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Night In The Lonesome October: Olde Halloween Revisited
Lesley Pratt Bannatyne has provided Halloween enthusiasts, folklorists, educators, concerned parents, and the general reader a great service with A Halloween Reader (2004), a vintage compilation of aesthetically agreeable poems, short stories, and play fragments about Samhain, Halloween, All Saint's Day, and All Soul's Day.
Though a specter with vampiric tendencies does appear in one story (1883's "Ken's Mystery" by Julian Hawthorne) and a women is frightened to death in another, the emphasis throughout is on the aesthetic tone of each selection, something generally lost in Halloween stories of the present day, which are either unthreatening, unimaginative pabulum for children free of all historical association or revolting, gore - strewn horror stories composed for adult audiences. As the author states in her introduction, "This is not a horror anthology, though horror may be found here." Throughout, the writing, by both well - known and obscure authors, is excellent, and authenticity, mystery, a foreboding atmosphere, imagination, and a sense of wonder are the volume's touchstones; strict morbidity is kept at a minimum.
An "earthly knight" becomes a prisoner of fairyland in the traditional ballad "Tam Lin," a man finds himself traveling through a "ghoul - haunted woodland" to his beloved's tomb in Poe's hallucinated "Ulalume" (1847), witches and devils invade a country cottage in Patrick Kennedy's "Black Stairs On Fire" (1866), beautiful and ugly examples of "the good people" kidnap a straying youth in Le Fanu's eerie "The Child That Went With the Fairies" (1870), an elfin being tricks the title character into a game of cards in Yeats's "Red Hanrahan" (1904), a dead man, who is nonetheless "dying of thirst," seeks assistance in James Stephen's "The Feast of Samhain" (1924), and frustrated lovers fall victim to an evil magician in the anonymously written "The Fiend's Field: A Legend of the Wrekin" (1832). In Caroline Ticknor's humorous "A Hallowe'en Party" (1896), an anxious New Yorker recalls a calamitous evening at a riotous suburban soiree. Though nothing by Washington Irving is included, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "Rip Van Winkle" (both 1820), and "The Devil and Tom Walker" (1824), autumnal pieces all, would have been worthy inclusions, as would Nathaniel Hawthorne's light - hearted "Feathertop: A Moralized Legend" (1846), with its clever, crone - like witch and sentient scarecrow.
The volume also features a short seasonal miscellany, including an account of the Scottish practice of "Cabbage Thumping" (1835), "The Method of Making a Magic Staff" (1985), which is drawn from a medieval Latin manuscript, "On Preparing A Corpse in Ireland" (1895), an oral report of man's experience with the will - o' - the -wisp in "Jack O Lantern Lights" (1938), and a 1907 New York Times article concerning five women who spent 36 hours lost in a swamp after becoming lost on their way to a Halloween party.
Though man's mortality, a belief in an afterlife, and the cycle of nature are genuine aspects of Samhain and Halloween in a wide variety of ways, true Halloween has nothing to do with devil worship, zombies, serial killers, murder, torture, dismemberment, poisoning, cannibalism, car accidents, or any of the other grim, visceral elements presently exploited by the media in the holiday's name. A Halloween Reader returns the focus of October 31st to the liminal and the otherworldly without sacrificing its hypnotic, twilit fascination.
For Halloween Lovers
What's amazing is that the stories and poems that are 100, 200, even 400 years old are as emotionally engaging and/or creepy as ones written today. Although this is not a collection of horror, it's got some teeth. Reading the whole thing through gives you a sense of what Halloween was to generations before us, and you end up understanding what a deep cultural place it holds. The book starts Celtic (including a poem about a complaining corpse that won't die), goes through some pre-Victorian and Victorian (including an elegant vampire story) pieces, some funny, some unsettling, through the famous 19th and early 20th century authors (Lovecraft, Poe, Wharton, Yeats, Joyce) and ends with a section called "Hallowoddities," which includes items like "how to prepare a corpse for burial" (don't pin the feet together) or "Five Ladies Lost in Swamp Looking for Halloween Greenery," (they all lived) from an old New York Times. The author even includes witch trial testimony and a bit from a colonial-era play that mentions Halloween for those interested in the historical side. The introduction puts all the literature in context. This is a real find for the Halloween lover.