Friday, October 9, 2009

The Halloween Tree (1972, Ray Bradbury)

Ray Bradbury's scary stories are frequently steeped in the atmosphere and iconography of Halloween, but his 1973 book The Halloween Tree is perhaps the consummate expression of his love for All Hallows' Eve.

The first edition cover art, painted by longtime Bradbury collaborator Joseph Mugnaini.

Set entirely on one Halloween night, it's the adventure of eight boys, each dressed for trick-or-treats as a different spooky archetype (skeleton, Jack-O-Lantern, a witch, the grim reaper, etc.) who are led by the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud on a journey through time and space to experience the various cultural traditions that preceded and shaped our modern Halloween.

This oil painting by Ray Bradbury, titled "The Halloween Tree", precedes the book by 12 years.

The adventure appropriately begins at this exemplar haunted house, home of an old wizard, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, who invites eight trick-or-treating visitors to learn why they dress in costumes and go door to door to collect candy every October 31st.

The boys' mode of transportation on this bewitched tour is a giant patchwork kite, pieced together from the leftover scraps of a hundred carnival posters and powered by Moundshroud's magic.

Illustration from the book.

"Halloween", a 1981 painting by Mugnaini that does not appear in the book.

In the course of one Halloween night, Moundshroud and company will visit the burial rituals of ancient Egypt, a Dia De Los Muertos celebration in Mexico, the Festival of the Dead in mythic Greece, and a Druid harvest festival.

The story feels, at times, like merely a framework for Bradbury to hang his anthropological lessons on, but its still an enjoyable and educational read.

In 1993, The Halloween Tree was adapted into a (mostly mediocre) full-length animated film, currently only available on an out-of-print VHS.

UPDATE: Now available on DVD through the Warner Archives burn-on-demand program!

I recommend this radio dramatization performed by the Colonial Radio Players. It's unabridged and fully realized with music, sound effects, and actors performing the dialogue. It's available on an inexpensive
2-CD set featuring this gorgeous cover art.

For the past few Halloween seasons, Disneyland has decorated a Frontierland tree with pumpkins in homage to Ray Bradbury. Photo stolen from flickr.

Each chapter of the book is marked by a drawing of a different Halloween mask. Here they are.


The Frog Queen said...

Great post. Love this story and appreciate your thoughtfulness.


Wings said...

You know... I have never read this one. Gonna go and find it now. PaperBackSwap is a great site for things like this. Thanks for the post & all the pics!

Brother Bill said...

The Frog Queen:

Thanks for the kind words!


Anonymous said...

You might be interested in how that Halloween Tree at Disneyland came about, back in 2007...

Brother Bill said...


That's a great story! Thanks for posting.


Helen Steussy said...

I read this book to my kids every Halloween - in the dark, by candlelight. It's a great read-aloud book

MaximaFobia said...

i love Mugnaini's illustrations...