Karl Edward Wagner’s “Best Horror Novels” Lists: Common Themes



Karl Edward Wagner

CoverTitleAuthorYear PublishedCategoryTheme
Hell! Said the Duchess
MIchael Arlen1934Supernatural HorrorBlack Magic
The Burning Court
John Dickson Carr1937Supernatural HorrorBlack Magic
Alraune (Frank Braun Trilogy) (Volume 2)
Hanns Heinz Ewers1911Supernatural HorrorMedical Experiments Gone Too Far
Dark Sanctuary
H.B. Gregory1940Supernatural HorrorBlack Magic
Falling Angel: A Novel
William Hjortsberg1978Supernatural HorrorBlack Magic
Maker of Shadows
Jack Mann1939Supernatural HorrorAncient Sorceries
The Yellow Mistletoe
Walter S. Masterman1930Supernatural HorrorLost Civilizations
Melmoth the Wanderer (Penguin Classics)
Charles Robert Maturin1820Supernatural HorrorCurse of Immortality
Burn Witch Burn!
Abraham Merritt 1933Supernatural HorrorBlack Magic
Fingers of Fear
J. U. Nicolson1937Supernatural HorrorSinister Family Secrets
Doctors Wear Scarlet
Simon Raven1960Supernatural HorrorAcademic Terror
Echo of a Curse
R. R. Ryan1939Supernatural HorrorSinister Family Secrets
E. H. Visiak1929Supernatural HorrorJourney To The Unknown
The Deadly Percheron
John Franklin Bardin1946Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Manipulation
Psycho: A Novel
Robert Bloch1959Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Terror
Here Comes a Candle
Frederic Brown1950Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Terror
The Screaming Mimi
Frederic Brown1949Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Terror
THE FIRE-SPIRITS: A ROMANCE ... Translated from the German by J. Eglington.
Paul Busson1929Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Manipulation
The Crooked Hinge
John Dickson Carr1938Non-Supernatural HorrorSinister Family Secrets
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Hanns Heinz Ewers1910Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Manipulation
Hanns Heinz Ewers1921Non-Supernatural HorrorJourney To The Unknown
Fully Dressed and in His Right Mind
Michael Fessier1935Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Terror
The Shadow on the House
Mark Hansom1939Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Terror
The Torture Garden
Octave Mirabeau1899Non-Supernatural HorrorJourney To The Unknown
Master of the Day of Judgement
Leo Perutz1921Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Terror
The Subjugated Beast
R. R. Ryan1938Non-Supernatural HorrorPsychological Manipulation
The Death Guard (Roc)
Philip George Chadwick1939Science Fiction HorrorFutility Of War
Final Blackout
L. Ron Hubbard1940Science Fiction HorrorFutility Of War
Alan Hyder1935Science Fiction HorrorAlien Invasion
The Quatermass experiment
Nigel Kneale1953Science Fiction HorrorAlien Invasion
Quatermass and the Pit
Nigel Kneale1958Science Fiction HorrorAlien Invasion
The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck
Alexander Laing1934Science Fiction HorrorMedical Experiments Gone Too Far
The Flying Beast
Walter S. Masterman1932Science Fiction HorrorLost Civilizations
The Black Corridor
Michael Moorcock1969Science Fiction HorrorPsychological Terror
Land under England
Joseph O’Neil1935Science Fiction HorrorMind Control
The Cross of Carl. An Allegory
Walter Owen1931Science Fiction HorrorFutility Of War
Freak Museum
R. R. Ryan1938Science Fiction HorrorMedical Experiments Gone Too Far
Mary Shelly1818Science Fiction HorrorMedical Experiments Gone Too Far
The Day of the Triffids (20th Century Rediscoveries)
John Wyndham1951Science Fiction HorrorScience Gone Too Far

Every since finishing the lists of Karl Edward Wagner’s best horror novels, I’ve been itching to go through it and find some common themes. Fortunately, I’ve put together a table of all the novels  of the lists, which you can view at the top. Since the publication of KEW’s lists in the old Twilight Zone magazine in 1983, many of these novels have come back into print. As a matter of fact,you can buy them all, with two notable exceptions. Clicking on the title or the cover of the novel in this chart takes you to the Amazon affiliate account. Only Vampire by Hans Ewers and The Fire Spirits by Paul Busson are not to be found on Amazon (I was forced to use inter-library loan to get my reading copies).

There are three novels under the science fiction horror category which have “Medical Experiments Gone To Far” as their theme. This is not too surprising since KEW was trained as a psychiatrist, but left medical school over his disgust at the way the patients were being treated. And it is not surprising that Psychological manipulation and terror show up in nine other books. The use and misuse of the psychiatric profession was an issue close to him. It pops up in one of KEW’s Kane novels, Dark Crusade. The Land Under England has Mind Control as a theme throughout the book which fits neatly into this area.

Black Magic is another theme to be found in the novels on KEW’s lists. It’s also a common theme in the Kane novels and stories. So it’s not surprising to find this in the list of books. KEW always considered his Kane novels as horror fiction.

My choice of themes for the novels on the list is open for argument. I sifted through common ideas I found in these books and tried to label them. Someone else might have another concept.Recently, a writer suggested KEW deliberately included books that would be very difficult for anyone to locate. It did take me 30 years to finish reading the novels on these lists.


About Timothy L Mayer

Timothy Mayer has written 313 post in this blog.

I'm a full-time ghost writer, business owner, expert on spy fiction, martial artist, tax payer and self-appointed expert on obscure movies. Available for lectures. Donations appreciated

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

Thanks for this labor of dark love, Timothy; many KEW fans will benefit.

One niggling detail; you may have picked this up from Steve Trout, but Karl did not leave medical school, except in that he graduated. He got his degree and went on to practice psychiatry for a year or so. He did, indeed, become disgusted with the way he saw patients treated in medical school AND in psychiatric treatment in general, and, as a consequence–and because he had another career option–he quit the entire field in disgust. Part of that was due to his contempt for the practice of ECT, a contempt that, I have only recently learned, was not just a professional quibble but a principled, perhaps heroic, stand against a ruthless and unjustified assault against thousands of vulnerable patients. His stand, as a professional in the field, was highly unusual and probably would have made remaining in that field very challenging.