In The October Country…..

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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.

Ray Bradbury in the 1950s.

Ray Bradbury in the 1950s.

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….”

—-Ray Bradbury

Patrick Kerin

Ray Bradbury: Born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois

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"Dandelion Wine" was richly inspired by Bradbury's memories of growing up in 1920s Illinois. Photo credit: electricliterature.com

“Dandelion Wine” was richly inspired by Bradbury’s memories of growing up in 1920s Illinois. Photo credit: electricliterature.com

Today would have been Ray Bradbury’s ninety-fifth birthday. He was born on August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. Except for a couple of brief moves to California and Arizona in his childhood, Bradbury spent most of the years from birth to age fourteen in Waukegan before the family permanently relocated to Los Angeles, California. Although Bradbury would remain in Los Angeles the rest of his life, he often returned to the Midwest of his childhood in his fiction, most notably in a number of short stories and his novels Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Ray Bradbury in 1959.

Ray Bradbury in 1959.

Ray Bradbury’s work cannot be simply classified. Although some of what he wrote was science fiction, other works by him could be described as stories of mystery, the supernatural, or fantasy. He wrote novels, short stories, plays, poetry, essays and works for both television and the screen. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s film version of Moby Dick in the 1950s. He died on June 5, 2012.

Ray Bradbury (Photo by and courtesy of Alan Light).

Ray Bradbury (Photo by and courtesy of Alan Light).

Two of Ray Bradbury’s books will be featured on buckeyemuse this fall—an appropriate time given Bradbury’s often spooky subject matter. Stay tuned!

Patrick Kerin