So one of my big author influences is Ray Bradbury. For me, his books are emotional, elegant, unique in plot, and true in characterizations. He’s also a master at literary horror, so I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites of his today. Granted, a lot of his work is short stories, so I’m looking at the books/collections instead that are primarily horror. Those who like the psychological and literary will probably like Bradbury because he generally doesn’t do gore. Granted, he can get disturbing and visceral emotionally, but man, he’s always so elegant about it!
Something Wicked This Way Comes – A classic and probably one of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with creepy carnivals. I love the concept of the two neighbor boys born on each side of Halloween, though the dark/light dichotomy is fairly subtle until the ending climax. From the appearance of the lightning rod salesman to the carnival itself, from strange Mr.Dark and Mr. Electrico to the Dust Witch and the magical carousel, this book is hypnotic. The movie really doesn’t do it justice and almost subverts the lessons by slapping on a happy ending for everyone. There are a few sequences here that made me hold my breath the first time I read it in college – it was one of the few books I took the time to read for fun at the time, and I fell in love with it.
From the Dust Returned – This is actually a collection of shorts masterfully formed into a narrative arc. I love this technique and Bradbury truly made it his own. While you can find a lot of the stories in other collections, this really lets each piece shine, and you’ll generally find that these versions are a little different than how you’ll see them in other formats. From Cecy the slumberer to Uncle Einar with wings, from vampire parents and killed cousins who have to share a host to a mummy grandmother, right down to Timothy, the one mortal boy who calls this strange family his own and the odd house his home…this book is odd, unnerving, and emotional. ‘Homecoming’ always gets me, ‘The April Witch’ has made me feel a thousand things as I’ve read it through the years, and the ending just…yeah. Think of it like a very literary Addams’ family, and you will have a blast. As always, Bradbury’s beautiful prose and attention to small town detail make this book.
The October Country – a collection of unconnected shorts, this book really has some chilling components. It has its own version of ‘Homecoming,’ but the stories here generally opt to the creepy side, like they do in ‘The Jar,’ ‘The Wind,’ and other tales. ‘The Next in Line’ is one that always has gotten me, because he just masters the claustrophobic feeling of the catacombs and the slow, building distrust and anxiety of the wife. Particularly in this volume, he’s very good at giving you just enough ending to make you fumble, then jolt once everything connects.
The Halloween Tree – I try to at least get through most of this every year, or at least watch the cartoon version. Truly, the book is the best, though I like that the cartoon adds in a female character who can hold her own (also, Bradbury narrates it and Leonard Nimoy plays Moundshroud!). To be fair, it doesn’t take away from the book to be an all-boy cast for me, because of the general time period it’s set, and it feels so true to life as a group of kids. This is one of those stories that deals with uncomfortable concepts but immerses you so much that you don’t care. When a group of friends has to time travel to save the soul of their dying friend Pipkin under the tutelage of mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, they end up learning the entire history of Halloween. While okay, there is a little historical discrepancy in the Samhain chapter and I wish some things were as fleshed out as others, honestly it’s done so well and the tension is built so tightly that I don’t care.Through it all, the friendship shines through, and this really drives home why humans cling to Halloween. The one place where this really, really excels over the cartoon is the ending – it subtly hints to Mr. Moundshround’s nature in a bittersweet, autumnal epilogue where Tom Skelton thinks over the events of the evening.