From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Traditional Scottish prayer
I’ve also seen that prayer credited to Cornish, Welsh, and “Celtic” sources — nothing specific, but you get the idea.
Robert here, with some thoughts on the traditions of the holiday. Yes, as you might guess from our opening quote, Halloween is approaching, when all the neighborhood ghoulies and ghosties (and hobos and witches and Darth Vaders) are going door to door demanding treats as a sort of ransom. It wasn’t always like that: Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is what happened to the old Samhain holy day of the Celtic Pagan year, one of the two days in the year when the veils between our world and the Otherworld are thinnest and the spirits wander the earth — some say looking for the way home.
And that’s the origin of the Jack O’Lantern, from the old Irish custom of putting a candle in a hollowed-out turnip (they didn’t have pumpkins before Europeans discovered the New World) and ensconcing it in the window to guide the spirits on their way.
As for the rest of it — well, the early Church, as was its wont, appropriated that holiday as All Saints Day (actually the day after the Pagan holiday, which, like most Pagan holidays, was celebrated at night) and tried very hard to make it a Christian holiday, with varying degrees of success. (In Mexico, it became Dias de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, in which the Christian holiday got a strong infusion of traditional Indian customs.)
As for the “trick or treat” part, that also goes way back to Pagan times, when villagers would dress in scary costumes to drive the spirits away and would be rewarded for their efforts with a banquet. It may have also been conflated with the Wren Boys, an ancient Irish observation around Christmas, when children would dress in costume and go door to door collecting money. Its present incarnation is recent, as late as the mid-twentieth century — some even credit Walt Disney with popularizing it, but I’m not going to go there.
Oh, and speaking of appropriation — well. candy manufacturers have a vested interest in pushing the whole trick or treat thing, driving a final nail into the coffin of what was once one of the holiest days in the Pagan year.
Now, it’s almost upon us, and I’m going to hand this back over to Reynard, with a nod for the excellent job he’s done on putting together our Halloween edition. Enjoy.
Cat starts off our book reviews with Ernest Hogan’s Smoking Mirror Blues. Cat says of it that ‘In the very near future, the citizens of Los Angeles are preparing to celebrate Dead Daze, a bacchanalian rave of a holiday that’s an over-the-top merging of All Hallows Eve, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Mardi Gras. The reawakened Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, riding the body of a human, is feeling quite well, thank you! And let’s not forget that the Day of the Dead, which forms part of Dead Daze, is at its heart a time when the barriers between the dead and the still-living are all but completely erased. So maybe the gods do walk again … And this holiday, not dissimilar to the one in the Strange Days movie, needs National Guard troops to prevent rioting!’
So how about a Day of The Dead set story that involves a small town mechanic called Grace who discovers the man she loves is dead? And that she can cross over when the veils are thin to see him? Such is the premise of Charles de Lint’s The Mystery of Grace which Cat notes that ‘It is a perfect introduction to de Lint, as it doesn’t requite you to have read anything else by him at all, but gives you a good feel for what he is like as a writer, as it has well-crafted characters, believable settings, and a story that will hold your interest. And it is a novel that you will read again to get some of the nuances that get missed in the first reading.’
Craig has a review of a horror novel set on a closely related holiday: ‘Brian A. Hopkins is an acclaimed writer and editor (he has won Bram Stoker Awards under both guises) who also operates an innovative publishing company (Lone Wolf Publications, which produced the multimedia anthology Tooth and Claw, Volume One and another Stoker winner, The Imagination Box), yet who still has time to crank out terrific work for other smaller houses like Earthling Publications. El Dia de los Muertos (“the Day of the Dead”) is his most recent Stoker recipient, winning the 2002 award for best novella.’
Halloween is the time for vampires, and so Denise takes a look at Gross and Altman’s Slayers & Vampires: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy and Angel. She found an detailed “oral history” that is sure to please fans of both shows. ‘I can feel the authors’ love for their subject, and their excitement is contagious. … [A] fun read that’ll keep you in party anecdotes for this coming holiday season, and into the next one.’
One of our Garys has a look at Christopher Golden and James A. Moore’s Bloodstained Oz: ‘If you like lots of violence and gore, and you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz, then you’ll like this book. The evil manifestations of Baum’s characters are one of the highlights of the book. If you like a book with an ending, prepare yourself to write your own, as the authors apparently intended.’
Neil Gaiman’s Day of the Dead: An Annotated Babylon 5 Script gets the lead-off note in Grey’s review: ‘Whenever two Babylon 5 fans meet, whether it’s at a used book store, a sci-fi speakeasy, or somewhere else that’s safe for our species, it doesn’t take long for conversation to turn to the required topics: “Who’s your favorite character?” “What’s your favorite season?” “What’s your favorite episode?” and so on. And whether your favorite character is Commander Sinclair (the real Commander) or G’Kar, whether your favorite season is the first or the third, it’s almost universally agreed that Season Five, Episode Eight, “Day of the Dead,” is one of the show’s top ten episodes.’
