Media About Occult Stores, Books, Organizations, etc.
October 23, 2016 3:49 PM   Subscribe

One of my favorite tropes in film, TV, and books is when there's a supernatural, occult, and mysterious world hidden just beneath the surface of our own (metaphorically or physically), and that one simply needs to dig a little deeper to find it. I especially love it when an outsider gains knowledge of or access to this supernatural part of our world through a store, book, or, heck, even the words of a mysterious old person.

Think the occult bookstore in The Howling, the antique store in Gremlins, the shop in Needful Things , the shop and book in The Neverending Story, Tobin's Spirit Guide in Ghostbusters, the Handbook for the Recently Deceased in Beetlejuice, The Necronomicon in Evil Dead, the BPRD in Hellboy, and Hogwarts in Harry Potter. I'd even count something like Tesla's science in The Prestige.

Generally I find this in the horror genre, and am much more interested in supernatural than in fantasy or sci-fi, but I'm flexible if there's something a little more outside the box that still fits the same idea.
posted by gregoryg to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
You mention Needful Things - have you read The Dark Tower?
posted by kbanas at 3:54 PM on October 23, 2016

Not sure this is quite what you're looking for, although it seems to tick all the boxes: Big Trouble in Little China.
posted by bricoleur at 4:05 PM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Tim Powers is your new best friend.
posted by The otter lady at 4:11 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

China Miéville's Kraken. AV Club review.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:12 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by rhizome at 4:20 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The very bingeworthy Netflix series "Stranger Things" has a hidden dimension that maps to ours.

Stephen King writes a lot about "thin places" where another dimension can come through- you can find these in the "Gunslinger", "Desperation", "Regulators", "Rose Madder", "Lisey's Story", "Hearts in Atlantis", and the short stories "The Mist", "1408", "Ackerman's Field", "Crouch End", and many others.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:23 PM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Friday the 13th TV show was centered on an antique store, so it might push your buttons.
posted by vrakatar at 4:24 PM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two podcasts that you'll like are TANIS and The Black Tapes, both fictional stories from the same group of people.

They're both horror/mystery, with Black Tapes going down the ghosts/demons angle and TANIS being more Lovecrafty 'ants on the side of a highway' cosmic horror.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 4:25 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Clive Barker has lots of worlds within worlds or just below the surface stuff. Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show spring immediately to mind.
posted by merocet at 4:29 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a recurring theme in Roman Polanski's body of work, The Tenant and The Ninth Gate are examples.
posted by effluvia at 4:33 PM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are You Afraid of the Dark has a ton of this, but the ones that immediately spring to mind are Tale of the Vacant Lot and any episodes featuring Mr. Sardo. Vacant Lot features a mysterious woman in a disappearing shop full of all the clothes a 90s girl could want and Sardo runs a magic shop selling gag items and plot devices. Sure it's for kids, but it's got these tropes you want like whoa.

There's also an occult shop in The Craft where the girls go to get all their stuff and, later, mystical knowledge.
posted by phunniemee at 4:34 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

The later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer center around a magic shop that becomes the Scooby gang's hangout between supernatural catastrophes.
posted by workerant at 4:39 PM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Reese Witherspoon/Mark Ruffalo rom-com Just Like Heaven has some cute scenes with Jon Heder as a kind of stoner-psychic bookstore-worker.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:44 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two classic works that fit this pretty well are Fritz Leiber's fantastic novel "Our Lady of Darkness" and T.E.D. Klein's collection "Dark Gods", especially the stories "Children of the Kingdom" and "Nadelman's God".
posted by informavore at 4:45 PM on October 23, 2016

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe: link.
posted by papayaninja at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2016

London Falling by Paul Cornell

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth, first of the President's Vampire series
posted by rakaidan at 5:01 PM on October 23, 2016

Charles deLint has written many books and short story collections about the spiritworld / Faery / otherworld etc otherworld that lies just beyond our perceptions, and the humans that stumble into it.
posted by ananci at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Novel 'The Raw Shark Texts' has this in spades.
posted by mattholomew at 5:09 PM on October 23, 2016

Definitely Christopher Moore's books, especially A Dirty Job and Secondhand Souls
posted by corey flood at 5:18 PM on October 23, 2016

american gods
posted by poffin boffin at 5:19 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of great stuff already! But just to clarify, I'm not just looking for media with worlds hidden just outside of our own, I'm specifically looking for things that have a very specific object, location, person, or organization that is the gateway to that world or knowledge.
posted by gregoryg at 5:27 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Both Mr. Penumbra’s 24‑Hour Bookstore and Foucault's Pendulum would seem right up your alley.
posted by maupuia at 5:28 PM on October 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

MeFi's own cstross (Charlie Stross)'s Laundry Files series? The Laundry being the organization that deals with breaches of magic/ supernatural.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:39 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon applies to this query, in an odd and unconventional style.
posted by ovvl at 5:41 PM on October 23, 2016

I'm pretty sure Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater, fits this. YA book. Occult bookstore.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:54 PM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

In the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, Juanita is introduced to the wizard world by finding a book called So You Want to be a Wizard (same title as the first book) at the library. Great books... I love this too.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:59 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series (especially the first book, published as Midnight Riot in North America). There's one guy who runs the magical-issues arm of the British police force.

