The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury

“It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state.”

One spooky Halloween night, a group of boys find themselves on a fantastic journey through time to learn the origins of the festival. Their guide, Moundshroud, takes them to ancient Egypt, Celtic Britain, Medieval Paris and more. But even as they discover the origins of the costumes they have chosen, they also try to discover what happened to their missing friend and group ringleader, Pipkin – is he a mummy? A gargoyle on the Notre Dame? Or is he… (gulp!) dead?

My Habitica book group chose this for their October read, and I thought why not – especially as the library had a digital audiobook I could borrow. I’m still trying to get ‘in’ to audiobooks, and this was a great one to try: aimed more at younger readers, it wasn’t too long or complex for easyish listening, and Bronson Pinchot (actor, Perfect Strangers, Beverly Hills Cop, etc) is an excellent narrator.

I didn’t really know what to expect going in to this, so was surprised and intrigued when it shifts from what seems might be a haunted house-ish kind of story, with the boys stumbling across Moundshroud’s home and the titular tree, to this fantastical journey through time.

The story is nicely creepy, but not too scary. I’m not sure half the ‘explanations’ actually have much to do with the festival of Halloween, but they do capture the origins of popular costumes e.g. mummies, witches, and the like. However, the tale is much bigger than the boys’ adventure, it’s really about cultural attitudes to death and how those have changed – pretty hefty stuff dressed up in a spooky kid’s tale!

I can see this possibly inspiring the likes of Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book) and Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, so if you’re a fan of those this might appeal too. I hear there’s a cartoon adaptation, too, and while I’ve not seen it, this story certainly lends itself to the idea of visual representation.

Audio book: ~144 pages / 3 hours 10 listening time / 19 chapters
First published: 1973
Series: none
Read from 13th-30th October 2019

My rating: 7/10

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