For me, October always has two contrasting dimensions. The first is the traditional season of harvest, golden afternoons and “mists and mellow fruitfulness.” There’s an excitement in the air with the return of the school year. It’s a time of homecoming parades, crisp mornings, apples, pumpkins, hayrides, football games, and trees in their vibrant colors of orange, scarlet, and gold. But there is another side of October. In my neck of the woods, there are those rainy days or overcast afternoons that evoke a moodiness, an eerieness, a mystery. This is the time associated with Halloween, but this is not the domain of kid revelry and lighthearted chills.
This aspect of October evokes a world of specters, decay, and haunting secrets. Maybe it’s also because I first read The Scarlet Letter and some of Hawthorne’s unearthly tales in an autumn long ago that I find myself thinking of old New England, of the Salem Witch Trials, of apparitions and weird forces walking abroad. It’s a time and mood that calls to mind the authentic creepiness of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I am reminded of all these things when I read the delightfully uncanny tales in Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, first published sixty years ago in 1955. Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920.
Many of the stories in The October Country first appeared in Bradbury’s first short story collection entitled Dark Carnival. That book appeared in 1946. The October Country included those stories and added others. Dark Carnival was published by Arkham House, the legendary publishing firm of horror, mystery, and supernatural fiction out of Wisconsin operated by the famous Wisconsin writer August Derleth. The October Country is dedicated to Derleth.
I first read The October Country during Christmas vacation in seventh grade. It is a classic collection of Bradbury’s tales of horror, weirdness, mystery and the fantastic. Bradbury takes is into strange worlds in which a baby can become a murderous monster, a man recalls a child’s death by drowning, and a bedridden boy’s dog brings him messages and visitors from the beyond. Once you enter you’ll find it hard to leave.
This is the October Country:
“…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain….”