without ever reading the books themselves. In a way, we’ve read them by reference. Two of these classics are Frankenstein and Dracula. Even if a book doesn’t feature Dracula himself, they may feature vampires. Similarly, even though Frankenstein doesn’t make an appearance, the undead are everywhere in pop culture. Check out this lecture by Mark Dery if you want an almost exhaustingly in-depth analysis of zombies in modern pop culture.

But why did Dracula and Frankenstein affect people so much? There is one narrative device that the two books have in common which adds to the realism which is called epistolary storytelling. This style tells a story through correspondence between fictional characters. For example, instead of just having a narrator in Frankenstein, the book is a collection of letters and journals that are supposed to belong to the fictional characters of the Creature, Victor Frankenstein, and Captain Walton.

One reason epistolary storytelling works so well in the horror genre is that it prevents the narrative voice from reminding the reader that they are listening to a story by imitating the tone of someone who has experienced something firsthand. It makes the story feel more real and frightening. An interesting aspect of the epistolary model is it is an excellent arena for ambiguity and letting the reader make their own judgements. In doing so, the book becomes interactive like an escape room with the reader interpreting clues.

In the time of Dracula and Frankenstein, the common communication device used was letter writing. What’s fascinating is how hand-written letters have found a natural substitution in texting and email in modern day. Text and email are short-form and more immediate but the epistolary aspect of storytelling is still there. People have analysed how texting is portrayed on film (with the movie Missing being a recent example), but texting has also had an impact on novels as well.

This list includes some novels that takes an epistolary approach. They are not all horror but I have tried to include as many horror titles as a tribute to upcoming festivities.

Frankenstein ; Or, The Modern Prometheus

This list starts with a classic. Even though the book is now over 200 years old, it’s still a well told story which begins in the arctic with a ship captain meeting Victor Frankenstein as he chases his creature around the arctic circle. Considering how many perspectives Shelley represents, it’s impressive how cohesive the story is.

Message Not Found

This is a story about someone trying to deal with her grief and solve the mystery of her best friend’s death by talking to the chat bot based on her likeness. It brings a literal interpretation to the idea of the “ghost in the machine”.

Technically, You Started It

Me: there’s this book called Technically, You Started it

You: Oh really what’s it like?

Me: well, the entire thing from start to finish is a text conversation

You: Sounds like I will either love it or hate it, but it’s worth a try!

Take Me With You When You Go

This story focusses on the relationship between two siblings corresponding through email after one runs away from a family they are both trying to survive through.

Please Send Help…

This book is a comedy about finding your place in the world told through a combination of texts and email.

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Caledon Public Library

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