Author: Ray Bradbury
Illustrator: Joseph Mugnaini
Publisher: Del Rey Books | Ballantine Books
Published: 1955 (originally), 1996
Genres: Horror, Fantasy
“It’s poor judgement,” said Grandpa, “to call anything by a name. We don’t know what a hobgoblin or a vampire or a troll is. Could be lots of things. You can’t heave them into categories with labels and say they’ll act one way or another. That’d be silly. They’re people. People who do things. Yes, that’s the way to put it: people who do things.” – Ray Bradbury, The October Country, “The Man Upstairs”
Short story collections embody a certain theme that almost sound the same as the ringing of a bell. Each story told has its own retelling of that same theme to the point of feeling redundant rather than revisited. Ray Bradbury’s The October Country eerily transcends any recycled sense of thematic bottom-feeding. His stories are so different from the next, you cannot help but wonder where the theme starts and ends until you realize it just is. The vulnerability and strength of the human condition are at the core of these stories but each are expressed from the unlikeliest of perspectives. For example, in the stories “Homecoming” and “Jack-in-the-Box,” the outsider becomes the insider and the insider becomes an outsider respectively. The sensationalism over death and how sensationalism is its own death can be seen in “The Crowd.” What is strangely satisfying about these stories is not just their ability to be told on Halloween (the illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini will attest to that) but their representation of simple, ethical truths under the guise of the dark denizens from the October country.
The October Country is not a hard read and its progression picks up speed when you least expect it. An endearing moment I kept recalling and enjoyed the most is found in Bradbury’s foreword May My Voices Die Before Me, where he talks about finding his voice or himself. He shares his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Allan Poe, and other inspiring writers but noticed their voices could not be his own; they could only be his loves. The October Country is genre-breaking and erodes the conventions of traditional tales of horror and science fiction by giving it more than a sense of brash realism. Here Bradbury emphasizes the emotive silence and subtlety of thought until it bifurcates from a personal peak and reaches an undeniable and ubiquitous inevitability (death, loneliness, insecurity, et cetera).
I appreciate the honesty behind the fiction when some stories’ endings are arguably vague. The fantastical possibilities are presented to you as feasible and believable possibilities in a short, but natural transition of time and place. As Bradbury said in his foreword about his other short story collection The Martian Chronicles, “[It] is five percent science fiction and ninety-five percent fantasy…” (x). No fantasy is worthy of being categorized as fluff when it stands for those hidden feelings lost in thought. The first and last stories of The October Country, The Dwarf and The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone, felt familiar to me, being a writer who is always figuring out what being a writer can and will mean. No one has to be a writer to relate to Bradbury’s stories however. With an emotional intelligence on sentimental, attentive, and precarious levels, The October Country holds eminent potential for relatability.