THE HALLOWEEN TREE Remains An Absolutely Timeless Classic
Coco is releasing in the United States this week, after opening a month before in Mexico to become the highest grossing film of all time in that market. It's the story of a boy, Miguel Rivera, who lives in a fictional Mexican village and accidentally finds himself traveling into the land of the dead. The movie is a representation of Mexican folklore and the legends and history surrounding Dia de Muertos. It's Pixar continuing its trend of exploring worldwide cultural history and it's lovely to see.
However, this article is not about Coco, although this writer is incredibly excited to see the film. This article is about a story that deserves more praise than it's ever received, and that's Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree.
Bradbury is known for the dystopian Fahrenheit 451 and science fiction classic The Martian Chronicles as well as literally hundreds of other works of fiction. He was a man of many talents and his works of fiction were well versed, traversing the spectrums of genre, and one of those was horror. His seminal classic Something Wicked This Way Comes is a haunting and sinister tale but his oft overlooked childhood adventure The Halloween Tree is truly a masterpiece. (Hanna-Barbera made a cartoon movie in the 90's, with Moundshroud voiced by Leonard Nimoy, and it's a technicolor joy to watch. Cartoon Network usually airs it annually and it's available online through numerous outlets.)
"Ryan!" You may be yelling. "How does this relate to Coco?!" I'm getting there. While Coco is an animated wonderland taking viewers through a look at Dia de los Muertos (also, The Book of Life is a magnificent film that covers the same area), The Halloween Tree will see that bet and raise you a hundred.
The book takes place in midwest America on Halloween night itself, as a group of friends head out to start their quest of candy taking when they realize their dear friend Pip is not present. On their search for him, they come to a giant gothic mansion and upon knocking on it's door, they are introduced to Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a skeletal ghoulish figure who promises to help them find Pip, in exchange for helping him that night. This is where the meat of the story occurs.
Moundshroud takes them on a journey across the globe and through time on a giant kite to show the children how Halloween is honored around the world. More importantly, however, he is showing them how life and death are celebrated hand-in-hand. Each of the boys is dressed in specific costumes that Moundshroud uses as a catalyst for their destinations. For Tom Skelton, they are shown how Mexico celebrates Dia de los Muertos, with large festive activities, sugar skulls and parties. For the boy dressed as a gargoyle they travel back to France and the Notre Dame to explore the history of the statuesque protectors, the guardians of the church. For the mummy, they fly back to Ancient Egypt and Moundshroud has the boys traipse through a pyramid and discover for themselves what mummies were created for. Each new locale brings them one step closer to Pip but all the while Bradbury is using this eccentric and macabre plot to teach the reader about cultural views of the dead.
It's a whimsical piece, akin to the joyous romps of Roald Dahl, but Bradbury exchanges fantastical for phantasmagorical. He's slyly educating us, subliminally, while we are completely swept away in the magic of it all. The Halloween Tree does it's best to create something that feels like Americana but at its roots is a true showcase of global culture. It's honoring Halloween, sure, but it's also shouting in all caps about how amazing, and beautiful, and absolutely fascinating the world's history with celebrating death (and in turn, life) really is. Bradbury, and his darkly magical avatar Moundshroud, aren't afraid to take some deep cuts. You know when you have a friend who is finally ready for your really obscure horror suggestions? Like when they've finally got to the point where you can ask "I know you love Alien but dude, have you seen Xtro?" That's what Bradbury does here. "Hey man, I know you know about mummies, but what do you know about DRUIDS?"
As a reader, a fan of fiction, it's a blast. As a fan of horror and all things Halloween, it's intoxicating. It is the gateway drug into furthering the love and obsession of the genre. You'll walk away from The Halloween Tree teary eyed and smiling, but you'll also leave the book understanding more and wanting to know more. It's a fantastic portal into the exploration of the genre on a worldwide scale. Most importantly, the book is reminding us that Halloween is not just about candy and horror movies. It's about remembering the dead, those lost to us, and the stories they carried with them. So let's do as Bradbury asked and reminisce. Start passing this story along, like the ghost stories and strange rituals we have already passed down for generations, and make sure that The Halloween Tree stays strongly rooted in all our minds.