Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (1971): Candy Apples and Razor Blades...

There are few other people who can write with authority about Halloween, its origins, and its hold on our imaginations than the iconic and legendary Ray Bradbury. Long a chronicler of the childhood sense of wonder and fear, myth and mystery, Bradbury's boundless delight in all things fantastical, innocent, macabre, magical, and ancient is virtually unmatched in American literature. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) is one of the greatest of seasonal celebrations, a perfect amalgamation of a Midwestern reverie and creeping dark fantasy; see also his 1955 short-story collection The October Country.

However, the book I come to praise on this day of days is his 1972 young adult work The Halloween Tree. With his trademark flights of poetic language and dream-like imagery, Bradbury attempts to synthesize the irreplaceable childhood experience of Halloween once and for all. He revels in the sights and sounds and smells of the season, the excitement of ragtag costumes and candy corn, the chill of delicious fear when gazing upon a house such as this:

Illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini

Eight boys join the magnificent Mr. Carapace Clavicle Moundshround, inhabitant of above house, on a search for their missing friend Pipkin - "the greatest boy who ever lived" - but this search encompasses all of Halloween's primordial history. From cavemen cowering in the dark to the building of the Great Pyramids, through the Celtic festival of Samhain to constructing the gargoyles of Notre Dame, Mexico's Day of the Dead, and more, Bradbury's boys sweep through it all on a wondrous carnival kite shaped something like a pterodactyl. It's a crash course in a secret history often misrepresented in popular culture. Last year I read a comment by a befuddled anti-Halloweener: "Isn't Halloween Satan's birthday?"

The Halloween Tree is an essential read for Bradbury fans, Halloween fans, and lovers of horror fiction. Stellar black-and-white illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini capture the enchanting creepiness of the story itself. I imagine it'd make a good week of bedtime reading for those with kids - or, hell, even for those without - a sweet, ghostly treat redolent of bonfires and pumpkin pie, mummy dust and autumn leaves, a love letter to that perfect Halloween we all of us desire to recapture.

"So," said Moundshroud. "If we fly fast, maybe we can catch Pipkin. Grab his sweet Halloween corn-candy soul. Bring him back, pop him in bed, toast him warm, save his breath. What say, lads? Search and seek for lost Pipkin, and solve Halloween, all in one fell dark blow?"

They thought of All Hallows' Night and the billion ghosts awandering the lonely lanes in cold winds and strange smokes.

They thought of Pipkin, no more than a thimbleful of boy and sheer summer delight, torn out like a tooth and carried off on a black tide of web and horn and black soot.

And, almost as one, they murmured: "Yes."


lazlo azavaar said...

Happy Halloween, Will. Keep on keeping on.

Amanda H. said...

I read it first a long time ago before I had heard of Ray Bradbury. I think I was in middle school or early high school and was completely mesmerized and spooked out. Then I read "Farhenheit 451" and looked it up and realized he also wrote "Halloween Tree" and was like "O_O SERIOUSLY?!"
It's one of my favorite books :)

'77 - '80 Collector said...

Sounds fantastic. Must check it out.

Peter said...

Dude, your blog rocks!
Another great entry.

Julia Arsenault said...

I love that book!