Tuesday, 31 October 2017


In only a few years, Halloween in Britain 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!

Even though our stores are now annually 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 1st and 2nd November,  or of the European traditions, superstitions and amusements that preceded them on October 31, 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 look them up in on-line or on-shelf encyclopedias...

But, if you'll take my advice, you'll, instead, hitch a ride with the mysterious Mr Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud in The Halloween Tree.

First published in 1972, this is an autumnal conjuring trick by that literary magician, the late 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, via 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 now more widely celebrated than understood…

So, maybe when the little terrors come around knocking our knockers tonight, 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!

Re-reading The Halloween Tree is an annual invitation to allow a bony finger to stir and prod among the leaf-mould and mummy-dust of my memories...

I travel back in time thirty-seven years...

It is 1980 and, after six years of corresponding with Ray Bradbury, we meet for the very first time when I interview him at the offices of his London publishers.

The book that I take with me on that occasion to ask him to inscribe is the first UK edition of The Halloween Tree...
Six years later, I am in Los Angeles and we meet for lunch in a restaurant on Rodeo Drive. Ray is there first and has has a Halloween treat awaiting me.

Under the napkin by my plate is a book...

It is an American edition of the The Halloween Tree with a new, macabre cover design It is inscribed with a golden Halloween Tree drawing by the author, studded with grinning pumpkin lantern stickers!

No wonder this book has always been special to me...

In 2006 came another gift from Ray Bradbury: an e-mail in which he recounted a short history of how the Halloween Tree came to be planted and how it grew and put forth its unique autumnal fruits...
The Halloween Tree came about because I had lunch with [legendary Bugs Bunny animator] Chuck Jones forty years ago; he had just become a new friend.

The night before, an animated [Peanuts] film - The Great Pumpkin - had been on TV. My children disliked it so much that they ran over and kicked the TV set, along with me, because the whole idea of the Great Pumpkin supposedly arriving and then not arriving was incorrect to me. It was like shooting Santa Claus on the way down the chimney!

Chuck Jones and I agreed that we didn't like The Great Pumpkin, though we did admire Charlie Schultz, the cartoonist, very much. Then Chuck said, "Why don't we do a really good film on Halloween?" I said, "I think we could. Let me go home and bring something."

So I went home and brought Chuck a large painting of a Halloween Tree that I had painted down in the basement with my daughters a few years before.

Chuck took one look at it and said, "My God, that's the genealogy of the holiday. Will you write a screenplay on this?" I said, "Yes, hire me!" So Chuck Jones and MGM hired me to write a TV script called The Halloween Tree.

Several months down the road, MGM decided to turn its back on animation, so they closed their unit and fired Chuck and me. I had nothing to do then so I took the script and wrote the novel of The Halloween Tree.

Later I wrote a second script for the final animated film, which was done by Hanna-Barbera a few years later, for which I received an Emmy Award for the script.
About three years ago I produced Something Wicked This Way Comes at a theater in Santa Monica and on Halloween night my biographer, Sam Weller, drove me to the play and then home again at around 10:30 at night and on the way, in four different yards we saw that people had placed pumpkins, real ones or papier mache, lit with candles in trees in their front yards.
Now, there are Halloween Trees beginning to appear all over the United States and I realized that with my story and that picture that I painted down in the basement with my daughters more than forty years ago, I've changed the history of Halloween in the entire country.
I've discussed this with the Disney people and suggested that they invite me to Disneyland on Halloween night and put up a tree full of papier mache pumpkins and have me there to turn on the whole thing. They would make themselves and me part of the future history of Halloween because no trees existed forty years ago – they began to appear only after my book and my film.
The Disney people haven't reacted so far because, I believe, the notice is very short. If we don't do it this year I'm hoping that Disney will invite me out next Halloween and initiate the birth of the Halloween Tree and the history of the holiday.
It's been an interesting experience for me and it thrills me to think that 100 years from now there will be Halloween trees all across our world...

Happily, from 2007 onward, Disney have honoured Ray and his Halloween Tree in Disneyland.

And here's what it looks like...

A few Halloweens ago, I acquired a new reminder of Ray and his Halloween Tree: a signed artist's print by Joe Mugnaini, bought in 2015 from the sale of Ray's estate.

I love the stunning design: the sweep of Moundshroud's great bat wings, the cadaverous features, the way in which he powers his way across the inky crosshatched night sky blistered with stars...

Devotees of the book may be surprised to notice that Moundshroud is flying from right to left, when in the published book, he flies in the opposite direction.

Alas, too late now to ask either Joe or Ray why the orientation of the picture was altered, although one answer might be that, in the book, having him fly towards the right-hand page-turning made more sense as it carried the reader towards the next part of the story...

Well, that, at any rate, is my theory!

Inevitably then, tonight, my thoughts will turn to my late, dear friend.

'Trick or Treat, Ray? ––– What do you say?'

You can read more about Ray Bradbury and his books in my profile of him The Bradbury Machine.

You will also find many pages of information about the author and his work on the excellent internet site, Bradbury Media.

And, if you haven't heard it already, here's a radio programme I made in 1998 featuring an interview with Ray...

Some parts of this post first appeared on blogs from a few years ago.

Monday, 2 October 2017


The poem below is by James Stephens (1880-1950), the Irish poet and author of The Crock of Gold, and comes from his 1912 volume of verse, The Hill of Vision.

I heard it for the first time yesterday, when it was sung to the tune of the Welsh folk-song, 'Tros y Garreg' (well, 'Irish' and 'Welsh', they're both Celtic!) at the Mass for The Feast of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and All Angels at St John the Divine, Kennington.

Twenty-four hours later, this profoundly mystical proposition is still rattling around in my mind...

The Fullness of Time
On a rusty iron throne
Past the furthest star of space
I saw Satan sit alone,
Old and haggard was his face;
For his work was done and he
Rested in eternity.

And to him from out the sun
Came his father and his friend
Saying, now the work is done
Enmity is at an end:
And he guided Satan to
Paradises that he knew.

Gabriel without a frown,
Uriel without a spear,
Raphael came singing down
Welcoming their ancient peer,
And they seated him beside
One who had been crucified.

[Illustration: Gustave Doré for John Milton's Paradise Lost, c. 1866]