As far as I’m concerned, this is the best time of year.
Some of us are suckers for those first days of spring. Some of us live for the languid days of summer. A lot of us love the cozy season of Hannukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year with its deeply personal spiritual meanings and joyous celebrations.
But October, with its swirl of leaves blowing across the yard and slanted sunlight illuminating the world in strange ways and nights as crisp as an Arkansas Black apple, that’s where the magic lies.
And looming at the far end of the month like an enormous pumpkin in a darkened field is Halloween.
You can visit Sally’s wonderful October 29 2010 post “Where Did Trick-or-Treat Come From?” to learn all about this shadowed holiday, but there’s one crucial fact she left out — the first jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips! Can you imagine a more tragic waste of the human spirit than someone hollowing out a turnip?
Anyway, since Sally did such a comprehensive job recounting the history of Halloween (except for those turnips!), let’s set the mood by considering the spooky tales awaiting you at the Fontana Regional Libraries.
I’m not going to mention the novels of Steven King, those are way too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel (which also happens to be a terrific, but dangerous, Halloween Party Game).
No, I’m going to make a plug for those other stories, the ones that grow like an unwholesome fungus beneath King’s considerable literary shadow.
You shouldn’t miss H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels.” Perhaps Lovecraft’s fevered prose isn’t your cup of fur, but there’s an undeniable power in his bleak, existential view of the Universe. Each of his stories is infused with an eerieness that sticks with you long after the book’s been closed.
Peter Straub’s “American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now” is an irresistible short story sampler that anatomizes the American Creepy Story in all its shuddery permutations.
(Note: The editor is Peter Straub. Do not, do not, get this mixed up with Susan Straub’s “Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos : A Guide to Choosing, Reading, and Loving Books Together.” You’ll either end up being deeply disappointed or stuck with a chronic bed-wetter.)
“I Am Legend” is a masterful deconstruction of the vampire myth set in an apocalyptic America three days from now. Richard Matheson’s prose is stripped down and unsparing. If Hemingway wrote for “Weird Tales” instead of “Scribner’s,” he’d have come up with something like this. The other stories in this collection are pretty remarkable, too (especially “Witch War,” which would be hilarious if it weren’t so very brutal).
William James’ “The Turn of the Screw” sounds like it might be a playful home improvement guide, but this is a different beast entirely. It’s as though “Mary Poppins” had been written by an absinthe addict. Mr. James gives us a harrowing Gothic Novella and an unforgettable portrait of Victorian manners at their most stifling. If “Pride and Prejudice” captured your fancy, you may well fall under the dark spell of this story. If only The Governess had brought a steam-powered Spanking Machine with her, those naughty children would have been straightened out at once.
While we’re on the subject of Scary Home Improvement, how about “Better Homes and Gardens’ Step-by-Step Wiring?” I realize this probably doesn’t seem too terrifying, until you imagine that it’s me messing with your home’s electrical system (the last time I used a hammer was three years ago when I gished a spider that kept looking at me in the bathroom).
Finally, there’s Daniel H. Wilson’s “Robopocalypse,” as far removed from James’s haunted manor and Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University as you can get. The premise is elegant and chilling — an artificial intelligence evolves into self-awareness and quickly decides to decimate the human population. The task is made easier because everything is digital and everything is linked. Remember how HAL coldly dispatched the hibernating mission specialists in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Picture that on a global scale. Believe me, I won’t be forgetting the Incident with Baby Comes Alive. Though the story is set approximately 10 years in the future, its foundations are being laid right now.
(Just to be on the safe side, I beat the crap out of my Bread Machine with a baseball bat, just like Al Capone in “The Untouchables.” I made sure all the other kitchen appliances saw it. They got the message.)
Not Really Related To This Topic, But Kind of Scary:
In a previous post, I described my illicit love affair with the shadier denizens of the Culinary Community. My friend Carolyn found me face-down in my own crapulence and rescued me, but there’s a deep down (and almost certainly deep-fried) part of my soul that still lusts after those forbidden foods.
That’s why I was heartened by this list of 2011’s Favorite County Fair Foods, culled from across the Land of the Elastic Waistband: Chocolate Covered Corn Dog; Deep Fried KoolAid; Deep Fried Butter on a Stick; Buffalo Chicken on a Stick; Red Velvet Funnel Cake; El Bananarito (roll a banana in a flour tortilla, deep fry the whole thing, then top it with whipped cream, powdered sugar, and chocolate sauce); Chocolate Covered Jalapeno Poppers; Deep Fried Salsa; Breakfast Lollipop (a sausage patty on a stick dipped in corn muffin batter, deep fried, and covered in maple syrup) and the Fried Ice Cream Burger (a grease-infused hamburger patty, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and a scoop of cornflake-battered, deep fried ice cream).
Meet me at the Fair! (You can meet me later at the Coronary Care Unit.)