The Halloween Tree

Finding the most fitting term to describe Ray Bradbury is like trying to locate an unnamed star among hundreds of constellations. He was a master of the creative arts, yes, but Ray Bradbury was so much more. His writing is lyrical, which makes him a poet in my perspective. He wrote for the original Twilight Zone series on television, creating stories that classified him as the chief author of psychological thrillers. He wrote for both adults and children, though adults wouldn’t hesitate to pick up one of his children’s novels. The Halloween Tree is one such children’s novel, and I’m recommending it to everyone, young and old, who loves the holiday which Americans call Halloween.

The Halloween Tree – The Summary

Eight grade-school-aged boys—dressed as mummies, primitives, skeletons, witches, and more—flock together on Halloween night to ask for treats around the town. However, their friend Pip is missing out on all the fun.  Pip—the life of the parties, so full of energy and humor, so amply fit for frolicking and cavorting among the youth—is sick at home. When the eight youths go to visit their friend, sickly-looking Pip says no illness will stop him from meeting them at the Haunted House in the heart of their town.

Tom, the head of the gathered boys when Pip isn’t there to lead them, leads the group to knock on the door of the Haunted House. All the boys are afraid of who or what will open the door. However, they know excitement and adventure awaits them because Pip said as much. The door opens to reveal a dark hallway with a slowly approaching grinning skeleton. “Trick or treat,” say the boys, and the skeleton chooses trick.

The boys, accustomed to being given chocolates and candy, are somewhat dumbfounded. They round the house, with less than angelic intentions in mind, and come upon nothing other than the great Halloween Tree. Thousands of jack-o-lanterns hang on the tree—each with a different face, each with a different wicked grin. And so the story begins. The skeleton-man has his trick, Pip staggers down the road to the Haunted House, and the boys start their adventure of a lifetime.

The eight boys and Mr. Moundshroud—the skeleton from inside the Haunted House—travel through time and space, experiencing Halloween as experienced throughout the different ages and countries. They go through the depths of Egyptian temples, over the land of witches, and high up on the steeple of Notre Dame. The boys chase after Pip, but when the true Mr. Moundshroud is revealed, the boys discover what they must do to finally catch up with their friend.

The Halloween Tree – The Analysis

Many years have passed since I first read a book by Ray Bradbury. So many, in fact, I had forgotten how lyrical and captivating his writing is. The ebb and flow of words is music in my mind, but the amount of information in the text can be slightly overwhelming. Several times I had to set the novel down and process what I had just read. This isn’t necessarily a bad trait in a book; I would actually call it a desirable trait. Ray Bradbury had the art of both making music and passing on information.

The plotline is appealing, and I understand how a story about a gang of boys would appeal to youths who enjoy reading. Bradbury’s Pip is J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in the sense that the boy is almost larger than life with his boisterousness and rowdiness. I found myself needing to continue to read as I waited to see how the story would end and if Pip would ever meet up with is friends.

“Pip!” said Ralph behind his mask. “You got to come out.”
“I can’t.” Pip sobbed. “They won’t let me.”
“They?”
But they knew he meant the long line of mummies. In order to get out he would have to run the gauntlet between the nightmares, the mysteries, the dreadful ones, the dires and the haunts.

The Halloween Tree, p. 128

Mr. Moundshroud is also an attention-grabbing character. Who is the real man beneath the mask? Though Tom asks him this question at the end of the novel, I’m still uncertain of the answer that is given. I hope to someday find someone who knows and will tell me!

Overall, I very much enjoyed the story. It provided me with a historical perspective of how people thought of All Hallow’s Eve and the Day of the Dead. It exemplifies the horrors that people believed and how they would have played out in the illustration of their realism. I relished the entire ride through varying countries and times…until the end of the novel. The end is dark and unexpected—excellently written and a striking storyline, but definitely twisted.

Conclusion

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury can and should be read at any age. It exemplifies the importance—and possible peril and risk—of friendships. More importantly, the history behind Halloween is explored and demonstrated. England’s death reaper would be no laughing matter if it actually existed, as the country’s ancestors certainly thought and feared. Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations both revere and celebrate passed ancestors and family members. I give the book the following rating:

Score: 9/10

I have only taken one point away for my confusion as to the mystery of Mr. Moundshroud and for the darkness in what is considered a children’s tale. Otherwise, the novel is a perfect read for readers who like to celebrate Halloween.