Tuesday, 24 October 2006

A TREAT FOR TRICKSTERS

There’s still a week to go to Halloween, but grimacing skeletons and gap-toothed pumpkin-heads are already everywhere…

In only a few years, Halloween in this country has gone from being a totally American and utterly un-British (and therefore inexplicable) holiday to being up there in the UK marketing and merchandising league with Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day.

There was a time when the only glimpse those of us on this side of the Atlantic ever got of the trick-or-treat world of Halloween was in Charles Schulz’ annual Peanuts strips in which Linus vainly waited in the pumpkin patch for the arrival of his own mythical invention, the Great Pumpkin!


Though our stores are full of Halloween paraphernalia, there is precious little cultural knowledge in Britain about the Catholic feasts of All Hallows (or All Saints) and All Souls celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November or of the European traditions, superstitions and amusements that preceded them on the 31st October known as All Hallows’ Eve or Hallowe'en…

Those who would like to understand more about the origins and multi-faceted accretions that comprise the dark festival of the turning year can, obviously, look them up in on-line or on-shelf encyclopaedias...

But, if you'll take my advice, you'll, instead, hitch a ride with the mysterious Mr Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud in The Halloween Tree, an autumnal conjuring trick by literary magician Ray Bradbury with haunting tombstone black-and-white illustrations by Joe Mugnaini.

The cadaverous Moundshroud leads a group of youngsters on a frantic time-travelling jaunt through the “deep dark long wild history of Halloween,” beginning within the shadow of the Halloween Tree…
The pumpkins on the Tree were not mere pumpkins. Each had a face sliced in it. Each face was different. Every eye was a stranger eye. Every nose was a weirder nose. Every mouth smiled hideously in some new way.

There must have been a thousand pumpkins on this tree, hung high and on every branch. A thousand smiles. A thousand grimaces. And twice-times-a thousand glares and winks and blinks and leerings of fresh-cut eyes…


By wing and kite and broomstick they fly on the winds of lost centuries from the darkness of the cave before the discovery of fire, and the rituals of Druid England with its scythe-wielding October God of the Dead, to the gargoyle-encrusted towers of Notre Dame; from the bone-and-mummy-dust tombs of Ancient Egypt through the Grecian Isles to the City of Rome and away to South America and the candles and sugar skeletons of El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead...

It is a journey that memorably explains how light and darkness, faith and fear have shaped a festival more wildly celebrated, perhaps, than understood…

So, maybe when the little terrors come around knocking our knockers today week, we should slip a copy of Mr Bradbury's classic into their Trick or Treat bags - then they might know why they were doing what they were doing and, if nothing else, at least it wouldn't rot their teeth!

For more information about Ray Bradbury and his books, read my blogs on Ex Libris; my profile of him on Gateway Monthly; and many pages of information on the excellent Bradbury Media.



[Images: Peanuts © 1971 United Features Syndicate, Inc; illustrations to The Halloween Tree by Joe Mugnaini, © 1972 Alfred A Knopf, New York]

8 comments:

Scrooge said...

Since a mysterious benefactor donated a copy of 'The Hallowe'en Tree' on video, it has become an essential part of our families festivities every year.Pending an English DVD release, it has been transfered to disc to save wear and tear. Even the few words on your site make me think of Thorntons Hallowe'en shaped chocolates.I'm ready already....

Phil said...

Another delightful Bradbury page, and more of the wonderful Mugnaini. Thanks for the link to my site, as well. (Thinks...must put something on there for Halloween.)

I usually say "Bah humbug" more at Halloween than I do at Christmas, especially when trickle-treaters (that's what it sounds like when they say it!) come knocking every night except Halloween itself.

However, the other day I found myself carving a face on a pumpkin, so I must be softening.

I have a theory about the rise of Halloween in the UK: although its mainly due to globalisation, I suspect that it's linked to the decline of Nov 5 and do-it-yourself firework parties.

Brian Sibley said...

Maybe you should actually give those 'trickle-treaters' some HUMBUGS!! ;-)

Your thoughts on rise of Halloween and the demise of Guy Fawkes Night are interesting... Maybe the old November 5th celebrations that were such an important date in the calendar of MY youth were, anyway, just another excuse to satisfy the primitive urge within us all to build bonfires, burn an effigies and defy the dark deamons that lurk and loom in the long nights of winter...

polkadotsoph said...

Looking at these pics I suddenly see where Tim Burton got his inspiration for Nightmare Before Christmas...

Brian Sibley said...

Not sure whether Tim B would agree, but certainly Ray B planted his Halloween Trees LONG before Jack Skellington became King of Halloweentown!

Scrooge said...

I find I can no longer be factual about the book. Like A Christmas Carol, it is so tied up with the festival that it has become an integral part of it. I'm sort of aware of it being a well-written book and having an interesting history but ultimately, I just want to read it and get lost in the story and the season.

Suzanne said...

I am a Halloween scrooge, I hate it all... The women who lives across the street from me decorates her window weeks in advance of every imaginable "feast day". This year Halloween started for her before the 1st of October! Drives me quite mad!

Brian Sibley said...

Sorry to have added to your discomfort, Suzanne!

Bradbury's book (if you could ever bring yourself to read it) would, at least, probably put you in a position of knowing more about this particular "feast day" than your Hallowen-decorating neighbour!