Sunday, October 30, 2016

Running Into An Old Friend at Halloween

Like so many, reading gripped me at a young age and I was also lucky enough to have a few champions who encouraged me and turned me on to books and authors. In a small town with only one bookstore, my family took great advantage of the public library. I would visit on Saturday mornings after breakfast out with my Father. I knew most of the librarians and took a shine to a few, in particular Rosemary D., on whom I had a tremendous boyhood crush, and Pat M. who was among the most generous people I've ever known. 

Pat was probably the first polyglot I ever met and his knowledge astounded me. Most of all, he was a sci-fi nut and turned me on to Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury. I remember being especially taken with Bradbury and I read a lot of his work. What's strange is how little I seem to remember. My memory hasn't failed me completely and I still know far more than my fair share of trivial nonsense (the problem, of course, is that I'll share it with you) but with only a few exceptions, I can't remember much about The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451 and many others.

So it was with great pleasure that I re-read some Bradbury just recently. In truth, it was my turn to make a selection for my short story club and I thought it would be great since, in the dozen years we've been doing this, we've never read anything by him. Utilizing my public library, I ordered up A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories. I also ordered up The Halloween Tree, a favorite of mine. What I found was how great Bradbury's work remains. 

The Halloween Tree was written for what we would now call YA lit. One of things I liked about his writing for the younger reader was that he NEVER condescended. In fact, it was like he was letting you in on something, like he knew you belonged there and he took your hand with a welcoming wink and a squeeze of your shoulder. The story, a group of boys must travel the world one Halloween night with the mysterious (and perfectly-named) Mr. Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud to save the life of their friend, Joe Pipkin. 

Pipkin is the heart and soul of these boys. He's their leader, their biggest supporter, and their best friend. Without Pipkin, it's not Halloween. Without Pipkin, it wouldn't be Christmas or any other special occasion. Without Pipkin? Unthinkable! He is the what holds them together and enables them to fly. In one of my favorite lines ever, Bradbury describes him this way: 
"Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived...The day Joe Pipkin was born all the Orange Crush and Nehi soda bottles in the world fizzed over". 

Would that anyone were to describe me that way!

Needless to say, The Halloween Tree was as I remembered it--Jack O' Lanterns in the trees, candy skulls, the perfect accompanying illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini, still a little slow in the middle, and a moving conclusion. 

In searching for short stories, of which Bradbury produced hundreds, I wanted something that was less science fiction-y and went back early in his career. A Sound of Thunder & Other Stories is better known as Golden Apples of the Sun (In reprinting it, Harper Perrenial decided to change the name. I've no idea why.) and contains works spanning a decade beginning in 1947. It was remarkable to me how prescient Bradbury was and none moreso than The Murderer from 1953. So as not to give it away or take away the power of the story, I encourage you to read it yourself:

Needless to say, I'm so happy to have read Bradbury again and will continue to reacquaint myself with his work. 

Happy Halloween.