The latest in a series about influences from my childhood
Everyone knows Ray Bradbury as a science-fiction writer, but one of my favorite works from him (aside from his masterpiece, Something Wicked This Way Comes) is his young adult novel The Halloween Tree, which I read many years ago as a boy. It’s a darkly enchanting book that examines, in story form, the origins of Halloween.
It was made into an animated TV movie in 1993, and though I’ve seen clips from it, I’ll pass. Because though you can portray a Bradbury story on a screen, it’s nowhere near the same in beauty or power or terror: no one wrote prose as poetry the way Bradbury did. From The Halloween Tree:
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…
And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
And all the houses shut against a cool wind.
And the town was full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone.
Night came out from under each tree and spread.
There where hundreds of graves. There where hundreds of women. There were hundreds of daughters. There were hundreds of sons. And hundreds upon hundreds upon thousands of candles. The whole graveyard was one swarm of candleshine as if a population of fireflies had heard of a Grand Conglomeration and had flown here to settle in and flame upon the stones and light the brown faces and the dark eyes and the black hair.
“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.”
The edition of The Halloween Tree that I first read was the paperback pictured above, with the incredible illustrations by Bradbury’s longtime collaborator Joseph Mugnaini. My favorite artist for this type of work is Edward Gorey (more about him some other time), but Mugnaini gives him a run for his money with this book.
One more quote before we go, as the inimitable Mr. Moundshroud slips away into the dark:
Miraculously, smoke curled out of his own mouth, his nose, his ears, his eyes, as if his soul had extinguished within his lungs at the very moment the sweet pumpkin gave up its incensed ghost.