When you read Ray Bradbury you know you’re in for a treat. Some tricks as well, but this legendary writer of dark fantasy never disappoints in the treat department. While he wrote a many science fiction novels, it is tales like The Halloween Tree that reminds me of my own Midwestern upbringing in the suburbs of Chicago (me in Hoffman Estates and Bradbury in Waukegan). Bradbury, like a few writers that would follow him(Stephen King and Neil Gaiman in particular), always seemed to obsess, remember, and love his days growing up. Here he found the magic and mystery of childhood, especially at a time when kids had more freedoms, and where TV and the internet were decades away; where adventures of the mind and adventures exploring the unknown mixed together in heady mix of fear and joy.
And much like 1962's Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Halloween Tree explores the relationship between boys and the harvest month of October. It seems, with this short novel, Bradbury tired to explain, with his trade-mark style of dream-like imagery, what Halloween meant to him. Here he evokes the smells, the sights, and the excitement that this season brought to many boys back in the late 1920s and early 30s –the time he grew up in. He also uses Halloween as a metaphor to explore how children view life and death, how they try to rationalize the sometimes scary fact that kids can face life and death situations when they are still fresh to the world. The Halloween Tree is also an allegorical novel that gives us a better understanding to the secret history to this highly misrepresented holiday.
“A group of eight boys set out to go trick-or-treating one Halloween night, only to discover that a ninth friend, Pipkin ("the greatest boy who ever lived"), has been whisked away on a journey that could determine whether he lives or dies. Through the help of a mysterious character named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, they pursue their friend across time and space through Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Greek, and Roman cultures, Celtic Druidism, Norte Dame Cathedral in medieval Paris, and The Day of the Dead in Mexico. Along the way, they learn the origins of the holiday that they celebrate, and the role that the fear of death, spooks, and the haunts has played in shaping civilization.”
As always, Bradbury’s uses his brilliant prose style to shape a novel using flights of poetic language to induce the reader into a wondrous world of the magic and the macabre; creating a world where the fantastical and the innocence of childhood come alive. By also giving us a look into the origins of Halloween, he shatters the idea that this holiday is really representative of something evil and satanic.
Interesting to note that Hanna-Barbera produced an animated version of this book back in 1993 (which won a 1994 Emmy for animation). It was written and narrated by Bradbury himself and starred Leeonard Nimoy as Moundshroud.