The month of October introduces my favorite season; that time of year not only when the weather turns (love that) but also when there is a thread of limitless possibility in the air. I like the fact that anything could happen - that something might happen - and all you have to be is aware of it's potential existence to see the magic. Halloween is of course the best example of all this and although I never got too excited about that holiday for myself, I'm loving it now with my son. (Joss Whedon captured the Halloween fantasy the best, and I will confess that the idea of becoming that mysterious and alluring gypsy I dressed as for years has always been a secret dream.)
Ray Bradbury was the one who coined the term "October Country" and he wrote extensively about the season and his vision of it in his short stories. When several of us decided to write about October's appeal it was a no-brainer for me as to what author I was going to focus on. It was through Bradbury's stories that I first began to see just how much more there was to the month than the obvious scarefest we are all familiar with. Bradbury's stories made me think; and also made me reconsider just what scary can mean in literature.
Many readers are familiar with Dandelion Wine, the author's fictional salute to the summer seasons of his youth. In "The Whole Town's Sleeping" he wrote about a confrontation between a killer and a small town "spinster". An alternate version of that tale can be found in "At Midnight in the Month of June", when Bradbury climbs inside the head of the killer and leaves readers with a thoroughly disquieting perspective with what a man can do - and how easily he can leave his humanity aside. (And the ending is beyond creepy with its very ordinary setting.) What I love about this story is says comparatively little while expressing so much, a hallmark of Bradbury's literary talent.
"The Lonely Ones" reads like a science fiction story - it is about a couple of astronauts on Mars after all. But it quickly shifts into something much more when Drew and Smith find the tracks of what they believe is a female Martian. After being gone from home for so long the men find themselves captivated by the chance of meeting a woman - even an alien woman. They come to blows - they are ultimately willing to kill each other - for the opportunity of being the first to find her. While Bradbury never has them discuss what they will do with her once they come face to face, it is clear that these two very decent men are now driven to a place where they feel they deserve something from this alien they have never met. Men who seemed noble and dedicated at the story's opening are revealed as monsters by the final page. You can see how easily that transformation can occur in the right set of circumstances - how anyone can lose all that makes them good and decent if pushed hard enough. "The Lonely Ones" is a very unsettling story and to me it gave horror a new name - it is scary in how close it brushes to reality, even with it's spectacular setting. (And another ending that truly rocks.)
"The Dead Man" is a more traditional October story, about a ghost and a woman in a very small town who feel overlooked by the world and find comfort in each other. Odd (the ghost) is truly confused about his status and Miss Weldon is simply, and quietly, unhappy. I love the image of them "walking out to Trinity Park Cemetery" as the story ends, giving an aura of sweetness to those who are gone. A ghost figures heavily in "On the Orient North" as well, where a strange traveler is desperate for the kind of sustenance that only true believers can give him - a frightful medicine found in the celebration of ghost stories. "You are English and the English believe!" the ghost thunders to his curious fellow traveler and like Miss Weldon, her loneliness draws her into the "life" of the mystery man before her.
There are a host of more traditional October stories in Bradbury's work, from "The Emissary" where a sick boy sends his dog out each night to bring back the smells of the season, only to receive a terrifying gift one night to "The Small Assassin" about every mother's nightmare and proof that not all babies are angels (this is a classic and should not be missed). My all time favorite of this group is "Trapdoor" about Clara and the noises from her attic. We all have heard those noises at night and we all have wondered. It is the universal nature of Clara's problem that lulls readers into he story and then it takes a turn (as so many things in October do) and we don't want to know so much about Clara's world anymore - we don't want anything to do with it all.
I am always amazed by the number of people who haven't read Ray Bradbury's short stories. His talent is so enormous that it dazzles me, even after all these years of loving his work. When it comes to October he is the author I think of first - the one who truly seems to appreciate and understand what this season means to me. Bradbury is my October magic and an absolute literary treasure.
Other Bradbury Season posts today:
Kelly at Big A little a on A Beasty Story, by Bill Martin Jr. and Steven Kellogg: "The penultimate pages are scary and shocking, with the Beast looming over the frightened mice. But all's well that ends well as the story comes to a sweet, realistic, and beasty conclusion."
Leila writes about Stephen King's short stories at Bookshelves of Doom: "'Mrs. Todd's Shortcut' was another one that I remembered really well. I loved it in seventh-grade, and I'm happy to say that I still love it. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the spooky romance, and I like it when someone writes about small town life in Maine and gets it right."
Jackie at Interactive Reader on The Curse of the Rumbaughs: "The kinda amazing thing? At some point, as a reader, I crossed the line. I stopped being completely revolted and became amused. Interested even. Intrigued. And THAT is what this is all about. Crossing that line from the fear of the unknown, the different, and finding yourself on the other side. Without fear (Comfort is another thing entirely)."
