Since the passing of Ray Bradbury, I’ve been re-reading his books (or reading ones for the first time), trying to find a lost classic, a gem I had not discovered before. So far I’ve reviewed two of his books (Here are the reviews: Something Wicked This Way Comes and From the Dust Returned). Today, I review The Halloween Tree.
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury has had a thorny history. It began as a screenplay for an animated film that was not made, then turned into a young adult novel, then into a screenplay of a holiday special and finally into a more finished version of the book… Whew… It’s exhausting just writing that, I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for Bradbury.
The Halloween Tree is more than a celebration of Halloween, it is a celebration of death, and because of it also a celebration of life.
The easiest comparison one can use for The Halloween Tree is Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Structurally, they follow the same formula with a series of little adventures and discoveries through the course of one greater tale. The Halloween Tree even contains a character that reminds me of a more demonic version of Wonka, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud. Like Wonka he is playful and he wants the children to figure things out for themselves, but unlike Wonka he wants something, he is not giving normal candy away.
The Halloween Tree is the story of eight friends on Halloween trying to find their friend Pipkin. Their search leads them to a gloriously gothic haunted house with a tree covered in lit jack-o-lanterns. It is there that the children meet Moundshroud who offers to help them find their friend, but they need to learn the truth about Halloween first. From there, we are giving a tour of Halloween and Halloween-like celebrations from around the world, from Ancient Egypt to modern-day Mexico.
Night and day. Summer and winter, boys. Seedtime and harvest. Life and death. That’s what Halloween is, all rolled up in one. Noon and midnight. Being born, boys. Rolling over, playing dead like dogs, lads. And getting up again, barking, racing through thousands of years of death each day and each night. Halloween, boys, every night, every single night dark and fearful until at last you made it and hid in cities and towns and had some rest and could get your breath.
And you begin to live longer and have more time, and space out the deaths, and put away fear, and at last have only special days in each year when you thought of night and dawn and spring and autumn and being born and being dead.
“And it all adds up. Four thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, this year, one place or another, but the celebration all the same–“
I love that, and for me there was a lot to love about this book. For a writer who claimed to have been immortal (a favorite story Bradbury loved to tell people), his perspective on life and death is wonderful. It’s because of this perspective on the holiday and life and death that I look forward to sharing this book with my children when they are older.
See, what is wonderful is that it takes the concept of death and the ending of one’s own life from a personal to a global discussion. It moves the conversation from I will die to we all will die and what does that mean about life. Not an easy task to do, so the fact Bradbury can do it so effortlessly in a young adult novel shows how masterful a storyteller he was.
To emphasize this point about life and death, and our united experience with it, the children at the end have to make an incredibly difficult decision- Give up one year of their life to save their friend Pipkin. What a wonderful gothic idea… and it is in a young adult book! For some reason, I imagine Bradbury laughing evilly and rubbing his hands together when he came up with the idea; heck, I would have.
Each year on the Cartoon Network, they show the holiday special of this story and it saddens me that this is the way many are introduced to the story because they lose so much of the majesty, mystery, and gothic dream-like atmosphere in animation I could only compare to something kids would see in a Saturday morning cartoon.
Frankly, the cartoon version is a mess. With editing and pacing that makes one wonder if the editor had drunk too much coffee, and angles that scream of a Speilberg-directing wannabe. There are so many problems in the cartoon, and sadly some are quite laughable. My favorite example? The Egyptian mom living 4000 years ago speaking perfect English with an American accent!
Yet, for all that it was hard for even me to turn off my screenplay-writing mind while reading this book, because this book has the potential to be made into one heck of a great live-action thriller/adventure for kids. Oh, just imagine, what Tim Burton could do with a tale like this!
First you would need to make it seem more like a mission. The children are not just going through time to learn and explore they need to collect something to save their friend. I would recommend, to solve that problem, breaking Pip’s pumpkin at the beginning of the film and the children have to find the pieces to repair it and save his life. The “gift” of life would be the candle lighting inside the pumpkin. Hopefully, now with the attention on Bradbury’s work because of his passing, someone will reconsider this film… and if they do, I am available to write the screenplay (that is not a subtle hint).
What can I say? I find it inspiring.
This is not to say the book is perfect, like most Bradbury I feel he rushes to the big moments, not taking the time to dive into the characters and plots more (he is at heart a short story author and his longer work can suffer because of it). Also, the children, other than Tom Skelton, kind of blend into each other because he doesn’t take time to define their characters. Even Bradbury has problems telling them apart and sometimes he will have them all speak together, not even bothering to break down who is saying what.
Still for all of this, I consider The Halloween Tree a classic and a wonderful surprise for me.
Now the big question- would I give up a year of my life to save a friend? Possibly, honestly it really matters who because I like my life…. But would I give up a year of my life to have thought up the last line in this book before Bradbury? Definitely.
At two in the morning, the wind came back for more leaves.
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!