Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Countdown: Ray Bradbury's Top 10 Dark Carnival/October Country Stories--#8

(For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.)

#8."Homecoming" (collected in The October Country)

Halloween is the ultimate carnivalesque holiday, with its rituals of inversion valorizing darkness and chaos, mischievousness and unchecked impulses.  Ray Bradbury captures this spirit of autumnal misrule in his 1946 short story "Homecoming."  The tale presents an unprecedented monster bash, as scores of creatures travel from the old country to a Gothic manse in mid-American October country for a Family reunion on Allhallows Eve.  These various vampiric and shape-shifting figures embody the idea of the inverse, sleeping by day in coffins, and moving their hands in "reverse blessings" while worshipping in a cellar chapel.  The great house is decorated for the celebration with black crepe and "burning black tapers," and the party involves waltzes to "outlandish music" and imbibing from a blood-filled punch bowl (not to mention playing a most challenging game of Mirror Mirror--considering that many of the Family members don't even cast reflections!). 

The story's prime example of turnabout, though, is its fourteen-year-old protagonist, Timothy.  His natural humanity actually renders him the abnormal one in this Family (much like Marilyn Munster is considered the ugly duckling of her TV clan).  Timothy sleeps in a regular bed, has  "poor inadequate teeth" that will never elongate into fangs, dislikes the taste of blood, and fears the dark.   Accordingly, he's treated like the white sheep of his Family, teased by his younger relatives, ignored by many of the older ones (not including the wonderful, winged Uncle Einar).

Bradbury puts the emphasis on sentiment rather than suspense in this bittersweet narrative.  For all their fantastic revelry, the attendees of the reunion depart facing the daunting reality that "the world was becoming less a place for them."  And Timothy ends the tale in tears, haunted by the understanding that his own mortality will inevitably distance him from his supernatural kin.  Still,
"Homecoming" is a moving exploration of difference, a story that suggests that normality is always relative.

To read (in Bradbury's words) the "Life-Story of the Elliott Family: their genesis and demise, their adventures and mishaps, their loves and their sorrows," be sure to check out the author's 2001 book From the Dust Returned.

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