I have the program for the Woman’s Literary Club of Corydon today. Our annual theme this year is Myths, so I picked this:

Ray Bradbury was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. His family moved back and forth between Tucson, Arizona and Waukegan between 1926 and 1933 and finally to Los Angeles when he was fourteen. His small-town midwest boyhood influenced his writing at least as strongly as did his years in Arizona and California.

According to Ray Bradbury Online, “Ray Bradbury’s work has been included in the Best American Short Story collections (1946, 1948, and 1952). He has been awarded the O. Henry Memorial Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award in 1954, the Aviation-Space Writer’s Association Award for best space article in an American Magazine in 1967, the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, and the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. His animated film about the history of flight, Icarus Montgolfier Wright, was nominated for an academy award, and his teleplay of The Halloween Tree won an Emmy.

Ray Bradbury’s writing has been honored in many ways, but perhaps the most unusual was when an Apollo astronaut named the Dandelion Crater on the Moon after Bradbury’s novel, Dandelion Wine.”

He also adapted sixty-five of his stories for the television series Ray Bradbury Theater.

Outside of his literary achievements, Ray Bradbury was the idea consultant and wrote the basic scenario for the United States Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He conceived the metaphors for Spaceship Earth, EPCOT, Disney World, and he contributed to the conception of the Orbitron space ride at Euro-Disney, France. He was creative consultant for the Jon Jerde Partnership, the architectural firm that blueprinted the Glendale Galleria, The Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles, and Horton Plaza in San Diego.”

He is still alive and still writing.

The Halloween Tree was published as a novel in 1972. It’s a celebration of several of Bradbury’s literary themes: the intertwining of strength and weakness, fear and joy, life and death; the difference between genuine virtue and social correctness; the power of loyalty and self-sacrifice; and the magical quality of boyhood. It’s also an exploration of some of the myths and practices that gave us some of our modern Halloween traditions.

First, Bradbury sets the scene: Eight boys meet to go trick-or-treating. Tom Skelton, the viewpoint character, is dressed, of course, as a skeleton. There are a mummy, a gargoyle, a witch, an apeman, a beggar, a ghost and Death. They don’t know who is who, but they know who’s missing. It’s Pipkin, the boy who is leader of the group because he represents pure Boyhood. They go to Pipkin’s house and find him weak and sick. He tells them to go on and he’ll meet them at the haunted house in the ravine. Next to the haunted house is a huge tree hung all over with 1000 lit jack-o-lanterns. The resident of the house–on this night, at least, is Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a tall, thin, magician of a man who represents the wonderfully frightening holiday.

What isn’t wonderful is the sight of Pipkin, coming to join them, swept away by a dark Something as he runs into the ravine. Moundshroud takes the boys on a journey through the history of Halloween, following Pipkin’s spirit through time while his body lies in a hospital bed back in town.

First, they go to Egypt, where they learn that the Ancient Egyptians had a story of the god Osiris, murdered and reborn. They see Egyptian families putting out food for wandering ghosts.

Next, they see cavemen huddled around a fire. Moundshroud tells them that fire gave Man the security and time to think about who he was, where he came from, and where he went when he wasn’t HERE any more.

Moundshroud and the boys are transported to Celtic Britain, where November 1 was New Year’s Day. The end of October was a time of harvest, when people with scythes cut down wheat and animals were slaughtered for winter meat. The night before the birth of the new year was the death of the old year. So death carried a scythe and October 31 was associated with fear and food.

Moundshroud shows them witch-hunts, with frightened people killing the people they’re afraid of, and November 1 now called All Hallows (all saints) Day and the night before it now called All Hallows Evening–Hallowe’en. He shows them the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, with the same frightened people decorating their church with statues of the things they’re afraid of (in the form of gargoyles). He shows them beggars going door-to-door begging for food.

They go to Mexico, where The Day of the Dead is a family festival with picnics in graveyards so deceased family members can come, too. Flowers, candy skulls, candles, fireworks and toy skeletons are all part of the fun. The dead aren’t feared, they’re remembered and celebrated.

The boys have had enough. They’re ready for the night to end. They want to find Pipkin and go home. Moundshroud takes them to an abandoned graveyard and opens the catacombs. He says Pipkin is down there, and there are things with him. This isn’t fun any more, but Tom leads the way and the boys go down again, not into the ravine, but into the ground. Home doesn’t seem so boring, now. In the catacombs are the bodies of people whose families couldn’t pay the rent on their graves, who were dug up and put into the catacombs to dry into mummies. Pipkin is trapped there.

Moundshroud offers the boys a deal. If each of them will give up one year of life, die one year sooner than he would have, Pipkin will live. They accept, and follow Pipkin’s spirit home.

Death, fear, rebirth, nourishment and celebration–all part of the bundle of tradition and myth that make up Halloween.


writing prompt: How do your characters celebrate Halloween, or do they? Whether they do or not, IF THEY DID, what costume would they choose and why?