autumn, book recs, read around the rainbow

Read Around the Rainbow: Favorite Halloween Reads

For this month, the Read Around the Rainbo bloggers are sharing our favorite Halloween or spooky reads! I realized, going to type this post, that I don’t know that I’ve got a ton of specifically Halloween favorite reads! But I do have one, which I reread (almost) every year.

I could throw in a few others as Honorable Mentions – Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, or Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween, which I teach. Or two novels by Barbara Hambly: Renfield, her retelling of Dracula from Renfield’s POV, and Those who Hunt the Night, her glorious Edwardian vampire mystery novel (with a philologist hero!), which is actually one of my favorite books: erudite, clever, steeped in history and language, and oh, the characters, complex and compelling…

But, really, the book I come back to and reread, when the skies get witch-grey and pumpkin-orange at sunset, when the world’s all apple cider and black velvet and whispering bare branches and crinkled candy-wrappers and jack-o-lantern glow…is simply Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

It’s just beautiful, beautiful writing – the tangible, textural language, the scent and taste and feel of the imagery, all throughout. Here’s Bradbury doing something as simple as scene-setting – description of the night – and yet it’s almost physically real:

The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.

Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.

Or this absolutely amazing sentence: The scythe fell and lay in the grass like a lost smile.

But, even more than that, it’s a story with a kind heart. Because the boys who are the main characters aren’t just having a Halloween adventure – they’re literally also saving their friend from death, and it costs them a piece of their own lives – and it’s a price they all pay readily. (Think about that again, for a moment. There’s only a second of hesitation – but there’s no angst about it, there’s no agonizing debate, no Impassioned Main Character Speeches, nothing you’d get in, say, a present-day tv show. They all just say yes, without question, we’ll give up years of our own lives to give them to our friend tonight, because of course we will. And that’s a kind of heroism that’s, again, beautiful.)

Here, have another moment:

“So,” said Moundshroud. “If we fly fast, maybe we can catch Pipkin. Grab his sweet Halloween corn-candy soul. Bring him back, pop him in bed, toast him warm, save his breath. What say, lads? Search and seek for lost Pipkin, and solve Halloween, all in one fell dark blow?”

They thought of All Hallows’ Night and the billion ghosts wandering the lonely lanes in cold winds and strange smokes.

They thought of Pipkin, no more than a thimbleful of boy and sheer summer delight, torn out like a tooth and carried off on a black tide of web and horn and black soot.

And, almost as one, they murmured: “Yes.”

It is, of course, a little bit a product of its time – 1972 – and there are comments to be made about the lack of girl characters (the 1993 television animated movie adaptation, with Leonard Nimoy (!), fixes this to *some* extent), and also about…let’s say the oversimplification of history, as the characters travel through time and space to learn about the history of Halloween while searching for their friend. (They travel, in the words of the Wiki summary, “through Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Roman cultures, Celtic Druidism, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Medieval Paris, and The Day of the Dead in Mexico.”) It’s a short book and a YA book from ’72, so, let that shape expectations accordingly – but on the whole, also, given those caveats, Bradbury actually does a very good job presenting other cultures in detail, with curiosity and sympathy and a sense of exploration, really genuinely wanting to celebrate the “Halloweens” of different cultures. The movie is also delightful – the script won an Emmy, in fact!

And I’ll leave you with this line, as the novel leaves Tom at the end of the night:

[Tom thought}: Mr. Moundshroud, who are YOU?

And Mr. Moundshroud, way up there on the roof, sent his thoughts back: I think you know, boy, I think you know.

Will we meet again, Mr. Moundshroud?

Many years from now, yes, I’ll come for you.

And a last thought from Tom: O Mr. Moundshroud, will we EVER stop being afraid of nights and death?

And the thought returned: When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.

Here’re my fellow RAtR author posts this month – come find out about everyone’s Halloween reads!

Ellie Thomas

A.L. Lester

Amy Spector

Nell Iris

Holly Day


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