Author: Ray Bradbury
A leafless tree branch scratching against the side of the house in the night. Dried brown stalks of corn rustling as a cold wind passes through a field. A murder of crows cackling as they gobble up bits of hickory nut smashed in the road. October makes its own scary. As well as anyone, Ray Bradbury could capture the eeriness of the month of falling leaves, decay and encroaching darkness. The proof is in The October Country, an early compilation of some of his best creepy work.
Consisting of nineteen short stories, fifteen of which originally appeared in Dark Carnival (1947) – Bradbury’s first published book – this collection was published in 1955. While he’s often lumped with the science fiction writers, these works are pure macabre fantasy.
Highlights include “The Scythe”, a unique take on the grim reaper story; “Skeleton”, what happens when a man’s own body turns against him; “The Jar”, about a farmer who becomes obsessed with the $12 mystery he bought at a traveling carnival; and “The Man Upstairs”, when a boy spies on the new boarder who only goes out at night.
Reading this book 60 years after it was first published, I am surprised by how well these stories hold up after so many years. While the horror genre has certainly evolved over the subsequent decades, Bradbury’s works still capture something inherently disturbing about the human experience. Whether he’s writing about a spine-chilling Mexican cemetery, a homicidal baby or a vengeful windstorm, he’s able to create unsettling scenarios while still maintaining a trace of the innocence that is classic Bradbury.
As he went on to display in Dandelion Wine, Bradbury is often at his best when he’s writing about 12 year-old boys, capturing their youthful enthusiasm and curiosity. Many of these works feature youthful protagonists, most memorably in “Homecoming”, a story about a young misfit vampire and his large family of ghouls on Halloween. The story first appeared in Mademoiselle in 1946 and would go on to serve as the inspiration for The Addams Family.
Sporting both an asteroid (9766 Bradbury to be exact) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ray Bradbury has had a strong influence on subsequent generations of horror and fantasy writers. The October Country features nineteen reasons why. It’s an entertaining and fascinating look at the young mind of a future literary icon. Recommended for fans of the man’s other work or for anyone who enjoys creepy and well-crafted story telling. It uniquely and chillingly captures the season of death and decay.
— D. Driftless