It probably won’t come as too much of a surprise for regular readers of this blog to be told that Autumn, or Fall to North American readers, is my favourite season of the year, with its darker nights and spooky traditions, in particular Halloween. Not many people know that Fall is the older term for this season and is an Old Norse word (its exact meaning is somewhat uncertain but the closest translation is “fall of the year”). Autumn, in contrast, being of French derivation, is a younger word but I have to say that I prefer it, even if it’s for no other reason than I once had a friend by the name of Autumn, who was rather nice
Anyway, I always look forward to the beginning of October as being, in my eyes at least, the official start of Autumn in this country. Summer wanes and the year slouches on towards winter, green things fade and twilight comes earlier, but I don’t see this as any reason for despair. On the contrary, with the promise of Halloween and Bonfire Night casting their long and delicious shadows over the season, for me it is a time to revel in the still cold night and the falling leaves which echo the fall of the year. In art, Autumn is a season that is traditionally associated with melancholy – in Keats’ poem To Autumn, he describes the season as a time of “mellow fruitfulness”. The Autumn-themed poetry of W B Yeats and the French poet Paul Verlaine is similarly characterised by a strong sense of sorrow.
What do I read in this season? You’ve guessed it – ghost stories, lots of ghost stories! Autumn is a good time for fear, a poetic time even, when the veil between worlds traditionally grows thin in anticipation of All Hallows’ Eve, which in turn was influenced by the older Celtic Festival of Samhain, when the spirits of the dead briefly walk the earth. I’ll talk more about Halloween as the day approaches but for now I’ll focus on Autumn-themed fiction. There is no better place to start in my view than with Ray Bradbury, a writer who like me enjoyed the month of October above all others. Try and seek out Something Wicked This Way Comes and the stories of The October Country, which are nothing less than a series of passionate love-letters written about the season of Autumn and all of its associated thrills and dread. For those of a more classical bent, the Autumn-themed work of the aforementioned Keats, Yeats and Verlaine is full of inspirational poetry and prose that will put you in the right mood for the Harvest season if anything will.
Lastly, no post of mine concerning Autumn would be complete without a mention of Charles de Lint’s Yarrow. By no means the finest work of this writer, this Autumn Tale is nevertheless full of all of the seasonal themes that I’ve discussed above – fear, rebirth, sorrow and beauty. Readers familiar with De Lint’s more recent work, in particular his Newford series, will also be surprised (pleasantly I hope) at how well this book works as a horror/thriller as well as his trademark urban fantasy. As a writer, I’ve always found the central conceit of this novel, that something out there could simply steal away your dreams and creativity, particularly horrifying.