THE HALLOWEEN TREE
The lyric and expansive nostalgia for boyhood of Dandelion Wine, the extravagantly conjured atmosphere of Leon Garfield (but without his chilling intensity), the sometimes gratuitous fright-inciters (rattling bones and shuddering house) of the conventional Halloween story -- all seem to temper the unabashed didacticism of the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, who takes eight spookily costumed boys on a kite-and-broomstick timetrip in search of their friend Pippin and the meaning of Halloween. Breathless urgency prevails as the boys swoop and slide in and out of an ancient Egyptian burial, a ritual of death in Druid Britain, a gathering of medieval witches, the massing of the Notre Dame gargoyles, and a candlelit feast in a Mexican cemetery -- glimpsing as they go a variously guised and weakly pleading Pippin, for whose life each boy in the catacomb-clammy end gives up a year of his own. Back home the boys learn that Pippin has been relieved in the nick of time of an inflamed appendix, and Mr. Moundshroud sums up his lesson: the holiday derives from the fear of death and the seasonal death of the sun. If you had time to stop and think you'd notice that the plot is all but nonexistent, the eight characters separately identifiable only by their Halloween costumes (one of them, Tom Skelton, is simply named more often), the atmosphere too staged and changing to be as scary as it might, the lesson unremarkable despite the novelty of its presentation, and the closing promise surely debatable ("O Mr. Moundshroud, will we ever stop being afraid of night and death?. . . When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die."). Still Bradbury-Moundshroud is a spectacular guide to the nether regions and this may well be (as Tom Skelton called it) "both a trick and a treat" for other boys who are willing to plunge right in and let the devil take the doubters.