Jack looks at a Diane Wynne Jones novel that befits this holiday: ‘It’s a good solid book with memorable characters and an engrossing plot which got read in one rather long sitting on a cold, rainy afternoon late in October. Several pots of Earl Grey tea and a number of the the Kitchen’s excellent scones were devoured in the reading of Fire & Hemlock.’
Love, hate, or baffled by The Wicker Man, there’s no denying it’s a horror classic. No, not the horrendous 2006 remake, but the original 1973 film starring Christopher Lee. The original film has caught the eye of many, including many academics. Kestrell takes a look at Benjamin Franks’ The Quest for The Wicker Man: History, Folklore, and Pagan Perspectives, a collection of articles from a conference that focused on the film. ‘The Quest for The Wicker Man is highly recommended for any dedicated Wicker Man fan and especially for academics writing about this classic cult film.’ Read more about this collection in her review!
Nellie looks at The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: ‘Through Jean Markale’s book we can find the real legitimacy for Halloween as a holiday. It is not simply about children traipsing from door to door looking for candy (or else! Trick or Treat!). It is not simply about a reverence for ancestors, or a time to let go of all inhibition. There is a reality to it that gives it a deeper presence, and which beckons us to seek its true meaning, in addition to its true history.’
A fine version of the Tam Lin story is reviewed by Richard as he looks at a Pamela Dean novel: ‘An early part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, Tam Lin is by far the most ambitious project on the line. The story of Tam Lin is one of the better known ones to escape folklore for the fringes of the mainstream; you’ll find references scuttling about everywhere from old Fairport Convention discs to Christopher Stasheff novels. There’s danger inherent in mucking about with a story that a great many people know and love in its original form; a single misstep and the hard-core devotees of the classic start howling for blood. Moreover, Dean is not content simply to take the ballad of Tam Lin and transplant it bodily into another setting.’
We next look at Ray Bradbury’s quintessential Autumn novel and film which gets an appreciative review by the previous reviewer: ‘By right and nature, all October babies should love Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is a love letter to autumn, and to the Halloween season in particular, a gorgeous take on maturity and self-acceptance and all the dark temptations that come crawling ‘round when the calendar creeps close to October 31st.’
Just in time for the festivities a couple of nights from now, Robert has a look at Alex Irvine’s The “Supernatural” Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls: ‘I seem to be faced with another one of those television spin-offs, this time from the series Supernatural, about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt demons and other nasty customers not entirely of this world …. Alex Irvine has taken this basis, and the various creatures the brothers encounter, drawn from myths, urban legends, and folklore, and turned it into a “bestiary of the unnatural”.’
Thomas has a guide to this holiday for us: ‘Halloween, an unofficial holiday, is nonetheless celebrated by millions of people in North America and the British Isles, rivaling only Christmas in popularity. In the heavily illustrated Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, York University professor of history Nicholas Rogers traces the history of this holiday from its alleged beginnings as a Celtic festival, Samhain, marking the end of summer, to its many and various manifestations today. ’
And Warner wraps up our book reviews with a look at a collection from Steve Rasic Tem, The Night Doctor and Other Stories: ‘Centipede Press is known for putting out quality volumes, and The Night Doctor and Other Stories by Steve Rasnic Tem is no exception. A long-running, highly celebrated author, Rasnic here offers a collection of his more recent short stories, including two new tales previously unpublished. These run the gamut of dark subject matter, ranging from dark fantasy to horror and back again.’
Horror films have been part of the Halloween experience in the States for a very long time now. And we’ve had our share of wonderful seasonal treats, as well as time-wasting tricks.
Denise takes a look at a ‘trick’ of a tale with her review of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. She doesn’t hold back on her distaste: ‘If the folks responsible for this garbage really wanted to depart from the first two films and create something authentic, this basic story could have been an interesting movie …. Happy Halloween? Not with this clunker.’ Read her review for exactly why she’s nonplussed.
Another trick-y tale is The Haunted Mansion, a film based on a ride at the Disney resorts. Denise thinks that all the beautiful set design can’t make up for a film that can’t quite figure itself out. ‘This is a lovely film to look at, but there’s not a lot of substance. Just double-check to make sure any young children you take are up for a pretty good scare.’
