Put on your fashion boots, whimsically wrap up in your best scarf, admire that beautiful burnt sienna crayon in your box of Crayolas, grab your favorite mode of pumpkin spice and pick a fresh apple to bring to the teacher who showed us everything there is to know and love about autumn: Ray Bradbury. It’s fall, my friends. Time to raid the literary cornucopia.
There are writers who are forever tied to a season for me. Winter probably gets Dickens (obvi), summer I think gets Barbara Kingsolver (I can’t say exactly why, but her books seem hot and humid and full of cicadas), spring gets the hopeful splish splash of Marina Keegan’s prose (a season cut too, too short), and fall is Bradbury’s sprawling kingdom.It could be argued that autumn is a season of death. It could. You might mention those trees that are getting nakeder by the minute or the grass that’s wilted, and you would have a solid point. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that autumn is not an end but a beginning and is full of life, and I’m sure as anything that Ray Bradbury is to blame. The man is all about the gusto. (If you need a refreshing breeze in your life, pick up Zen in the Art of Writing, the love letter he wrote to his passion and his craft, which gets you your recommended daily allowance of gusto right quick.) He pulls no punches with his enthusiasm for the months before winter. Not even close.
The prism of Bradbury’s writing catches all the shades in October’s spectrum—the splendor and the spookiness. A huge part of the fun of this season is the creep factor of the dark nights, harvest moons, and the eerie complaints of floorboards in your house as it settles against the cold and the ghosts. All the conditions are right to crawl under your blanket, turn on a flashlight, and get into the spirit of things with an old, battered copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Its title is lifted straight from the mouths of the witches in the opening speeches of Macbeth, so you pretty much know what you’re getting into. The story follows Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade (I never said Ray didn’t lay it on thick, okay?), thirteen year-olds (see what I mean?) who get into all manner of trouble when they tangle with Cooger and Dark’s twisted carnival. It’s epic and sentimental and shadowy and ultimately life affirming, like much of its author’s catalog. If you missed the window of reading this when you were young, don’t worry—the childhood thrill of the midway never really leaves us, and this quick read, with its themes of youth and age, holds up just fine.
Once you’ve wolfed that one down and are ready for seconds, The October Country—perhaps the most Halloweenish of his many short story collections—is waiting. It’s hard to pick a favorite story, but a lot of folks would maybe agree on “The Lake,” which you’ll find here. It’s a sweet, haunting tale of friendship and ghosts, and Bradbury has often talked of it as a turning point for his career in which his writing really starts to get electric.
Still hungry? For desert, I present The Halloween Tree. If you’ve been waiting your whole life for a romp through time down to the roots of all our spooky traditions, then your wait is over. Bradbury loved A Christmas Carol, but he obviously thought three spirits was just not enough to feel sufficiently haunted. So he gave us this super fun gem to satisfy that itch. Thank goodness.
I’m not the only one who finds their thoughts returning to the man and his words every year about this time. Neil Gaiman—another autumnal voice, am I right?—penned a lovely homage to Ray and to storytelling itself in his own collection Fragile Things. The story is called “October In The Chair” and is rich with rotting apples, anthropomorphized months, smoking campfire sausages and crunchy leaves, so if you don’t believe me that the man is fall incarnate, you can go ask Neil. He might even read “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” from the recording An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer while he has your ear, which you’ll probably remember forever—precisely as long as Ray Bradbury shall live.