"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." -- The Halloween Tree, p. 4
Why do we dress up on Halloween? How did the tradition of trick-or-treating begin? Why are witches, skeletons and ghosts associated with Halloween? The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury takes the reader on an incredible journey through the history of Halloween.
It's Halloween night, and for 13-year-old Tom Skelton and his friends, it's the most exciting evening of the year. But when they meet up to go trick-or-treating together, they realize that one of their friends is missing - Joe Pipkin, "the greatest boy who ever lived." When they arrive at Pipkin's house, Pip emerges, his face deathly pale. He says that he's not feeling well but he'll catch up with his friends at a house at the edge of town.
The boys arrive at the house to find an incredible sight: a giant tree filled with jack-o-lanterns, the Halloween Tree. There they meet the mysterious Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, the sinister yet genial owner of the home. When he questions the boys about the significance of their costumes, the boys, dressed as a Skeleton, Mummy, Witch, Ghost, Gargoyle, etc. all realize that they don't know the stories behind their Halloween costumes. Mr. Moundshroud offers to help them discover the history of All Hallows' Eve, but the boys know they have to wait for Pip. When Pip appears, his friends call to him, but as Pip approaches, he stumbles and vanishes into the darkness. Mr. Moundshroud then takes the boys on an amazing journey through time and space, not only to learn the history of Halloween, but also to save their dear friend, Pipkin.
Mr. Moundshroud takes them to ancient Egypt, England during the time of the Druids, Notre Dame in the Middle Ages, and finally to the cemeteries of Mexico for the Day of the Dead. At each magical stop, they learn something new about how the traditions of Halloween were shaped by different cultures across the centuries, culminating in the holiday we know today.
Bradbury spins an imaginative and haunting tale of friendship and discovery in this remarkable book. While The Halloween Tree was first published in 1972, my first exposure to the story came from the excellent Cartoon Network television special that aired in the 1990's. If the special is ever made available on DVD, I'll be first in line to purchase it. Until then, the book will be a treasured yearly tradition for me.