Ray Bradbury: The Halloween Tree (1972)

ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT, eight trick-or-treaters gather at the haunted house by the edge of town, ready for adventure. But when Something whisks their friend Pip away, only one man, the sinister Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, can help the boys find him.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve read my last Ray Bradbury novel. When I was a teenager I devoured almost all of his books. The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man. There were only two of the major novels I haven’t read, one of which is Fahrenheit 451 (yes, I know, a huge omission) and the other one The Halloween Tree.

I hadn’t been thinking of Bradbury that much until I read that he has died this year. If this hadn’t happened I might not have felt like picking one of his novels right now. The Halloween Tree has been on my TBR pile for a long time and it’s almost the end of October; it seemed like a good final choice for R.I.P. VII.

The first thing that struck me was how original and descriptive his writing is. I re-read so many of the sentences, I suppose I already read the whole book twice. It is full of passages and sentences like these

And it was the afternoon of Halloween. And all the houses shut against a cool wind. And the town was full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone. Night came out from under each tree and spread.

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

On the night of Halloween eight boys in costumes gather to go trick-or-treating. One of their friends, Pipkin, isn’t ready yet and tells them to go and wait for him, outside of the town, near a well-known haunted house.

Until they stood at last by a crumbling wall, looking up and up and still farther up at the great tombyard top of the old house. For that’s what it seemed. The high mountain peak of the mansion was littered with what looked like black bones or iron rods, and enough chimneys to choke out smoke signals from three dozen fires on sooty hearths hidden far below in dim bowels of this monster place. With so many chimneys, the roof seemed a vast cemetery, each chimney signifying the burial place of some old god of fire or enchantress of steam, smoke, and firefly spark. even as they watched, a kind of bleak exhalation of soot breathed up out of some four dozen flues, darkening the sky still more, and putting out some few stars.

They wait but Pipkin doesn’t show up. Instead a mysterious man shows an takes them on a journey through history, starting with ancient Egypt at the time of the construction of the pyramids, from there he takes them to the Celts, to medieval Paris, the Europe of the witch hunts and finally Mexico on the Día des los muertos. Their trip, which they undertake on broomsticks, is an introduction to the secrets and history of Halloween, its meaning, its source, the way it changed through the ages until it became the almost meaningless contemporary trick-or-treating custom. Their journey introduces them not only to the secrets of Halloween but to Death, the source of it all. And while they follow the man from one time period to the next, enchanted, thrilled and a little scared, the boy Pipkin appears in different forms. At the end it looks as if this hadn’t only been an exploration but that the journey was an attempt to free their friend of the claws of Death who already tried to grab him.

The book is an exhilarating wonderful ride. It’s fantastic and enchanting and I loved reading it. The writing is wonderful. I’m glad I rediscovered an author I had almost forgotten. Reading Ray Bradbury so shortly after Neil Gaiman, I would say that he, like so many others, must have been heavily influenced by Bradbury.

Which Is your favourite Ray Bradbury book?

The review of The Halloween Tree is a contribution to Carl’s R.I.P. VII Challenge. Don’t miss to visit the review site.

51 thoughts on “Ray Bradbury: The Halloween Tree (1972)

    • Tanks for the kind words. I’m really glad you like the post. I’m not that well versed and have no idea how to reblog. I know that when you do it, it automatically shows the source which is fine by me, of course.

  1. I haven’t read any Bradbury. He is one of those authors I keep meaning to try. This sounds wonderful, but I think I should start with Fahrenheit 451. Thanks for reminding me about him!

    • I hope she will like it. It’s quite critical of the custom in a way but on the other hand it’s very much in the spirit as well. It can be read in different ways.

  2. You know, I haven’t read any of his works yet. I don’t think any of his works are on the 1001 list, which seems like a real shame. Of course, I’ll still read his books. I’ve always meant to get to 451.

    • Now that’s surprising. I would have thought Fahrenheit 451 would have made it but then probably they tried to avoid including anything that was genre – to have more room for the others. :)

          • That is a interesting point. I know some of Asimov’s books are on the list…but still not sure I understand the list completely. It’s fun to attempt to read all of the novels and since I don’t just stick to the list, I hope my reading will be well-rounded during my lifetime. Only time will tell.

            I hope all is well in your part of the world. another cloudy day in London.

  3. I love Bradbury though I never read this book. His prose is so poetic. It sometimes takes unusual turns in a seemingly casual way.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes may be my favorite but it is hard to say since it has been so long.

    • That’s so true “unusual turns in a seemingly casual way”.
      I liked this a lot but i would have to read Something Wicked again. I think some popel love Dandelion Wine a lot too.

  4. I neve heard of Bradbury before, this is my first time.

    It sounds a bit like nonfiction, doesn’t it. .you know, the history of haloween. I always wonder why it becomes a festival of costumes and sweets.

