7. Charles Dickens
Most celebrated books: The Adventures Of Oliver Twist (1837), The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby (1838), A Christmas Carol (1843), Great Expectations (1860)
Life story: Near death experiences. Morbid fantasies. When you think of Charles Dickens, those aren’t exactly the kinds of subjects that quickly come to mind; understandably, the Victorian-era literary giant’s name conjures up positively sentimental thoughts, resulting from his universally beloved, and whimsically poignant, tales, such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Story, and A Tale Of Two Cities.
What’s not so routinely acknowledged, however, is Dickens’ late-game dabbling in the freaky-deeky. In June 1865, Dickens was one of the few passengers to walk away unscathed from a massive rail accident in Staplehurst, England, the violent and abrupt conclusion to a trip he’d taken with his mistress, Ellen Ternan. Though he survived, the brush with death was right up his alley; for years prior to that destructive event, Dickens was part of The Ghost Club, a paranormal-obsessed society that held séances and actively tried to understand life after death.
Recommended reading: Dan Simmons’ remarkable 2009 novel Drood, a fictionalized account of Dickens’ final living years that suggests the prolific author turned to the occult after the Staplehurst incident. If that were truth, not fiction, Dickens would be number one on this list, without question.