Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ray Bradbury The October Game - major spoiler

Read my interview with Ray Bradbury

Really, don't read this if you plan to read the short story "The October Game" by Ray Bradbury and you don't want the surprise spoiled.

It's a really good story and I mentioned it here a while back, so I get hits from Google for "October Game Meaning Of" and stuff like that.

Since you land on the band The October Game if you do the "I'm Feeling Lucky" search in your Goo Diligence, and you otherwise get a lot of hits about degrees of success of various sports teams in the month of October, apparently there's not a definitive critical analysis of the Bradbury story out there online. (Not that this is going to be, but I do what I can.)

Cosmic Ray
Many people think of Cosmic Ray as a science fiction writer, and he did his share of Martian tales and things from outer space, but in the pulp days especially--and if you watched The Ray Bradbury Theater you know this--he penned his share of tales of terror.

"The October Game" is copyrighted 1950 in the collection I own (Gooseflesh pictured with my other favorite old time horror collection above.), although Wikipedia lists it as 1948. At any rate, the story is a masterpiece of suggested horror. It evokes literally visceral imagery without stating it and leaves a chilling, unsettling after effect. For many readers--me, me I'm one of those--remember it for years.

"Revenge is the best way of gittin' even." -- Archie Bunker
It's a tale of revenge, a horror achieved without graveyards or magic and with ghosts and witches only in costume or imagination.

It's Halloween, you see, and the bow-tied and cufflink wearing protagonist, Mich Wilder, I think, is contemplating a way to hurt his wife, Louise, as the tale opens. He rules out murder because he's seeking revenge with "duration." Killing her won't hurt her enough.

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way
We get the impression this is a middle class family. Bradbury tells us they live in a "warm two-story house," but, relations are frigid and, by the way, Mich wanted a boy. The couple has an eight-year-old daughter, Marion, and a big Halloween party is planned. Louise has showered her affections on Marion since her birth.

A.B.C. - Marion loves the daughter very much, Mich has a bad case of cabin fever and an eight-year case of a male post partum depression.

As the party planning goes on, Mich's sense of being trapped in his existence unfolds. There's mention of failed business ventures and we are told October means winter is coming and he just can't face another Northern one.

So eventually everyone shows up for the party, and "the husband" decides to take everyone to the cellar which he proclaims "The Tomb of the Witch."

The real October game
That's where the impromptu game begins. It's one played in the dark. Traditionally grapes are passed around and the kids are told they're feeling the dead witch's eyes.

Then they get a bowl of spaghetti and that's described as "the witch's innards" and so on.

Here's where the spoiler comes in -- don't read on unless you've read the story or just don't care --

Bradbury has established the shoddy emotional state of the Wilders, the depression of the husband, the desire to produce a lasting hurt of Louise who adores their daughter. The tale is a brief portrait of a very dark domestic situation.

I really mean it - spoiler, close your eyes now...

Dude, those weren't grapes and spaghetti!

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Sidney said...

Yeah, Martian Chronicles has some great stories in it. Ironically I don't have my copy of that anymore. Odd because I find it hard to part with a book. My favorite collection is The Illustrated Man.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read all of Bradbury's early and middle stuff, and just haven't read some of his later stories. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite piece from those days. Perhaps "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

If I could pick a father, it would have been Bradbury. I imagine him there with me when I write.

I love the man.

I remember the opening to "Something Wicked This Way Comes". It's a simplistic smile of a description, capturing in a moment what it is like to be ten years old staring at Halloween. I don't mean to say this is a children's book, but rather an adult's recollection of childhood, captured perfectly in amber.

I can't believe T.L. Reynolds has never read Bradbury. I envy you in some ways. It means you get a chance to experience one of our greatest writers for the first time.

Here's to Ray Bradbury. I love you.

Anonymous said...

Great story. I love the way the ending isn't fully explained. You have to think about it. They turned it into an EC horror comic too. October Game

Anonymous said...

You guys..,theres alternate endings. Mitch couldn't cut his daughter up because it wasn't legal...and it has to be. Mitch hid Marion and because Louise was so frazzled from living in fear, she thought Mitch really did kill Marion. Therefore, Mitch hurts Louise and gets to keep Marion, with everything having duration, creativeness and most of all, it's legal.

Silvia said...

Pretty worthwhile data, lots of thanks for your post.

scansion717 said...

I have to agree with the Anonymous poster. The first paragraph states he wants to cause fear through duration, and duration through imagination. What better way to invoke fear than to convince someone that their daughter is dead through their own imagination? Like what the previous poster said, Mitch wanted to (and I quote) "figure some way, perhaps, to take Marion away from her, legally." He wouldn't kill her; that's illegal. Also, another quote shows a child potentially escaping into the night ("There was a child scampering, a smell of damp cement, and the sound of the wind out in the October stars.") The story mentions the outside wind twice more before the story's end. And yes, the other child does run around the house 4 times, but Marion could be hiding (she's very quiet), or that other child could have been in on the trick too.

Anonymous said...

In addition to what Anonymous and scansion717 said, why would he be upset when "some idiot turned on the lights" if he had really dismembered his daughter? Wouldn't that be the culmination of Louise's nightmare and his revenge? On the other hand, it would make more sense if he had simply hid her and turning on the lights too early would let Louise on prematurely that it was just a sick joke. In any case, no matter how drab and dreary your domestic environment is, it is still preferable to the domestic environment of the penitentiary.

Sidney said...

I think we'll call those theories B and C.

Anonymous said...

The child is…legally dead. Louise will have the vision (ultimate horror) for the rest of her life (prolonged) because "some idiot turned on the lights."

Anonymous said...

Marion was never dead. The story says the guests love mich, he's a fun and loving family man while Louise is quiet and introverted in front of the guests because they don't see the horror of mich that Louise sees. Plus if you think, you assume that Mich would cut a nine year old girl through bone in enough time to put her body in various bowls. NOO! He hid Marion and Louise would assume Mich would be devil enough to cut her daughter up LOOKING INSANE TOWARDS THE GUESTS then Louise would be put away in an asylum WHERE SHE WOULD NEVER SEE MARION AGAIN. It's legal, has Louise suffer and creative. Louise be put in an insane asylum is logical toward the story because no one is there to support her because they all think she's crazy enough to think that "fun Mich" would cut his daughter up.

Bob Lizarraga said...

I think Marion's dead - EC chose this story BECAUSE of the horrible ending, which they were known for. Just my 2 cents....

Mean Old Man said...

I don't think he killed the child ... along with the other issues in this thread, he simply did not have time to butcher her in the fashion described. So, yeah, he's just trying to drive the wife nuts in front of a group of friends.

Unknown said...

I began reading the Alfred Hitchcock collection of short story magazines (monthly)when I was about 12. I have been looking for this for years! Tonight it popped into my head again and I thought, what the hell, Google it. :) I'm a happy camper.

Gene B. said...

Yes, "The story says the guests love mich, he's a fun and loving family man..." but Bradbury also gives us Mitch's thoughts, especially his bitter suspicion that Marion is not his child. I've never had any doubt that those little Halloween-dressed kids were not holding grapes and spaghetti.

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