A choice bit of British horror is next. Jekyll is ably reviewed for us by Kestrell who says that ‘this version is not so much a remake as a retelling of the Jekyll/Hyde story. The story is relocated from Victorian Edinburgh to contemporary London and follows one of Jekyll’s descendents, a research scientist named Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt).’ Kestrell concludes that ‘While I found this re-telling of a traditional story exciting and exceptionally well done, I would suggest that this series is not for everyone. Viewers looking for a remake of the original story will not find it here; those viewers who prefer American Hollywood effects may also be disappointed.’
Festive Samhain, everyone! Denise here, and I’ve stolen away the food and drink section this issue. Why? Because ghoulish delights abound! I’ve stuffed my face with all sorts of seasonal delights … though not everything was particularly delightful. Come along and see, won’t you?
First off, in a nod to the spirit of the season, Dunkin’ Donuts released a slew of themed donuts. I tried their Spider Donut, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. “It’s a mess. Somewhere, Mary Berry is sobbing.” Read on to learn more!
Still got a touch of a sweet tooth? Well, why not try a Cadbury Screme Egg? “…I prefer the protoplasm look of that gooey sugar goodness. I’ve always been a weird kid.” Check out this treat to see if it’s something you’d fancy!
Want something savory instead? How about Transylvanian cheese? Happy Farms Preferred Transylvanian-Romanian Cave Cheese, to be exact. Let’s just say that if you’re able to get your hands on some, you should. There’s more to be had in the review, but for now let’s just leave it at this; ‘Thank you, Transylvania.’
And what better way to wash things down this spooky season with a Harry Potter themed drink? Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer is just the thing. ‘A nice quaff when you’re feeling Potterish. And this time of year, especially with #HarryPotter20, who isn’t?’
Cheetos’ Bag of Bones is a suitably spooky entry into the holiday snack aisle, and a perfect go-to for the season. And I’m pleased: ‘When you queue up a spooky movie this season, grab some of these to really get into the spirit.’
Robert looks at the Justice League Dark film: ‘Once I got started on the Justice League Dark comic, I had to go back and check out the 2017 animated film. If anyone is expecting a film version of the new comic series, guess again: the film was released before the new series was even announced, and while there are similarities, they are very different sorts of critters.’
Robert has a look at a suitably scary graphic novel from a story originally penned by Robert E. Howard: ‘Pigeons from Hell is an adaptation by Joe R. Lansdale of a story by Robert E. Howard, with art by Nathan Fox and color by Dave Stewart. Lansdale is at pains to point out, in his “Notes from the Writer,” that it is really an “adaptation” — updated, exploring some new facets of Howard’s story, and not to be confused with the original, all of which leads me to treat it as its own creature.’
And what would Halloween be without demons and ghosties and that sort of thing? Well, that’s what we get with the latest incarnation of John Constantine, in Hellblazer, Vol. 1: The Poison Truth. Says Robert: ‘I’ll be honest: John Constantine is not a comic book hero who has ever really grabbed me. I can’t think of any particular reason for that, unless it’s his rapid-fire delivery and glib personality. Maybe it’s because he’s a sociopath, and I’ve learned to be wary of those — even comics. (It’s a wonder how many of the characters in this collection really don’t like Constantine very much, but they go along with him.)’
Robert has a look at a fairly tale full of goblins, ghosts, and witches — it’s Philip Glass’ The Witches of Venice, based on the book by Beni Montresor: ‘The King and Queen of Venice are bemoaning the lack of an heir. Sure enough, two fairies appear from the Lagoon with a plant: if the King plants it in his garden, a child will be born. The King is not impressed and throws the plant out the window.’ You can guess what happens after that, but read the review anyway.
Gary tells us about an album of what’s called ‘dark polar ambient’ music by a Russian musician who performs under the name Ugansie: ‘If you like drone or ambient or dark experimental music, Border of Worlds is for you. If you just want something spooky to play in your haunted house at Halloween, ditto.’
Iain says ‘Philip Glass, one of my favourite composers, and his fellow composer Robert Moran, whom I had not encountered before, collaborated magnificently in equal measure on the composition of The Juniper Tree Opera. Each Glass scene is followed by a Moran scene, with transitions composed by each. The result works a lot better than I expected, though the styles of each composer are quite different and neither surrenders anything of his own identity. If you like Glass, you’ll want to hear this opera.‘
Robert has a What Not for us in keeping with the holiday — after all, what would Halloween be without bats flying around? In this case, another cutie from Folkmanis. You can read about it here.
Very long after the band recorded Leige and Leif, which Deborah plays proper homage to in, “Trad Boys, Trad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do….?” Liege & Lief remembered, Fairport Convention played the entire album live at their own summer bash, the ‘07 Cropredy Festival. Everyone who was on the 1969 recording save Sandy Denny who had passed on was on stage so with Chris While doing the vocals for this epic experience. The soundboard recording is stellar, so here’s ‘Tam Lin’ as performed on a warm summer night.