The October Country

19 Oct

With Halloween almost upon us, I thought that a post on the late Ray Bradbury – that October Dreamer extraordinaire – was timely. After all, the season of thrills and chills never had a greater fan, or finer exponent of the Halloween-themed short story, than the great man. Bradbury only passed away fairly recently (he lived from 1920-2012) but he left behind him a vast, influential body of work ranging from science fiction to horror novels, short stories, plays and TV scripts. Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated 20th-century American writers, inspiring the likes of Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell and Robert Bloch to follow in his footsteps. Bradbury is credited with writing 27 novels and over 600 short stories – more than eight million copies of his works, published in over 36 languages, have been sold around the world. His honours include Emmy and Nebula awards, as well as the National Medal of Arts. However, leaving all these achievements aside, his work is particularly celebrated at this time of year – and he appears on this website mainly because of – his enduring love of the Halloween season. If you’re looking for something to put you in the mood this year, you could do much worse than seek out Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes or the stories of The October Country, which are nothing less than a series of passionate love-letters written about Halloween and all of its associated thrills and dread.

Bradbury was born in the small town of Waukegan, Illinois, but later moved with his family to Los Angeles, where much of his fiction has reflected his interest in both rural life and the wonderland of cinema. His early stories were written for the legendary horror magazine, Weird Tales – several featuring the supernatural – but he later turned to science fiction to create the books that made his name. Fahrenheit 451 (1953), The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951) have all been filmed with varying degrees of success. Few writers have better captured the magic of film-making in Hollywood on paper than Bradbury, although his own experiences as a scriptwriter with producers and directors in trying to bring his imaginative words to the screen have often been fraught. His love of old movies and their stars is evident in many of his books and short stories. As a youth he would spend all day in front of Paramount Pictures or Columbia Pictures and then skate to the Brown Derby to watch the stars who came and went for meals. Among stars the young Bradbury was thrilled to encounter were Norma Shearer, Ronald Colman and Laurel & Hardy (about whom he wrote one of his famous and most poignant short stories, Another Fine Mess).

Ray Bradbury was surrounded by a loving extended family during his early childhood and formative years in Waukegan. This period provided foundations for both the author and his stories. In Bradbury’s works of fiction, 1920s Waukegan becomes “Green Town,” Illinois. In his stories, Green Town is a symbol of safety and home, which is often juxtaposed as a contrasting backdrop to tales of fantasy or menace. It serves as the setting of his modern classic Something Wicked This Way Comes. The novel is about two 13-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, who have a harrowing experience with a nightmarish and bewitching travelling carnival that comes to their Midwestern town on one October, before Halloween. The carnival’s leader is the mysterious “Mr. Dark” who bears a tattoo for each person who, lured by the offer to live out his secret fantasies, has become bound in service to the carnival. Mr. Dark’s malevolent presence is countered by that of Will’s father, Charles Halloway, who harbours his own secret desire to regain his youth because he feels as though he is too old to be a proper father to Will. The novel combines elements of fantasy and horror, analyzing the conflicting natures of good and evil and how they come into play among the characters in a carnival setting. Something Wicked This Way Comes can also be interpreted as an autumn sequel to the summer of Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and these two novels, coupled with Bradbury’s official 2006 sequel to Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer, make up the Green Town trilogy – one of the supreme achievements in speculative fiction.

 

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2 Responses to “The October Country”

  1. Steve Vernon October 19, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    Ray Bradbury – one of my favorite dark fantasy mind-blowing writers – and, actually, OCTOBER COUNTRY is my favorite collection of his.

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  1. Anilbalan Ghost Cities Blog: New post The October Country | Hugh Paxton's Blog - October 20, 2014

    […] The October Country […]

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