    • That’s very perceptive of you because that’s exactly what he had in mind. Non-fiction disguised as fiction. but it does work well as a novel, it’s beautifully written and entertaining. The way he tells it it is because the fear of death became bigger and bigger. People want to avoid thinking of it, repress it. The contrast to Mexico is biggest.

      • the fear of death caused it? wow…all my life I thought death is just natural, nothing to be afraid of…when loved ones died, that is what I most afraid of.

        • In the West it’s the big scare, even to an extent which makes people treat the dying and the dead badly. Not pretty. I had to fight to be able to keep my mum in her room for a day or two after she had died. They wanted to get rid of the body immediately n clean the room. It was very shocking.

          • In my religion, we HAVE TO bury the dead immediately (if someone die at night, the next morning will be burried), not because fear but because the dead has to be returned to earth as soon as possible. We don’t allow preserving dead body.

            • The case here was different, they didn’t want to bury her right away but put her in a storage room (to be very blunt). If they had buried her that wouldn’t have bothered me that much. Sometimes bodies are kept in a storage for weeks untile everyone can come to the funeral. I find this horrible. Keep them in a nice place for a day or two and then bury them or bury them as soon as possible but not refrigerated like meat.
              I thought you also had a wake like Catholics did?

              • ah…that indeed sounds horible..I didn’t know they keep it that long.

                I have to google wake first to understand the question…it’s like a step before burial, right?
                if so, yes we have steps but all done in one day. Family member bathe the deceased then give him/her his last wudhu (cleaning ritual before sholat – muslim pray) then wrap him in long white fabric. After family kiss the deceased, he will be buried without delay.

                • Originally wake meanks to “stay awake” and pray next to the body all through the night. In Catholic families it’s still done sometimes but people let go of most of the rituals. I wanted to stay there at least for a few hours and already that was a major battle. I needed a special permission from a doctor…
                  I asked two friends an former friends of my mother if they would join me but everyone refused. It’s was a bit sad and lonely. People are so scared of death, it’s appalling.

  5. I’ve only read Fahrenheit 451 because I’m not a fan of sci-fi at all. But this sounds very appealing. I’m very interested in the history of Halloween, so will probably add it to my list. The excerpts you provided are wonderful too, Caroline.

  6. What a great way to spend late October. It sounds exactly right for this time of year. Perhaps metaphysical subjects are best dealt with through fiction – this sounds like a valiant attempt. I am going to have a break from German literature (two in the last month) but I have enjoyed reading about German books here and on you linked sites

    • It’s perfect for the season.
      I was very glad to read your Wassermann biography and only annoyed all his books are stored in a friend’s house…
      German literature is so rich, I hope there will be more translations in the future.

  7. The only Bradbury novel I’ve read is Fahrenheit 451. I listened an adaptation (radio show) of Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was really well done. Otherwise I’ve read a number of his short stories which I always enjoy. I should really read more of his work–certainly some of his other novels. It seems he was very prolific–he wrote loads of short stories anyway. This sounds like a fun read–in a weird way it reminds me of A Christmas Carol with the ghosts taking Ebenezer on a journey, though this sounds like it might be even darker? I’ll have to add this to my list–I love that edition by the way!

    • He was very prolific. I just got The October Country – a collection of short stories and they sound great but unfortunately there isn’t enough time anymore. Now that you mention it, there is a similarity with A Christmas Carol but it’s still quite different.
      This one is more serious – if that makes sense – and therefore tad darker, yes. I think it’s wonderful and a wonderful idea to incorporate the historical aspects of Halloween.

  8. Wonderful review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of this book. After reading your review, I want to read it now. I will add it to my ‘TBR’. It is a good book to read on Halloween day :) I liked what you said about Bradbury – that his lines are original. My favourite Bradbury book is ‘Dandelion Wine’. It is a beautiful evocation of summer. Have you read it?

    • Thanks, Vishy. It’s perfect for the Halloween night and not too long, you could manage reading it ine one evening.
      I have put Dandelion Wine on my wish list since you mentioned it. I want to read it very soon as well. I can imagine that he captures summer as well as autumn. He is a very evocative and descriptive writer.

  9. Thank you for reminding me that I MUST read Farhrenheit 451 before this year is out. I’ve been meaning to read Bradbury for ages (sound familiar??) and I promised myself I’d get to him soon.

  10. I haven’t read this one but it looks wonderful so I will keep an eye out for it. I loved “Fahrenheit 451″ from the very first word – it was love at first sight and it’s one of my most loved books to date. You can tell that by how many times I’ve used the word “love” in the last sentence. :)

  11. I’ve never heard of this book, it sounds great.

    I’ve read Farhenheit 451 and loved it. Highly recommended. It’s been made into a play and I’m impatient to see it next year. Perhaps I’ll blog about it, even if have already reviewed the book.

    • I should really read Fahrenheit 451. I wonder how that will be as a play, that will be very interesting to read.
      Bradbury writes well. I think you could read this with your children too. Some copies contain a lot of images.

  12. Pingback: Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Folio Society Edition « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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