The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
Eight mid-western boys head out on a great Halloween adventure: to visit an old (and presumably haunted) house on the outskirts of town. Their big problem--they are supposed to be nine boys. Pipkin, the boy who found the house and is their favorite, is missing. Maybe he'll meet them at the house? The house is tall, gabled, brimmed with railings and lightning rods and chimneys. Around back is a gigantic tree with hundreds of candles and pumpkins decorating it. The boy meet the home's owner, Mr. Moundshroud, who wants to give them both a trick and a treat for Halloween. He takes them on a journey through time from the pre-historic dawn of man to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Each visit brings them close to Pipkin but not close enough. Each place brings out new ideas and images of how humans have celebrated Halloween throughout the years, even before there was a proper Halloween.
Bradbury's lively, poetic prose is as enchanting as ever. He evokes the boy-like wonder of exploring pyramids and climbing Gothic cathedrals. The adventure through time and over the earth is just as delightful as when I read this story in my pre-teens.
As an adult, I find an even deeper appreciation of it. The arc from pre-historic fear of the dark and ancient Egyptian fear of the sun's death to the modern celebrations of the Day of the Dead show a slow, gradual maturing of humanity's relationship to fear, death, and darkness. The Mexican feast is as much a celebration as a shiver. It has both the treat and the trick of Halloween blended together in the candy skulls that the boys eat. Bradbury gives a Eucharistic resonance to the boys' sacrifice at the end to save Pipkin. The moment is charming and I am sure I completely missed it as a child. Like Tolkien's The Hobbit, this is a book written for children that can be appreciated by adults.
Highly recommended for Halloween reading that blends into the Feast of All Saints (the reason for the autumnal season, as it were). As readers might guess, Julie and Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find have discussed this book this year for their Halloween celebratory episode. Thanks for inspiring a delightful re-read, you two!