I have actually never read this short story. The version I know best is the Hanna-Barbera animated TV movie version from 1993, which I watched as a child and liked quite a lot, and the more I learn about it now the cooler it gets. Ray Bradbury, who also authored the book lover’s dystopia book Fahrenheit 451, of course wrote the short story on which the show was based; and he wrote the script for the show, and provided the voice for the narration. The psychopompic Grim Reaper type character, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, was voiced by Leonard Nemoy (who played Spock on Star Trek before Zachary Quinto took up the torch.)
The story basically goes that a group of friends gear up for trick-or-treating, only to find that one of their number, Pipkin, is… well… dying. From what I recall, everyone’s life is represented by a jack o’ lantern gourd that grows on some tree, and Pipkin’s ghost (not technically, though, as he’s not dead yet) steals his so as to keep it away from Mr. Moundshroud. Pip’s friends and Mr. Moundshroud chase Pip’s ghost through space and time, conveniently providing a platform on which Mr. Moundshroud can educate them on the origin stories of their costumes.
From what I’ve gathered, Ray Bradbury himself wasn’t much of an expert on, for instance, Egyptian history for the mummy costume, or else academic opinion has progressed since the time of writing (as it does.) The cartoon traced the title of Jenny’s witch costume from “the one with the wits,” which was a palatable fabrication.
Still, I really appreciated The Halloween Tree for bringing such an easily digestible meta-analysis of the Halloween spirit. Appearances could be deceiving or transformative, speaking to the choice of costume. Monstrous gargoyles, like what Wally dressed as, turned out to be necessary for the protection of the magnificently beautiful Notre Dame cathedral. The ultimate rite of passage, as shown with Ancient Egyptian mummification and the festivities during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, is nothing to be feared because it’s been a part of life throughout history and all over the world.
…Okay, death is still to be feared, but it doesn’t have to be mysterious.
…Okay, death is still mysterious. What am I trying to say?
Death, or anything we might fear, can be turned into a cute costume, for kids to sort of sit in whatever depth of that mystery, whatever level of challenge, that they’re comfortable with. Halloween is the time that those who celebrate it can inject a bit of fun into fear, or set themselves up to face fear and go ahead and fear if that’s the sort of consciousness that a person (at any age) might be at. We don’t always have to wait for a potentially devastating occasion to face our fears. We can mock it up, with candy and fandom.
Lately, I’ve even somewhat taken to the candy and fandom parts, and forgotten the fear.