Friday, October 18, 2013

Fall Fantasy Favorites

We are full on into fall now here in Minnesota--the leaves are brilliant shades of yellow and red, the temperature has gotten close to freezing several nights this past week, and it's dark now in the mornings when we leave the house.

I love fall.  I love the cooler weather, the ubiquity of apple cider and pumpkin flavors, and the smell of wood fires burning.  I'm also drawn to the fact that fall is a season of both death and new beginnings.  In Susan Cooper's novel The Grey King, there's this wonderful quotation that captures the feelings of loss and melancholy inherent in fall: "On the day of the dead, when the year too dies..."  Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve, is the day before All Saints Day in the Christian calendar, marking the time to remember the saints and those who had died in the past year.  This celebration and remembrance of death is marked by nature itself--no funeral flowers or processions can match the splendor of the trees changing color. 

But fall, especially for those whose lives follow the academic calendar, is also a season of new beginnings.  New classes, new students, new instructors, new books--this is the season where anything seems possible, where the mistakes of past years can be corrected, and where the knowledge of the world seems to wait at our fingertips.

It's a wonderful season.  And there are many works of fantasy that always remind me of this season.

In junior high, my English class watched the 1983 film version of Ray Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the scene from the film that most stuck in my head was dead leaves blowing across a lonely street.  Now, whenever I see leaves blowing in that way, I see images of eerie Ferris wheels and dark, deserted streets, thanks to Mr. Bradbury.

My other fall favorite is more recent.  Last fall, as I drove to work, I listened to Stephen King's Under the Dome on disk.  It was an example of perfect timing--the season in the book matched the season that I was in, and it helped me feel even more like I was part of the story.  On my commute, I drive past an area where there is low wetlands on both sides of the street, and on certain kinds of days, the wetland gets foggy and the fog spills across the road.  That fog is forever tied to Under the Dome, and the combined imagery of the novel and this fog is perhaps my perfect image of fall (minus the whole dome thing, of course...).

Kat Howard, Fantasy Matters other editor, also has some fall favorites that she was generous enough to share with us:

There are two books I reread every fall. The first is the run of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Partially, this is because a major event in issue #1, "Sleep of the Just," happens on my birthday. According to the date on a newspaper one of his guards is reading, Morpheus escapes his imprisonment on Sept. 14, 1988. I know that's technically still in summer, but it feels like fall, and when it comes to story, there are truths and there are truths, and the truth is, Sandman begins in the fall.

The other reason comes from the title of the fourth volume - Season of Mists. It comes from the Keats poem, "To Autumn," the opening line of which invokes the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." Sandman is a huge work, full of things, and to reduce it to any one idea or descriptor does it a tremendous disservice. Having said that, it has always struck me as being a work that is elegiac in its nature. It is about endings, about putting things in order, about saying goodbye in graceful fashion. And so I find it perfect to read in autumn.

The new issues of Sandman will also begin in the fall: The Sandman: Overture goes on sale on Oct. 30th.

The other book I reread in the fall is Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. It begins with Janet going to college for the first time, and is structured around the school year. Particularly for someone who has spent as much time in school as I have, the fall is not only a time of endings, but a time of new beginnings, and Dean captures that feeling perfectly.

What are your fall fantasy favorites?  Let us know in the comments!

By Jen Miller and Kat Howard