Also Charles Stross' series that starts with The Family Trade: there is literally a magical talisman found in an old shoebox that precipitates the adventure.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:04 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

The House Between the Worlds, an old old Marion Zimmer Bradley novel, has a bookstore and physical talismans which open the door.
posted by frumiousb at 6:04 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might like Daniel O'Malley's book The Rook, about a member of the secret arm of the British government devoted to fighting supernatural and/or mystical attacks. Lots of jokes about bureaucratic blandness in the face of unspeakable horrors. The second book in the series, Stiletto, was also fun, although not nearly as good as the first. The first book ends in a satisfying and contained way.
posted by PussKillian at 6:21 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

There was a one-season show I loved as a kid called Nightmare Cafe about a man and a woman who work in an all-night cafe that appears to people who near it. I have no idea how it holds up, but it's just what you're looking for.

Peter Clines' horror novel 14 is about an apartment building that is...well, it's what you're looking for.

Oh, another cheesy one from childhood that was also very delightful: Castle Perilous, by John DeChancie. It's your basic portal fantasy shenanigans.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:25 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pretty much all of "supernatural fiction" or whatever you call it has a mystical world just next to/below/around the corner from our own. The same thing could be said of spy thrillers (James Bond, etc), red meat men's military adventure (Brad Thor), and even some modern kinky romance (50 Shades, etc) - they all involve a world that most people would never interact with, even though what happens there could impact their lives in some way.

Still, if you're looking for a specific object/ritual/thing that can allow access to a world beyond our own, there's The File from Scott Mayer's Magic 2.0 series. It's a master file that controls all of reality that some lucky/clever hackers learn to manipulate and being nerds, use to pretend to be wizards.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:26 PM on October 23, 2016

There's some of this in Fringe with the recurring characters of Edward Markham (bookstore owner) and Sam Weiss (bowling alley owner.)
posted by usonian at 6:27 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Libby Bray's The Diviners is set in 1920s NYC; it features a teenaged girl who is sent to live with her boring old curator uncle--he runs "The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult"--who turns out to investigate supernatural crimes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:57 PM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I freaking hated the book but lots of people seem to love Lev Grossman's The Magicians and attendant sequals. It's like if Harry Potter and Catcher in the Rye had a baby. (I'll let you decide whether "Harry Potter but with pretentious older adolescents and swears" is something that sounds appealing to you.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:15 PM on October 23, 2016

Tom Holt's The Portable Door and its sequel center on an apparently boring office/business that is a gateway to various eldritch things. Comic fantasy/horror.
posted by mskyle at 7:20 PM on October 23, 2016

The witches on Charmed consult a family grimoire. Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves reveals a hidden world through a monograph written by a dead old man on a documentary film called The Navidson Record. The monster hunters on Grimm use the records of an ancient monster hunting family as well the contents of a magic shop to further their endeavors. Ditto Buffy and Angel. Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian is narratively hooked on a mysterious piece of writing that reveals the nature of Vlad Tepes.
posted by xyzzy at 8:32 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Lost Room. A cop finds a key to a hotel room that was severed from reality in 1961. The room's contents now possess special powers, in isolation and in combination. Various factions fight for ownership of the objects. Includes a store that buys and sells such objects; and a broker who will sell information about the current whereabouts of an object.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:26 PM on October 23, 2016

The shop in The Enchantment Emporium is kind of cool, but the story isn't centered around an outsider, rather an insider (granddaughter).
posted by puddledork at 9:35 PM on October 23, 2016

I think The Strain is exactly what you're looking for. It features a mysterious old man with a pawn shop who introduces the mundane characters to a shadowy underworld.
posted by liet at 10:13 PM on October 23, 2016

The Ninth Gate (previously mentioned) hits all of the things you are looking for so well I thought you were asking for more things like it. Bonus:Johnny Depp and Lena Olin, also Satan.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:35 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The wardrobe in 'The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe'
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 1:51 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ryhope Wood in the Mythago Wood novels of Robert Holdstock
posted by crocomancer at 4:13 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming you've seen Warehouse 13: there's a different object every episode! And, of course, the warehouse itself ends up becoming its own character; a repository of forbidden knowledge and cursed objects, essentially.

In Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, (1987) it's the college rooms of a Cambridge don (Prof. Urban Chronotis), which turn out to be a TARDIS-like vehicle for travelling in time and space. In the next novel in the Dirk Gently series, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul (1988), the portal to the other reality is, of all things, St Pancras Railway Station.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:59 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

The diner in Stephen King's 11/22/63!
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:23 AM on October 24, 2016

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - there is a small group of beings and a building with access to the other world in the first book. I believe there are a few other portals as well. Ignore the weirdness on the cover!
posted by soelo at 8:56 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hated Grossman's The Magicians.

However, I love Kadrey's Sandman Slim series. Similar premise (eventually revealed; young magicians having a falling out), and has various outsiders/"civilians" find out about and respond to the Sub Rosa and Lurkers through the titular character.

Wonderful worldbuilding, lots of irreverent snarky characters, engaging character arcs/development throughout the increasingly lengthy series.
posted by porpoise at 11:21 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Daniel Pinkwater. My personal favorites:

"Alan Mendelson, the Boy From Mars"
"Lizard Music"
"The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death" (from whence, my nickname)
"Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl"
"The Yggyssey"
"The Neddiad"

Pinnkwater's version of the occult is less demons and sorcery, and space aliens and alternate planes of reality. In some novels, the main character(s) leave the book's "real world" entirely, and cross over to a different one. Those worlds tend to be written like kooky allegories. In the "Snarkout" books, the "otherworld" is a part of the "real world", but it's a part that can't be reached without stepping outside of routine, taking chances, and (usually) encountering at least one performing chicken.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:57 PM on October 24, 2016

In the 'words of a mysterious old person' vein, there's this previous AskMeFi question.
posted by usonian at 2:57 PM on October 24, 2016

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub:

a talisman
special potions to travel between worlds
special people
posted by Fukiyama at 8:15 PM on October 24, 2016

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