As a kid and young teen in the early 1970s, I counted among my favorite authors Ray Bradbury.
I loved Harlan Ellison and Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, mind you, but Bradbury had a poetry to his prose that appealed to the young romantic in me. Heinlein was a funky libertarian and Asimov a mind-reeling intellectual and Ellison – Ellison! – was a cranky, spit-in-your-face rebel.
But Bradbury wrote small-town fantasy like no one ever had, and as a small-town kid with a mind and a heart for fantasy, I loved him.
It had been a while, though, since I’d read “The Halloween Tree,” and I was afraid I’d have the same experience I’ve had in going back to other works that I loved when I was young. Let’s just say I still haven’t managed to struggle my way back through “A Wrinkle in Time.”
I knew I had to re-read “The Halloween Tree” this October, though. And I’m relieved to say I still enjoyed its oddball, old-fashioned homage to Halloween.
I will say, though, that the book is incredibly dated. Considering it was published in 1972 – the year that I participated in an anti-Nixon mini-protest outside a school-adjacent polling place on election day – I’m kind of amazed it wasn’t too hokey and cheesy for me even back in the day.
I can’t imagine my son, reading it now, putting up with the earnest “Pipkin is the greatest boy who ever lived” stuff.
For better or worse, kids are more sophisticated today than we were. The boisterous love among 13-year-olds for their buddies, the “oh gosh” dialogue, the thought of boys disappearing into the Halloween darkness with a mysterious man … well, let’s just say all but the most poetic and artistic kid today would roll his eyes and think about all those parental warnings of “stranger danger.”
Which is too bad, in a way. But I think we’re safer in a savvier world.
But in Bradbury’s world, in a small Illinois town, a pack of eight 13-year-old boys costumed as archetypes like skeletons and witches and mummies goes out to trick-or-treat on Halloween night, worried about the whereabouts of their friend, Pipkin, and whether he will join them for trick-or-treating.
Before long, they discover the house with the Halloween tree – a towering growth with hundreds or even thousands of carved and lit jack-o-lanterns hanging on its branches – and the occupant of the house, Mr. Moundshroud, who takes them on a time-traveling adventure to not only find Pipkin but the origin of Halloween. It’s a journey that takes them from ancient Egypt to Europe to home in time for the midnight (!) finish to trick-or-treating.
I remember loving “The Halloween Tree” when I was a kid and still have my original copy, in much better condition than the one at the top of this entry. It was not my favorite Bradbury, however, which might just be “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
If you’ve never read “The Halloween Tree,” you should, even if your tolerance for brave and poetic boys is low. Bradbury’s imagery is beautiful, and there’s another kind of great imagery, too: The drawings of artist Joe Mugnaini.
I used to love to draw, pencil or pen-and-ink drawings, and I can’t image the artistic talent and work that went into Mugnaini’s work. It’s simply beautiful.
And a great accompaniment to Bradbury’s story.