Five Haunting Tales About Love and Death

October is the season for hauntings. Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? What could be more reassuring than discovering that death itself may not free you from the complications of hate, bitter vengeance, even romance? Certainly, these five authors found love and death (not necessarily in that order) inspirational.


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

Despised and exploited by her family, spinster and possible psychic Eleanor Vance eagerly accepts Doctor John Montague’s invitation to participate in potentially groundbreaking research. Montague is determined to scientifically establish the reality of the supernatural. The doctor believes Hill House (of dark reputation) will provide him with the evidence that he craves.

Hill House is a classic Bad Place, its very geometries an endless attack on human sanity. The longer the group remains in the house, the more disturbing Hill House becomes. However, there’s also a sweeter side to the stay: Eleanor finds a potential soulmate in fellow psychic Theodora. Too bad that Hill House is jealous and will not tolerate the alienation of Eleanor’s affection.

The Haunting, Robert Wise’s 1963 film adaption of Hill House, makes as explicit as possible (without bringing the Hays Office down on them) what’s up with Eleanor and Theo. The novel captures Eleanor’s feelings more directly:

I could help her in her shop, Eleanor thought; she loves beautiful things and I would go with her to find them. We could go anywhere we pleased, to the edge of the world if we liked, and come back when we wanted to. (…) and she is laughing because I am not going to be lonely any more. (…) I was right to come because journeys end in lovers meeting.

This would be a heartwarming story of self-discovery and true love in the face of a hostile and unsupportive world… except that The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural horror novel.


A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (1960)

Michael Morgan is dead and interred, but he is not quite gone. His shade still walks the Earth, even if only that part of the Earth immediately adjacent to his grave. As Michael’s new friend Jonathan Rebeck explains, Michael’s haunting is but a temporary respite from oblivion—all ghosts fade away with time, some faster than others—but it is better than nothing.

Laura wasted her life before being obliterated by truck-kun. Determined not to repeat her mistake, Laura explores the possibilities that being a ghost offers her. One of those possibilities is Michael. Despite all of the challenges inherent in two incorporeal entities conducting a romance, the two shades swiftly fall in love. The romance is even more doomed than either realizes. Long before either fades away, they will be irrevocably parted from each other…unless someone intervenes.

This is in many ways the mirror reflection of Hill House: the graveyard isn’t a Bad Place, and where Eleanor falls for Theo, and…well, that would be a spoiler…Michael and Laura die and then fall for each other. If you need an upbeat chaser for after reading Hill House, follow it with A Fine and Private Place. If, on the other hand, you find yourself too ebullient, read them the other way round.


Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan (1974)

Widow Gordy, having found new love, is now the newly wed Mrs. Rolland. Kit Gordy’s happiness for her widowed mother is tempered by the fact that the Rollands will be leaving Kit behind when they head off on their honeymoon. But she won’t be left alone; her mother and stepfather have arranged a place for Kit at Madame Duret’s prestigious Blackwood School for Girls in Upstate New York.

The Blackwood facility is an honest-to-goodness mansion, but it has only four students and four members of staff. It does have an abundance of ghosts—ghosts whose talents Madame Duret is determined to exploit.

The girls are to host the ghosts. This will not be good for them, but Madame Duret is more than willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

In Kit’s parents’ defense, Madame Duret has put a lot of effort into effacing her lurid past. Not that background checks in 1974 would have been as easy to carry out than they are now.

This story is a fine entry in the “most adults are useless and the ones who are not are actively malevolent” genre catalog.


The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed (2018)

Lieutenant Braddock returns home from overseas service with a debilitating leg injury. Like many veterans before him, Braddock is haunted by his experiences. But Braddock, unlike the others, is literally haunted—by his disgraced and executed commander, Major-General Theodore Wickersley.

Braddock goes to offer his condolences to Wickersley’s family. They appreciate the sympathy and press the injured lieutenant to stay at the family estate. Wickersley is outraged. The bounder is replacing him in his family’s affections! It gets worse. Braddock becomes romantically entangled with Miss Meyers, who very nearly became Mrs. Wickersley. This is insupportable! Wickersley sets out to make his fury known.

In Mohamed’s alternate history setting, a sense of entitlement can be so strong as to survive death.


Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw (2021)

Whether Cat, Phillip, Lin, Nadia, and Faiz are friends is open to question. One might even wonder if the quintet still like each other. Even bare toleration sometimes seems out of reach. However, they are still entangled with each other. When Nadia and Faiz fall in love to the extent that rich people can be said to experience human emotion, of course Cat, Phillip, and Lin have to be part of the prenuptial celebration.

Fantastically wealthy Phillip delivers  a wedding venue as unusual as it is incredibly unwise. What better place to celebrate true love than a thousand-year-old estate with a dark past and a long history of human sacrifice? As the rapidly dwindling party will discover, almost anywhere else would have been a better choice. As they were together in life, now the chums can be together in death.

It’s always a little sad when entire wedding parties are hunted down by supernatural forces they could have easily avoided. In this case, it is only a little sad.



I didn’t set out to write about love and death. It just happened that the first five ghost stories that came to mind all had significant romantic aspects. I wonder how many ghost stories are also love stories…

Feel free to suggest other books in comments, which are, as ever, below.

In the words of fanfiction author Musty181, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll “looks like a default mii with glasses.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis) and the 2021 and 2022 Aurora Award finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.



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