Ray Bradbury and The Halloween Tree

Ray Bradbury and The Halloween Tree June 6, 2012

Famed fantasy and science fiction author Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday night at the age of 91. His works have penetrated our consciousness, the mere mention of their titles, “The Martian Chronicles”, “The Illustrated Man”“Fahrenheit 451”“Something Wicked This Way Comes”“Dandelion Wine”, evoke a range of emotions and memories. Like many, I absorbed his works, in school, on television, in movies, and even in the town which I used to live. For a time I lived in Waukegan, Illinois, the birthplace of Bradbury, and his living spirit haunted that once prosperous place, a city he called “Green Town.”

Ray Bradbury

“I do not use my intellect to write my stories and books; I have a gut reaction to the things that my subconscious gives me. These are gifts that arrive early mornings and I get out of bed and hurry to the typewriter to get them down before they vanish.”

I have no doubt that many wonderful and heartfelt tributes will be forthcoming, and I don’t pretend that I could rival those, but I would like to briefly honor his memory by bringing up what may be one of his singular achievements: popularizing the idea of Halloween as a pagan holiday. Bradbury’s 1972 novel “The Halloween Tree” reminded its many readers that the roots of the now-secular holiday of trick-or-treating had ancient roots in pre-Christian tradition. That Christianity itself was just another layer of history on the traditions of ancestor worship, and making offerings to the spirits.

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

“Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.”

When you see countless articles in October certain in the inherent pagan origin and flavor of Halloween, know that you partially have Bradbury to thank for that. Bradbury certainly didn’t invent the notion of Halloween as the continuation of a pre-Christian holiday, but he served it to multiple generations of fans as an adventure, one they gladly took again and again. It was a journey that a new generation enjoyed in 1993, when a cartoon adaptation of The Halloween Tree appeared on television, and then aired for years after that, priming many for the popularization of witches in the mid-to-late 1990s (Is it mere coincidence that the very first episode of “Charmed” references Bradbury?).


Of course, Bradbury greatest achievement was stirring our imaginations, creating new worlds we could explore, and warning us of where we could go if we’re not careful. Still, I think his contribution to changing our perceptions of Halloween can’t be underestimated, and for that we should give special honor to Bradbury. He understood the power of imagination and wonder, how those tools can change perceptions in accordance with a writer’s will, and we are all richer for it.

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21 responses to “Ray Bradbury and The Halloween Tree”

  1. I remember seeing a 16mm film in school of Mr. Bradbury talking about writing. He mentioned in passing that he did not drive a car. He chose not to. I learned from him that it is OK to be unusual.

  2. Did you know that Bradbury was also responsible for triggering the creation of the Addams family? It all happened when Bradbury wrote a short story called “Homecoming,” which the magazine Mademoiselle selected for their October 1946 issue. The magazine asked the artist Charles Addams to come up with a suitable illustration to go with the spooky gothy-alternative family story and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Bradbury expanded the short story into a whole novel that was published under the title “From the Dust Returned” in 2001.

  3. Aye Ray Bradbury will be sorely missed .  As a almost Rabid scifi freak we will miss his writings and wit. Wasn’t he responcible for some of the Star Trek TOS eps ? I had heard he did some writing for many scifi tv programs as did Asimov.   Kilm

  4. I’ve always thought that when an artist dies, they get to paint the sunset or the sunrise and when an author dies, they continue on with the spirits of their fellow authors in the Great Library to advise and inspire future authors. He and Asimov are probably having a chat right now.
    May he be welcomed in the Great Library.

  5. I loved Bradbury’s stuff. I’m not proud to admit it, but I didn’t even know the guy was still around! I have to chuckle when I think of his nostalgia for Waukegan as “Green Town.” I was born there in 1970, in the same hospital as my dad, and he still lives there. I think the city had pretty well peaked out by the time my dad was a young piker. It still has some beautiful old areas, especially along the lake, but I wouldn’t give you a broken shoe lace for most of it. It’s about as attractive and economically vibrant as Sadr City… Still, it makes me think about how “home” can live on in someone’s heart long after time destroys its traces in “real” space…

  6. I loved a lot of his stuff, but All in a Summer’s Day was, IMHO, one of the best things ever written.  May the Goddess guard him.  May he find his way to the Summerlands.  May his friends and family know peace.

  7. I love Bradbury.  When I was a little baby Wiccan who didn’t know any other Pagans and was trying to learn out of books watching the Halloween Tree on TV was part of my Samhain tradition.   I even bought a terrible quality bootleg DVD version from a sketchy Chinese retailer just because I couldn’t find it any other way and I HAD to see it this last Samhain.  

    Blessings to your spirit, Ray.  Thank you.

  8. When I discovered Ray Bradbury books at the local Bookmobile (in the 4th grade), I found a way to love life so much more!  Thank you, dear Mr. Bradbury, for your vision, your dreams, your enchanting words and your “labor of love.” 

  9. Pretty much. Same goes for Mundelein, they’re turning into each other now, real shame. But I’m not sure where anyone will get the cash to revitalize the city.

  10. I have not read a lot of Bradbury in my life (only 3 1/2 things, really), but one thing he wrote actually became a part of my Samain celebrations a few years ago unexpectedly.  He wrote a memoir called Green Shadows, White Whale, about writing the screenplay for Moby Dick for John Huston in Ireland, and what that experience was like.  The first chapter of it tells his exchange with the immigration officer in Dublin as he got off the ferry, and it’s one of the most insightful and enjoyable accounts of the modern 20th and 21st century Irish people one is ever likely to encounter, I think (having been through many similar experiences myself when I lived there).  I will finish that book someday…it’s not long nor difficult, it’s just been hard to come back to in the midst of the other things that demand my attention reading- (and other-) wise for the past few years…

  11.  I knew you were familiar with the Chicagoland area from past comments, but I never knew you knew about Lake County in particular, lol. But as soon as you mentioned Waukegan going to crap I figured it out.

    Didn’t mean to freak you out btw, it’s just nice to talk to people nearby when it seems like everything is happening on the coasts.

  12. Really? I had no idea that’s where Charles Addams got his inspiration. I love that particular series of his. Thanks for sharing.

  13. We actually have a decent pagan scene, though not a high-profile one, here in “flyover country” 🙂 Also relatively little flak from fundies, relative to the Bible Belt or other areas. These days I live in the teeming slums of unincorporated northern Cook County, but still have a lot of family and friends up in Lake. 

  14. Definitely not high-profile, I’m having a tough time finding anything I’m comfortable with within the few active groups still nearby.  But it’s always cool to know that I’m not as alone as it seems.

  15. Previously I was not aware of this book, or the animated version. Thank you so much for touching on it and adding yet another  layer of my appreciation for Bradbury.