Note to readers:
This was first posted last year, but as the Online Book Club was very young, not many of you found it in time. So here it is, as relevant today (especially!) as it was then. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!
It’s late October…
We’re entering the final countdown to the darkest, creepiest, most exciting day of the year for children and adults alike. In North American culture, few celebrations stir the literary imagination the way Halloween does.
Although the original symbols and meanings of the Celtic feast of Samain that inspired Halloween have been diluted in a sea of Transformers, princesses, pint-sized Spidermen, Ironmen and pirates, Halloween also sees many readers turn to frightening tales of ghouls, ghosts and assorted monsters, feeding an irresistible and paradoxical urge to be thrilled, delighted and terrified all at the same time.
It’s heartening to observe that witches and ghosts, the oldest and most “classic” creatures of Halloween lore, have not only survived, but maintain star status on Halloween night. But, though a latecomer, the vampire has been thrust into the limelight and become a megastar.
It’s hard for readers to find their way along the backward-winding path of ghost and witch stories, so why not start on the firmest of footing, with Shakespeare himself? The Bard does spooky as well as anyone: just pick up Hamlet, son of the ghost of murdered King Hamlet—or Macbeth, for three of the weirdest witches in literature.
For a different spookiness, there’s Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which you can find online in its entirety at http://www.bartleby.com/310/2/2.html. But for truly gruesome and cruel witches, there’s nothing better than a Grimm Brothers’ story—especially Hansel and Gretel and Snow White—which have been terrifying children (and their parents) for hundreds of years. If these prove too frightening, I suggest a visit to this playful interactive National Geographic site: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/grimm/index2.html which should put a lot more fun into the Grimm experience (pun intended). 🙂
Witches and ghosts still thrive today (see the Goodreads list of the Top 100 Books with Witches http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/11296.Best_Books_With_Witches), and include contemporary classics like The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike, and Stephen King’s The Shining—which is even scarier than the movie!
But even Bram Stoker’s wild imagination could never have foreseen the rise of the vampire in 21st century culture. Taken up and elegantly developed by Tom Holland and Anne Rice in the latter part of the twentieth century, vampires, along with zombies, have me wondering whether the undead have become more interesting to readers than living, breathing characters!
HAPPY HALLOWEEN READING EVERYONE!