The Halloween Tree

Ray Bradbury

Book cover

I had mixed feelings about this Spooktober read. The idea behind it is an interesting one–Mr. Moundshroud (a sort of Jack Pumpkinhead precursor) leads a group of boys on a Halloween night journey through time and space to learn about different cultural traditions that relate to the dead, the harvest, and Halloween. Some of the stops on the journey are beautifully written and evocative–particularly the sections in Egypt, druidic Ireland, and Mexico. But I also felt Bradbury held too fast to his idea of having a section for each boy’s Halloween costume, resulting in some pretty weak ones (the gargoyles of Notre Dame) and some that weren’t even really clear (cavemen?). Much of it, particularly the Mexico section, had the effect of emphasizing how hollow the modern American version of Halloween is–I think this was partially intentional by Bradbury, but not the main message he wished to convey.

The part I couldn’t really get past though is Bradbury’s writing style. There’s a strong sentimentality for a whitebread midcentury midwestern boyhood that, while it never gets close to anything untoward, just failed to land at all for me in 2019 (the book was written in 1972). I felt a sort of fatigue of reading the author’s celebration of what is probably the most frequently celebrated time, place, and life station in American culture. Every time I read Bradbury writing fondly of a “tumble of boys, all elbows and knees” or “the daringest boy who ever lived” or some such, I felt like Dorothy Parker reading Winnie-the-Pooh and wanting to “fwow up.”

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars