It’s happened, two months in advance. Last week I saw the year’s first Christmas tree erected, weighed with baubles and glittering with fairy lights. In mid-October. I think that has to be a record. I should probably mention that I spotted the symbol of the festive season not through the window of any regular home but in a bustling shopping centre, and admittedly that does change things somewhat; I’m fairly certain such centres of commerce would have these not-so-subtle reminders of Christmastime gracing us all year around if they could, to get the pounds rolling in. It did get me thinking however; as much as I do love Christmas, I do consider it a tad early to be getting into the festive spirit. Having the holiday shoved directly into your consciousness before the trees are bare and before it even properly gets underway takes it to the extreme somewhat. And there are a couple of other ‘holidays’ we need to get through before the C word can be uttered confidently; there’s the waving of sparklers, flying of rockets and spinning of Catherine-wheels of Bonfire Night and the spooking, scaring – and scrounging for sweets and treats – of Hallowe’en, which is just around the corner.
Though I have to say, I’m not quite sure when Hallowe’en became such a big event, akin almost (but not quite) to Christmas in terms of the sheer variety of decorative trimmings and general hoopla that is made about it. In years gone by, the most you could hope for was a few plastic masks that were scary only for how preposterous they looked, a cut up bed sheet and a smearing of tomato ketchup or any other easily procurable red liquid. Now you’re spoilt for choice, not just for costumes and themed apparel, but all array of glowing ghosts, life-size lycanthropes and statues of zombie brides or mummified corpses to grace your living room. Not that I’m the biggest fan of Hallowe’en – as a child, I went trick or treating the grand total of once and wasn’t in the slightest spooked by cupboard or under-the-bed monsters; in fact I am all in all more afraid of rather mundane occurrences in real life – it strikes me that now everything about the event is less ghoulish, more garish. After all, it’s pretty hard to be seriously freaked out by a fluorescent coloured witch. And that’s not even mentioning the not at all scary but extremely silly films that are termed ‘horror’ these days.
For those who are interested in getting a good scare, it’s always better to look towards literary fare for something that really will send a shiver down your spine. No need for excessive amounts of blood and gore, no OTT figures of fright running around. Just something subtle, psychological, something that won’t strike you immediately but will return to you in the dead of the night and make you stop still. Here’s something very much along those lines, an offering by Rudyard Kipling. So it’s not full of monsters, ghouls and other obviously terrifying creatures, but sometimes there just isn’t anything as scare-inducing as an old lost road through the woods…or is there even one to begin with?
The Way Through The Woods
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)