Sifting through a body of work like Bradbury's is a long but rewarding experience. The man is responsible for a great number of timeless short stories and novels, and any properly organized list of recommendations would involve dozens of titles. But were I to whittle this list down, it might end up at one collection...
Though it was released in 2001, much of the content in From the Dust Returned dates back decades, as far as the 40s. Bradbury wrote many short stories about vampires and other supernatural beings that appealed to a younger core of readers in that period. This book takes a number of such stories and assembles them into a 'fix-up', or a novel that puts together previously unrelated content into a streamlined continuity. This is not the first of Bradbury's collections to do so (see Dandelion Wine, or Green Shadows White Whale).
From the Dust Returned includes a prologue and over twenty tales of the Elliott family, and if they seem a little different, it's because they're vampires, mummies and other supernatural beings. Some of the tales are short stories, some very brief. Some of the characters were co-conceived with Charles Addams, who would later use them as inspiration for his famous Addams Family. The Elliotts have been around for over four millenia, so you can imagine that the 'family get together' takes on an entirely different light, as their concept of history is far removed from our own, more finite existence. Each of these stories is beautiful, but I'll warn you...they're not the kind of vampires or creatures you may be accustomed to. They're a family, with a great love for one another, but they all face doom at the hands of the modernized world, a world of skeptics which no longer finds the time to believe in them. They also face the fear of the local townsfolk.
The stories are woven throughout the Great Event, a homecoming in which the far flung members of the Elliott family converge on the October Country (Illinois). A few examples are "The Traveler", which concerns John the Unjust, the family's 'black sheep', a violent vampire who has cast a great shadow upon them in the eyes of mortals. "The Wandering Witch" involves a 'positive' use of possession. "Make Haste to Live", one of the newer tales, is like an abbreviated version of Benjamin Button, only better.
Through the stories, and the meetup, we are introduced to unforgettable beings like A Thousand Times Great Grandmère, who has existed since the days of Ancient Egypt; Cecy, the eternal sleeper, who visits others through their thoughts, and can possess them; Anuba the cat; Uncle Einar, a winged bat-vampire, and even a pet spider, Arach. Though many of the tales are reprints from earlier stories, the nature of this collection makes it all the better to just read straight through. The prose is often delightful, but plain enough that older children and adults alike can approach it.
From the Dust Returned is only 'horror' in that it encompasses classic elements like ghost stories, and the invovlement of supernatural beings which are often the antagonists of horror films, games, and literature. It lovingly evokes the vibes of autumn and Halloween, coincidentally the best time to 'dust it off' and read it. There are a few 'innocent' sexual moments in the story, so it may not be suited for younger children. It's a wonderful book that you can share with your loved ones, and wonder at the strange congruity between the relationships of both mortal and immortal.
The collection also has a really swank title, possibly the best of any book ever, wouldn't you agree?
Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] ("Now", came the whisper across four thousand years, "here's how it was...")