The Seven Imps take another look at Adam Rex and Frankenstein: "The poems are interspersed with the plight of the poor Phantom of the Opera, for one, who can't get certain nursery rhymes and children's songs out of his head whilst trying to compose an aria and who grows increasingly deranged 'cause of it. And then there's "Count Dracula Doesn't Know He's Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach in His Teethâ€�; the illustration on this one alone speaks volumes and is screamingly funny (bad pun intended)."
Little Willow on some more Christopher Golden scary goodness with the Prowlers series: Here's Golden on horror: "I have waxed philosophical in interviews in the past year or two about WHY I think people like to be afraid. I still believe those things. But for me, as a child, I think there was something much simpler at work as well. The presence of the supernatural, of monsters, suggests that normal people must ever be prepared to rise to the challenge, to combat evil. We must become heroes, in a way, despite the mundane reality of day to day life. There's a grand and wonderful magic in that."
Betsy salutes the ABC Spookshow at Fuse Number 8: "From the always interesting, always original publisher Simply Read Books, "ABC Spookshow" is an amalgamation of old timey art in a Halloween-friendly setting. Now I have seen the Halloween sections of children's libraries across the country. Normally it's just a lot of themed claptrap with a ghost or a ghoul thrown in for panache. This year, buy something the kids will either glom onto or run screaming from (depending on their personalities). Something a little out of the ordinary. Something, dare I say, retro."
Kelly at Writing and Ruminating loves Neil Gaiman and tells us all why: "I leave the final determination of such things up to individual parents who know their children, but I will say that many of the fears that children have are learned behaviours, and that reading a book where something as improbable as wolves or, say, elephants, living inside their walls is shown to be a silly thing indeed. Because even though it happens inside the book, the opportunity for remarking that such a thing is imposterous (to use a Tigger word) is there. And, well, not to get all spoiler-y here (too late!), but Lucy manages to outwit the wolves, without â€“ I should note â€“ any woodsmen bearing axes or houses made of straw and sticks. And truly, I think kids are clever enough to realize that the wolves and, um, other possible large mammals, inside the walls are a metaphor for the idea of MONSTERS. And maybe, just maybe, if there are no wolves (and/or they can be vanquished through the ingenuity of a child), then the same goes for those hypothetical monsters." (Kelly has some gorgeous illustrations on this post - check it out!)
Liz is all about The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding: "Most of all, what I love about Alaizabel Cray, is that it is about the power of belief. What it means to believe, in people and things. And, what it means for a reader: because for any story to work, the reader must believe it to be true. For the characters to be flesh and blood, and the plot believable, whether it's wych kin. Or puppies. And Wooding, in a world where the names are familiar, only not, makes a world that you believe in. Even as it scares you to death."
Kimberly is impressed with Cinderella Skeleton over at lectitans: "Cinderella Skeleton is a fairytale retold for goths. Our familiar friend Cindy isn't sweeping up the house anymore. Now her chores include hanging cobwebs, arranging dead flowers, littering the floor with dust and leaves, and feeding bats. Her stepmother and stepsisters are still evil, though, and when the marvelously dead Prince Charnel hosts a ball, they do everything they can to keep her away.
Sarah looks at some Diana Wynne Jones awesomeness over at Finding Wonderland: "Like Whitcomb's narrator, the narrator of Diana Wynne Jones's novel The Time of the Ghost is a restless spirit. She starts off not knowing who she is or how she got to be wandering a deserted road, but she knows that something is wrong and there's been an accident. She finds herself drawn to a nearby boarding school for boys, and it seems thatâ€¦she used to live there. And those three bizarre and unkempt girls, daughters to the school's owners, are her sisters. But how did she get to be a ghost? Why does she keep having this horrible feeling of wrongness? And who is she, really? "
And Tanita has some deep October thoughts on Octavia Butler's Kindred: "Octavia Butler's imaginative and thought-provoking Kindred might seem a strange choice for Bradbury Season, but I guess chills - spooky feelings and shivers are where you find them. I don't usually waste my fear on amorphous things in the dark. The things I fear are real, and the depravity of an inhuman being enslaving another leaves me with a sort of bottomless horror, a horrible cold tightening of my heart as if it were an exposed nerve painfully jangling." (I should point out that it is recommendations like this one that made want to do a Bradbury Season event in the first place.)
And Gwenda is also in on the fun at Shaken & Stirred with some thoughts on literary vampires: "But today, I want to talk classics. I want to talk scary vampires that crawl out of graves and have bad hygiene and menace superstitious villages. Think Nosferatu minus the suit and you're in the right ballpark."
More links as the day goes on - and quotes from all the participating bloggers.
[Post pic taken by Ray Bradbury; appears here courtesy Little Willow.]