Bradbury, Ray. The Halloween Tree. Illustrated by Joseph Mugnaini. New York: Yearling Book, 1972.
Happy Halloween (a bit belated)! Here is a book that celebrates all the traditions of this season. Here is an education of the history of Halloween so carefully woven into a story of nine boys, you miss the education. The book opens with these words:
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and deaf flower now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of …. Boys.
I love this ordinary setting in our United States for a launching pad for the adventures of eight boys and their special friend, Pipkin. They are costumed for Halloween as a skeleton, witch, ape man, gargoyle, beggar, mummy, ghost, and death. They leave their houses. They run and shriek and laugh and jump and frolic. It’s Halloween! They stop to take count. Something is wrong. There are eight where there should be nine. Where is Pipkin? He would never miss Halloween! Why is this boy so special? Here’s what Bradbury tells us about Pipkin.
Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived. The grandest boy who ever fell out of a tree and laughed at the joke. The finest boy who ever raced around the track, winning, and then, seeing his friends a mile back somewhere, stumbled and fell, waited for them to catch up and joined, breast and breast, breaking the winner’s tape.
These and many more accolades are heaped upon Pipkin. How could these boys have Halloween without him? What is wrong? They scramble over to his house. Pipkin steps out. He looks bad. Will he trick or treat with them? He asks them to head to the place of Haunts and he will meet them there. They go to the only house worth visiting on Halloween. They round the side of the house and there it is, a tree, a hundred feet tall and hung with pumpkins of every shape and variety, the Halloween Tree! Each pumpkin was carved with an elaborate face. As the boys watched, all the pumpkins light up! Each frightening, carved face is aglow. From this splendor comes Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a ghoulish person, who offers them a trick.
These boys are wary of Moundshroud. They aren’t sure they like his trick. They are waiting for Pipkin. They spy him at a distance, when something dark whisks him away. These brave boys, must rescue their friend. The boys enlist the aid of the skeletal Moundshroud. He promises to help them find and rescue Pipkin. Away the boys are whisked to the past, chasing Pipkin through the centuries. Each time and place they visit teaches them something about the traditions of Halloween. Each festival from ones in Ancient Egypt to Día de los Muertos in Mexico is an exciting adventure. They see the Feast of Samhain, The Time of the Old Ones, All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, The Day of the Dead, El Día De Muerte, All Hallows! All are some variation of Halloween. As Moundshround says: “Night and day. Summer and winter, boys. Seedtime and harvest. Life and death. That’s what Halloween is, all rolled up in one.”
Finally, in Mexico in the celebration of the Day of the Dead, they find Pipkin. He may or may not be dead. Can they rescue him? What is the price? It is a year from each young life. Will each brave boy give up a year of his life to save their dear friend? Would you?
Ray Bradbury’s story is rich with symbolism and imagery. It is difficult to give you a sense of this story. I chose this book because it is my daughter, Alexis’ favorite. I can see why. It is creepy, exciting, and lyric all at the same time. Ray Bradbury’s prose is evocative and wonderful.
This story set in an ordinary Midwest city, and that makes me remember. I was raised in an ordinary Midwest city. On Halloween, it was cool and crisp. The trees had lost their leaves. We lived in a housing subdivision, referred to by my folks, as the “Heslop Hatchery” for its sheer number of young children living in the neighborhood. We leapt and gamboled and wandered carefree through the neighborhood my sister and me. We met our friends and trick or treated throughout the entire neighborhood. Our bags must have been so heavy!
This story makes me remember Halloween past in various places not only the ones in my Midwest city. We lived in Greece for a time on a job site out in the country side. I remember the terrific parties devised by the moms to keep us entertained.
I remember my Mom and Dad, who have both passed away. They enjoyed this holiday, too. I wish I had a story of their youth to share with you. I do remember a couple of Halloween parties, they had. It was fun to see grown-ups dress up. I have some old film of one of these parties and it looks like they were having a terrific time.
I remember celebrating Halloween with our girls. We had one girl, who always dressed as something gruesome and one who always dressed as something pretty. I remember a Halloween, we had the Grim Reaper and a Princess and one with Pocahontas and Peter Pan.
I was discussing this story with my husband. He too, remembers Halloweens past. He shared some of his remembrances with me. Here they are for you.
Well, here I am at 60, thinking about Halloween. This was one of my favorite times when growing up. While the candy was great, designing costumes was even better. In 3rd grade, out teacher taught us how to make papier- mâché masks for art. The masks were finished before Halloween. This mask, though simple, was very cool. I got to use my imagination to make my own Halloween mask! It was mine and totally unique. No one else would be wearing my same mask!
The papier- mâché mask led to other more elaborate costumes. It turns out that boxes, hose and paint can make cool costumes. I was always a fan of Jules Verne stories and it occurred to me that I could be Captain Nemo. I don’t remember all the details (too long ago) but I do remember using these boxes and hose to make a diving helmet, air tank and hose that joined them. The following year I went all fantasy and created a dragon outfit. Again, boxes were used to create the head and mouth of the dragon. Cardboard and strap was used to create the wings. One house I went to that year loved the originality and DIY nature of the outfit and doubled my candy!
The last year I trick or treated I recalled the papier-mâché mask of long ago. I decided to make something totally different. The mask was in two parts, a round nose portion and a large mask to cover the head. To this I added some simple electronics to my late 1960’s costume. I fitted a colored light on the top of the head portion of the mask and one on the nose. These were wired to a battery and switch that went through my jacket sleeve and into my hand. As I walked down the street I blinked the nose and head lights. It was gratifying when, the next day, I heard someone in school talking about a costume they had seen in my neighborhood with blinking lights!
These are our thoughts and the great Ray Bradbury’s thoughts and reflections. Pick up a copy of The Halloween Tree and savor it. Do you give Halloween gifts? This would be a great one! Read and remember.