Pass the Arsenic: The Best Weird Families of Literature

Last week, my story, “The September Ceremony,” made its debut in Danse Macabre’s Rendezvous issue. This autumnal tale follows a macabre family that resides away from the world in a merrily decrepit mansion. Naturally, a bevy of supernatural shenanigans ensue.

The September Ceremony

For all you fans of weird fiction, you already know I had quite the hallowed footsteps to follow. Literature has no shortage of oddball families that revel in the otherworldly. This made the task of creating my magically-inclined mother and her three in-training daughters both exciting and daunting. From Poe to Bradbury, I found myself drawing again and again from the works of the greats.

So here are my picks for the four best weird families of literature. Beware bats in the belfry, dragons in the attic, and for the good of humanity, bring your own sugar. You can’t trust that secret ingredient.

The Addams Family
Since Morticia, Gomez and pals mostly appeared in comics, calling them a literary family might be a bit of a stretch. Then again, they often graced the pages of the New Yorker in its heyday, and if that’s not literary, then nothing is. This gang of oddballs remains the go-to when it comes to bizarre familial antics. I adore the Addams family so much that I pay homage to them in “The September Ceremony”: the three daughters are named Carolyn, Anjelica, and Bebe after the actresses who famously played Morticia on television, film, and stage respectively.

The Elliott Family
Interestingly, at the same time Charles Addams was creating his offbeat literary family, pal Ray Bradbury was crafting a motley crew of his own. Debuting in the short story, “Homecoming,” the Elliott Family have an undaunted sense of belonging all while not quite fitting in with the world at large. Over the course of his prolific career, Bradbury crafted numerous related tales, including “Uncle Einar.” Eventually, the Elliott Family received their own novel, From the Dust Returned, a “fix-up” of short stories that went on to become Bradbury’s only bestselling book.

The Blackwoods
At the opening of Shirley Jackson’s seminal We Have Always Lived in the Castle, most members of the eccentric Blackwood family are already dead. But that doesn’t mean a sense of family isn’t pivotal to this hauntingly lovely tale. Sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood along with their Uncle Julian must band together if they’re going to survive the dangers and prejudices of the outside world. I’ve heard this glorious novel called “a paean to agoraphobia,” and as someone who happily lives in the country on a secluded property, I couldn’t agree more.

The Ushers
Edgar Allan Poe took sibling rivalry to a whole new level in his celebrated short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Roderick and Madeline Usher are quite the ill-fated duo, but that doesn’t stop them from cementing a strange legacy all their own. Like the other families on this list, the gothic estate on which the Ushers reside becomes a character unto itself, the hallways and curtains and corners speaking to the reader just as eloquently as every line of dialogue. Dull, dark, and soundless day or not, the eponymous home is one place every weird fiction fan would love to visit.

Who’s your favorite weird literary family? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading!