31 Days of Halloween: 13 weird phobias (that turn classic books into tomes of terror)

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Nov 25, 2015, 10:26 AM EST (Updated)

Halloween is a great time to revisit some of the eccentric fears lying beneath the consciousness of some. But, as interesting as they are, these phobias can make life horrific for the sufferers, especially when these fears trigger classic novels into works of horror.

Fahrenheit 451

This classic dystopian tale about a Draconian, book-burning government has a whole new meaning for someone who suffers from bibliophobia, the fear of books. For them, this becomes the tale of a nefarious man's quest to undermine a noble regime and fill everyone's living room shelves with artifacts of pure terror. Horrors the size of the Library of Congress taunt the bibliophobic reader, as time and time again the antagonist thwarts the benevolent, dictatorial police and heroic snarling dogs.

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne's scalding critique of puritan politics takes a startling twist for those who have erythrophobia (fear of the color red). As if having to wear a giant symbol branding one as an adulterer isn't enough, the red letter A now becomes an inescapable horror sewn to the chest of Hester Prynne. That's like someone with a fear of death reading a book about zombies being bolted to people, or someone with a fear of heights reading Gulliver's Travels.

Charlotte's Web

A little girl sells her pig to a farmer. A spider spins messages to save the pig from slaughter, who then befriends three of her babies. Sure, this classic children's tale may be uncomfortable for those who have arachnophobia (fear of spiders), but the true horror comes for people who have swinophobia (fear of pigs). From their point of view, a monstrous abomination is somehow spared at birth, and allowed to take solace in the arms of an innocent young girl. One might feel relief when the evil walking roast is sold before he can get a chance to harm the girl, but that is short-lived. Soon, a treacherous spider convinces locals to keep the infernal pig alive, by posing as a benevolent conduit for messages from God. Finally, the swine is given three new baby spiders, to mold into an even greater empire of evil.


Henry David Thoreau uses stream-of-thought to impart some poignant thoughts on nature. The transcendentalist masterpiece becomes a narration of stark horror for those afflicted by hylophobia, the fear of trees. It starts with plans of a two-year sojourn into the gaping maws of hell: A forest cabin. Ample descriptions are given of surrounding areas, linked only by their propensity to contain thousands of hundred-foot-high wooden demons. Soon, the narrator goes mad, spewing unmitigated rants on a variety of everyday issues and occupations.

Watership Down

This thinly-veiled critique of various government styles becomes a macabre tale for those with leporiphobia, the fear of rabbits. This phobia twists the tale of cute bunnies on the run into demons that barely escape multiple plans to halt their scourge upon the Earth. Finally, the demons find refuge, and capture more demons (female ones), ensuring they can multiply at crazy rates.  If Australia is any kind of indicator, there's nothing stopping this warren of floppy-eared demons from overrunning the entire world.

Rip Van Winkle

A kind ne'er do well meets some oddly-dressed men from a bygone era, and falls asleep for two decades. At least that's what happens for people without hypnophobia, fear of sleep. For hypnophobics, an innocent man encounters some ghosts who drug him with drink and proceed to torture him through the evil grip of non-stop unconsciousness, before turning him loose to discover his wife is dead.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

These stories spawned the most frequently-occurring character in moves, and a beloved icon. Unless you suffer from Iatrophobia, the fear of doctors. Then this becomes a cat-and-mouse struggle, narrated by the sinister Dr. Watson as he stalks the unsuspecting Sherlock Holmes. Though Holmes uses his own peculiar brand of logic to solve many mysteries, the Iatrophobic reader is left to tremble in horror as Sherlock never gleans that his best friend is a terror-inducing wolf in sycophantic sheep's clothing.


A Tale of Two Cities

For most, this Dickensian classic details the events leading up to the French Revolution, with points of view from both the nobility and the peasants leading the anarchy.

But, for someone with peniaphobia, or fear of poverty, the novel takes on a much darker tone. The building terror of the horrific peasants setting up the power war is not mitigated by the oft monstrously-portrayed upper class. No matter who wins, there is only a bleak outlook at best. It’s like the Time Machine, where we find out that there are societal monsters both above and underground.



What’s worse then the white-knuckle terror of turning page after page in a book detailing your biggest fear? Having to endure the narrative of children building said fear. Such is the fate of the juvenile delinquents in Louis Sachar's tale, Holes. They are taken to a barren desert and forced to dig row after row of holes. This is intense enough, without tossing in trypophobia, the fear of holes.

That phobia adds a dash of dread to the whole tale. Now, these poor exploited miscreants aren’t just digging holes, they are erecting a display of unspeakable horror. The terror compounds when killer rattlesnakes and lizard are introduced. Because we all know how rattlesnakes and lizards do their damage: By using their teeth to make holes.

The Grapes of Wrath

The tale of a destitute farming family’s journey to California in search of fruit-picking jobs, only to become utterly exploited by corrupt management, was never the feel-good story of the century. However this situation gets nightmarishly worse for those who suffer from carpophobia, the feat of fruit.

This phobia transforms the tale into a slow-burning descent into madness. “Don’t travel to the fruit!” the carpophobic reader cries, in the same manner a horror film audience member will scream “don’t go into the basement!” Yet our poor family traipses straight into fields upon fields of fruits filled with juicy evil. After this, it’s no surprise that these fruits are being managed by corrupted powers that be.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s classic tale of social politics hold a darkly surprising secret, like a newly married wife with a battleaxe mother. Many people have a fear of marriage, known as gamophobia, which transforms this tale into one of sheer fright. Mrs. Bennet, the domineering maternal figure who wants nothing more than to see her five daughters married off, becomes a peddler of trauma, stopping at nothing to subject her own spawn into a lifelong nightmare. Darcy becomes a true antihero, nobly going out of his way to interfere with smoothly scheduled marriages, before being dragged into the very horror against which he fought so hard to protect others.


Green Eggs and Ham

Ovophobia is the fear of eggs. One notable sufferer is Alfred Hitchcock, which explains why he made an entire movie about terrifying birds. But that film is scary for ovophobes and non-ovophobes alike. A classic book which cannot make this claim is the best-selling children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham.

To the average reader who does not possess ovophobic powers, Green Eggs and Ham is a classic tale about refusing to try a new food, then finding out it’s delicious. But the egg-fearing individual is taken on a hair-raising journey of one furry protagonist’s struggle to resist the foul temptation of the sinister Sam-I-Am. The hero resists nobly, despite being presented with a variety of situations meant to make eggs and ham look less mind-numbingly evil. Sadly, this tale does not have a happy ending (for Ovophobes), as one taste of evil sends the hero tumbling into a world filled with terror-inducing addiction at every possible location.


The Yearling

This best-selling novel tells the story of a lonely boy who befriends a fawn after killing its mother. Like most tales that involve friendly animals, this one ends with the boy having to kill the deer WITH HIS BARE HANDS. Or maybe it was with a gun, it’s been a while since we read it.

This is traumatic enough for any preteen reader, but when one throws in the notion of cervidaephobia, or fear of deer, things get noticeably worse. From the start, it’s obvious (to cervidaephobes) that this gentle fawn desires nothing short of mass suffering. Soon, the deer enacts its plan of pain: Depriving the boy’s family of food by eating their corn. The mother takes it out to pasture and shoots it. But, like most evil characters, it shockingly comes back to life, requiring the boy to finally put down the monster he had raised.