Title: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, illustrated by Gris Grimly
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
The Halloween Tree is one of the most genuinely delightful books I have read in a long time. I’ve been a fan of Bradbury for some time, and he’s well known for his prolific contributions to American literature as well as his innovative writing style. The Halloween tree offers up the best of Bradbury, from his gleeful menage of metaphors and onamonapia to his strong thematic sense, in a slim little book suitable for readers age “11 and up”.
On Halloween night in the American heartland, eight young boys gather for a evening of costumed carousing. Their revels lead them to the creaky gothic manor of the eccentric and ancient Mr. Moundshroud, who reveals to them the enormous Halloween tree, bedecked with thousands of flame-mouthed jack-o-lanterns. When something dark arises out of the shadows to snag the most beloved of the gang, Pipkin, Moundshroud leads the boys on a merry journey through Halloweens past in the hopes of finding Pipkin and rescuing him.
The book thrusts its reader into ancient Egypt, the old Britain of the Druids, Notre Dame herself, and the glowing graveyards of Mexico at breakneck speed. The narrative is immersive, and full of the spiced scents and sweet tastes of a hundred Halloweens. As far as the spooky factor goes, the book is more of an eerie adventure than anything resembling horror, so even the most scare-adverse readers can settle in to enjoy it. The illustrations by Gris Grimly (cover art featured above) set the perfect mood and embody the freedom of movement in the writing style. I would have enjoyed a little girl or two getting in on the adventure, and indeed this book contains not a single female character, but since The Halloween Tree was published in 1972, I’m willing to to chalk that up to a product of it’s time.
Though the story is simple and the page-count a modest 145, the book explores the history of Halloween, the indissoluble bonds of childhood friendship, and the way humans both ancient and modern have dealt with the passing of light into darkness, and life into death. You’ve heard of the true meaning of Christmas; it wouldn’t be unfair to say The Halloween Tree serves up the true meaning of Halloween in all is dark, gleeful glory.