Halloween suggestions for the young and old
In 2015, online blogger Amanda Russo posted a humorous piece “Why Halloween Is Actually A Pretty Weird Holiday.” As Russo says, this is the day we encourage our kids to take candy from strangers, long a no-no taught by generations of parents to their children. We threaten our neighbors with “Trick or Treat.” We spend a good chunk of change to give away treats, often to people we don’t know. We erect cemeteries in our front yards, carve pumpkins into spooky faces, and hang plastic skeletons from the trees. We sometimes terrorize our family and friends by putting on horrific masks, hiding, and then springing out at them.
Americans this year will spend $9 billion on Halloween, double what was spent in 2009. Many celebrants will go all out, decorating their houses a month ahead of time, buying costumes, wigs, and make-up, setting up outside sound systems for spooky music and blood-curdling screams, and even creating haunted houses for public touring. In some neighborhoods, swarms of trick-or-treaters cost homeowners several hundred dollars in candy.
According to some online sites, some Satanists take Halloween more seriously than the rest of us, believing that “Halloween is traditionally a time when the obscure portal into the realms of darkness, death and the supernatural is thrown open.”
For most folks, of course, Halloween is just an evening when kids dress up like cowboys, ghosts, pirates, or some other character, run around the neighborhood, collect candy, and return home to sort out and enjoy their spoils.
Halloween is also a great time to explore or revisit some literary works designed to raise the hair on the back of the neck.
You could start with James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie” and its spooky line: “The Gobble-uns ‘ll git you ef you don’t watch out!” Read that one with some dramatic flair, and watch your 6-year-old turn to jelly. The poem might have a special effect on the strong-willed child, warning as it does that little boys and girls who don’t mind their parents or teachers will be snatched away by goblins. Not exactly PC, I know.
If you wish to scare little girls in particular, you might share Ana Martinez Catillo’s How To Cook A Princess (Nubeoclassics, 2017, 50 pages). Here we learn from a witch how to cook and eat various princesses like Snow White. “You will need to get hold of a plump Snow White with chubby, rosy cheeks and pudgy arms.” In a note, our ghoulish chef adds: “The wicked witching community is very grateful to the dwarves for their hard work in rearing organic, range-free princesses.”
I discovered How To Cook A Princess in the Halloween display of my local library and must confess that I can’t figure out for whom this book is intended. It is written and illustrated like a children’s picture book, but do 6-year-olds really need to hear the lines “When she has softened and rendered her generous fat, add a generous handful of magic beans.” Will younger elementary school kids really like to read about baking “Hansel cake” or “Gretel custard?”
How To Cook A Princess is one of the strangest children’s books I’ve ever seen.
For the little ones, then, best stick to books like Clifford’s Halloween or Arthur’s Halloween or even The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And if you’re looking for some classic scary books and some read-aloud time, break out a copy of Poe’s “The Raven” or his story “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
For the older kids and for adults during this season of October, let me suggest that master of fantasy, Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury, who died in 2012, is perhaps best known for his novel, Fahrenheit 451, but his short stories, especially the ones written in his early and middle years, are, I think, where Bradbury truly shines. In these stories he celebrates all the passions of his life: dinosaurs, rocket ships and Martians, historical figures, writers from Charles Dickens to Thomas Wolfe, and of course, Halloween.
Ray Bradbury loved Halloween. He wrote The Halloween Tree, a novel that examines the origins of Halloween. A number of his short stories and longer works pay homage to this day, including Something Wicked This Way Comes, a horror novel set during the week before Halloween.
So if you’re looking for some shivers on Oct. 31, you might start with these stories:
“The Veldt” — Written back in the 1950s, this story anticipates today’s virtual reality devices with a grim ending and perhaps a moral: We are being eaten by our machines.
“Banshee” — Concocted from the time he spent working in Ireland with director John Huston on the movie, Moby Dick, this is a great read-aloud for a chill and windy night.
“The October Game” — Generally acknowledged as the darkest of Bradbury’s story, the ending of this story will haunt you for a good while. Probably too scary for the younger crew.
A note: Many of Bradbury’s stories appeared on the Ray Bradbury Theater, available online in various places. Try a few of these. These well-made short films feature quite an array of impressive actors and for the most part faithfully follow the stories.
Happy Halloween, all!