Monday, October 04, 2010

Entering October Country

{Photos by rocketlass.}

It’s time.

Time to venture to October Country, which Ray Bradbury, in one of his familiar cascades of definition, described as,
that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain . . .
Time for hot cider and inexplicably cold rooms, for fireplaces and scratching . . . of branches? . . . at the window, for the night closing in so early, so early that you’re unexpectedly home alone for a few hours after dark before your spouse returns . . and the house, creaking and cracking, knows it; and the wind, howling and hissing, knows it; and your cats, suddenly skittish, know it.

October Country doesn’t require belief. If it did, I’d be on the other side of the line, looking in, myself. All it requires is susceptibility, a lack--however temporary--of active disbelief. We’ve all jumped when startled; October Country merely asks us to slow that jump, to savor it.

In the introduction to an anthology of scary stories he edited in 1944, Creeps by Night, Dashiell Hammett laid out what a proper visitor to October Country should bring with him in him:
To taste the full flavor of these stories you must bring an orderly mind to them, you must have a reasonable amount of confidence, if not in what used to be called the laws of nature, at least in the currently suspected habits of nature. If you believe in the ability and willingness of surgeons to transplant brains from skull to skull with shocking results, these stories may frighten you, but merely in the same way--though hardly to the same extent--that having to take ether in a strange hospital would frighten you. If you believe in ghosts, you can hope to derive from these stories at the very most a weak semblance of the sensation you would experience on being told there was a bogey-man in the closet, or on having the village cut-up wrapped in a sheet jump out at you. If you believe in werewolves, then it can make little difference to you, except perhaps academically, whether your heroine is eaten by one of them or shot down by a Cicero muscle-man. To the truly superstitious, the “weird” has only its Scotch meaning: “Something which actually takes place.”

The effectiveness of the sort of stories that we are here concerned with depends on the reader’s believing that certain things cannot happen and on the writer’s making him feel--if not actually believe--that they can but should not happen.
Throughout this month, let us choose the position of Hammett’s ideal reader--susceptible to the uncanny precisely because during the daylight hours we believe it has an opposite, that the world can be kenned. For on a dark autumn night, it’s hard to disagree with Dr. Johnson’s take on the topic:
It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.
Bring on the ghosts.


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  4. I checked out the scary stories you suggested, Very Cool