Where Children’s Skulls Which Bear Your Name Hang Like Leaves and Are Eaten Like Candy: Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and The Most Sacred of Holidays.

Posted: 19 June, 2011 in Bookish, Reviews
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Shuffle says: “The Hog of the Forsaken” Michael Hurly

Where Children’s Skulls Which Bear Your Name Hang Like Leaves and Are Eaten Like Candy: Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and The Most Sacred of Holidays.

Just taken off the desk is The Halloween Tree. This has got to be one of the best pieces of children’s literature I have read in a long time. The story follows eight young boys on the most thrilling Halloween of their lives. I didn’t even know this book existed until Halloween of last year.

As always the holiday made me a little nostalgic – last year especially, as I was at a pretty low place in my life – which caused me to go searching for an old kids movie which in the past always made me fall a little more in love with this festival of death. I was all the more surprised when a IMDB search yielded some interesting facts. The script was written by Ray Bradbury of all people which he based on his own children’s novella. What’s more is that the voice of the narrator is also Bradbury.

At the time I knew old ray like anyone else, from reading Fahrenheit 451 in school (I had forgotten that I had read a comic book adaptation of The Martian Chronicles). Anyhoo, I picked up a copy on my next run by Hall-Price and finally got around to reading it last week. This book has some of the finest prose I’ve ever seen and Makes me wish Bradbury had written more stuff for children. The dialogue does feel a little stilted, a whole lot of “golly gee”s and “heck”s, like a child in a 1940’s comic strip. Thankfully the kids don’t talk much. Bradbury’s one “adult” figure Mr. Moonshroud does the most speaking as he’s taking them on a 4000 year tour of the history of Halloween.

The few factual errs (Halloween as we know it is essentially a modern version of the Irish Pagan holiday which was “celebrating” the dark god Samhain [pronounced Sow{as in a lady pig} – Ann {as in the queen} where it hasn’t changed all that much) can be overlooked as what Bradbury is doing is giving the reader an understanding of man’s eternal relationship with Death. It all the ways mankind understands it, he addresses Death as a concept, as a journey, as part of life, as ritual, as a god, and personified. Through this journey Bradbury is working with something even more important, teaching his audience (presumably children) how to confront the idea of their own mortality. It most children’s books this sort of thing gets overlooked or sugar-coated, but Bradbury meets the problem directly without being at all depressing. In fact it’s kind of thrilling. The children become enraptured with the idea of celebrating death, which in turn is a celebration of life.

The eight boys are chasing their friend Pipkin (hmm…pip/pumpkin?) who we are told is the best boy in the history of children and who most loved Halloween (more than ten boys could love Christmas, it is said), across time and the world. Along with their guide Moonshroud, they travel to, among other places, the world of the dead where they are asked to make the ultimate choice for their friend; one not to be made lightly or without full understanding of the consequences.

All in all a riveting read.

  1. Katie says:

    Have you read Something Wicked this Way Comes? There is this incredibly vivid scene involving a lightning rod.

  2. I have not. Sounds terrific though.

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