Horror stands on the shoulders of giants. Poe and Lovecraft have left a mark on the genre that will be felt for generations to come. The question remains, however, are modern audiences willing to return to the classics that shaped today’s fiction?

Stephen King has been famously influenced by H. P. Lovecraft, as can be seen in his nihilistic masterpiece The Mist. A lesser-known influence is the short story Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which inspired King’s The Man in the Black Suit.

It begs the question: is Young Goodman Brown worth visiting for modern readers? And what are the advantages and challenges of returning to classic fiction?

The advantages

Authentic language

Gothic horror is a popular sub-genre that stands out for its prose. While many emulate the style today, can it really claim to be authentic, especially when catering to modern readers? How long until any resemblance to gothic–or any other style of prose–is lost?

Readers evolve and so should the fiction they read, but that only increases the value of the literature that paved the way. Young Goodman Brown was written in 1835 and is set in Salem, Massachusetts. It features “Shakespearean”, religious language that would have been spoken a hundred years or more before Hawthorne wrote it. If a language-rich experience intrigues you, Young Goodman Brown is worth a visit.

See What Inspired Your Favourite Authors

When a wine taster sips from a new class, he compares his experience with the other glasses that came before it. When a horror aficionado spots a reference to Lovecraft in any horror-related media, he bobs up and down and points enthusiastically. He remembers what this feels like.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of Young Goodman Brown.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

When retracing your favourite author’s steps by reading a classic, not only are you sharing the same experience, but you are comparing different flavours of the “same” thing. This is a great way to discover new stories, ideas and authors. You might learn a thing or two.


The challenges

Difficult Language

While a classic story might expand a reader’s vocabulary, for another reader the old fashioned language could make it inaccessible. The plot sounds great, according to Goodreads, but the weary reader had enough poring over dense, Victorian prose at school. But what one reader finds to be a slog another might find beautiful.

Young Goodman Brown certainly fits into that category. Its beautiful language could turn into a riddle for the impatient reader. Then again, maybe he could grow to appreciate it?

Sharing The Experience With Other Readers

Arguably, the best part of being a reader is sharing your experiences with friends? What part of the story maddened you so much that you stayed up all night? What part made you cry?

Some classics are so obscure there will be few people you can share your experience with, especially outside of your reading circle. However, for some, that might be part of the attraction. While others are lording their vast knowledge of Lovecraft, ask them, “Have you heard of the ill-fated Young Goodman Brown?”


Why You Should Read Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Young Goodman Brown ventures into the forest to fulfil an unspecified errand, leaving Faith, his wife of three months, behind. What follows is an unsettling discovery in the forest that will test his religion, where the townsfolk have taken to sin. Worst of all, his wife has become part of the ceremony. Can Goodman Brown ever be sure of his sanity, or if the events even took place?

The story oozes allegory and is ripe for analysis, though the prose can make it a difficult read at times.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Young Goodman Brown can be found in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story collection Mosses From an Old Manse and Other Stories.

About the Author

J.M. Faulkner is a British writer and educator based in the Czech Republic.

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