It’s October, and you know what that means. It’s harvest time. It’s time the leaves on the trees are red and gold and orange. Seems the trees make an extra-special effort this time of year. The birds take off for their southward journeys. The squirrels make a last minute snatch, gathering up a few more nuts for the coming chilly days of winter. It’s October, and Halloween’s a-coming.
Already carved pumpkins are showing up in folks’ windows and on their lawns. They’re letting us know that the show is coming soon. That show being costumes and trick-or-treating galore.
Yet, over the years, Halloween’s been the runt of the holidays. Unlike Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, Halloween didn’t start showing up in the national consciousness till the twentieth century. And it didn’t even have its own story. Until “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.
All great stories invite the reader in with an invitation. Here’s the invitation from The Halloween Tree:
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small norther part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…
And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
Eight boys show up for trick-or-treating in a variety of costumes. Tom Skelton is dressed in skeleton bones. There’s a witch, a mummy, an apeman, a gargoyle, a beggar, a ghost and Death himself with his scythe. There’s only one boy missing. And that’s Joe Pipkin.
Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived. The grandest boy who ever fell out of a tree and laughed at the joke. The finest boy who ever raced around the track, winning, and then, seeing his friends a mile back somewhere, stumbled and fell, waited for them to catch up, and joined, breast and breast, breaking the winner’s tape. The jolliest boy who ever hunted out all the haunted houses in town, which are hard to find, and came back to report on them and take all the kids to ramble through the basements and scramble up the ivy outside-bricks and shout down the chimneys and make water off the roofs, hooting and chimpanzee-dancing and ape-bellowing. The day Joe Pipkin was born all the Orange Crush and Nehi soda bottles in the world fizzed over, and joyful bees swarmed countrysides to sting maiden ladies. On his birthdays, the lake pulled out from the shore in midsummer and ran back with a tidal wave of boys, a big leap of bodies and a downcrash of laughs.
In other words, this Joe Pipkin was a mighty fine fellow. And the other eight boys waited in anticipation to see what he would be dressed as. But poor Joe is whisked away on a journey of life or death.
With the help of a creature named Moundshroud, the eight follow Pipkin to the celebrations of the origins of Halloween by the ancient Druids. They find themselves among the mummies of Ancient Egypt, the ceremonies for the dead by the Greeks and the Romans, the gargoyles of Notre Dame in Medieval France and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Each ceremony has a jack-o-lantern on the Halloween Tree.
Are the boys able to rescue their friend, Joe Pipkin? And, if they do, what will it cost? Only by reading The Halloween Tree will you be able to discover the answer.