Monday, September 19, 2011

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Once again Bradbury writes a story that is poetry disguised as prose. He beautifully evokes the sights and sounds and smells of childhood. In this case, it is the childhood of an autumn night, Halloween to be exact.

"The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.

Tom Skelton shivered. 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 cries behind the locked house doors grew more exasperated as shadows of boys flew by windows. Half-dressed boys, greasepaint on their cheeks; here a hunchback, there a medium-size giant. Attics were still being rummaged, old locks broken, old steamer chests disemboweled for costumes."

This is a tale that one might have heard told around a crackling campfire on an October night. The kind that makes you jump at the sound of a twig snapping and makes you look repeatedly over your shoulder into the darkness that writhes with shadows cast by the firelight.

Eight boys in costume, turned loose on their small town on Halloween night. A haunted house. A giant tree full of Jack-o lanterns that light up and grin out at the night. A mysterious man named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud to tell them the "wild long history of Halloween."

"... the front door gave a shake, a twist of its knob, a grimace of its Marley knocker, and flung itself wide.

The wind made by the suddenly opening door almost knocked the boys off the porch. They seized one another's elbows, yelling.

Then the darkness within the house inhaled. A wind sucked through the gaping door. It pulled at the boys, dragging them across the porch. They had to lean back so as not to be snatched into the deep dark hall. They struggled, shouted, clutched the porch rails. But then the wind ceased.

Darkness moved within darkness.

Inside the house, a long way off, someone was walking toward the door. Whoever it was must have been dressed all in black for they could see nothing but a pale white face drifting on the air.

An evil smile came and hung in the doorway before them.

Behind the smile, the tall man hid in shadow. They could see his eyes now, small pinpoints of green fire, in little charred pits of sockets, looking out at them."

The illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini that appear throughout The Halloween Tree are shiveringly appropriate for the story told by Bradbury. The artist captures that slightly skewed angle that changes the normal into the creepy and the daytime into night. These are images that you might see in your dreams, or, if you look closely ... on All Hallows' Eve.

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the R.I.P. reading challenge again this year. The Halloween Tree would be an excellent read for those readers wishing to imbibe peril! Below are some links for R.I.P.

About the R.I.P. reading challenge
The R.I.P. VI Review Site


  1. I really enjoyed this book. Have you seen the cartoon movie based on it? It used to air on TV around Halloween.

  2. Kailana: No! I didn't know there was a cartoon movie based on this. I'll have to look it up. Thanks for letting me know :)

  3. This sounds wonderful. I have read quite a few of Bradbury's books but hadn't heard of this one.
    It sounds haunting and atmospherical.

  4. Caroline: Halloween Tree is considered a kids book (maybe that is why you haven't heard of it?) published by Yearling and is marked as a 4.7 reading level. I don't know how many kids would actually like reading it though. They would probably like the story but not the style! Yes, it definitely has atmosphere -- which I love!

  5. This is one of my all time favorite Halloween books :D I love it so so much!!

  6. I don't know a person who hasn't read the book. It's too good to be ignored. Nice review :)

  7. Somehow, in all of my Bradury reading, I missed this one. Thanks for the review!

  8. Reading your review reminded me of how much I enjoy Bradbury's writing - and it's been way too long since I read him!

  9. Wonderful review, and it is high time I read this. I actually thought I had but as I read your review I realize that this is not the case. Either that or I've just forgotten most of it. I am going to try to track this down before R.I.P. comes to an end.

  10. Chris: This is now one of my favorites too! I just picked up a new collection of Bradbury called Summer Morning, Summer Night. Have you heard of it?

    theliteraryshack: I don't know how I've missed it for so long! I'm glad to be able to say I've read it now.

    Gavin: Somehow this one was off my radar too and like you I'm a Bradbury fan. I just don't hear too much about it. Perhaps because it is categorized as a young readers' book?

    Nymeth: Now that your dissertation is complete, maybe you can read some Bradbury!

  11. Carl V.: Thanks Carl! It's a short one, so it wouldn't be too difficult to add it to the reading list before end of RIP. Might be fun to read it closer to Halloween.

  12. I used to love watching the film version of this when I was younger. I was a bit of a strange child, because I always wanted to know more about halloween, like its history and what it all meant. I must buy the book sometime and read it. The ending of the film was very touching, so I hope that is in the book.