Fall is here, and along with it the thinning of the veil between our physical world and the spirit world– even ardent skeptics can’t argue that Halloween isn’t a fun time of year in concept.
Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a kid. We all have our go-to horror movies and novels to get us in the mood for spoops; even Hollywood has hyped up movies like IT Chapter Two and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark this year, both adaptations of horror books from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Swerving the most obvious choices of fictional horror reading material (Stephen King etc.), here are five books I try to read each year that help me get into the Halloween spirit.
1. Monsters: An Investigator’s Guide to Magical Beings by John Michael Greer:
Occult scholar John Michael Greer has thoroughly researched the facts behind the fiction of encountering ghosts, werewolves, zombies, demons, chimeras faeries, and dragons. Greer presents his findings in a fun reference book for would-be paranormal investigators, down to detailed instructions for banishment rituals and interview questions for victims and witnesses of monster encounters. This book is a fun read for skeptics and believers alike. Greer writes: “The ways of understanding reality that are fashionable in today’s industrial societies leave no room for them, and when people encounter them—as they do, fairly often—the dubious logic and dogmatic handwaving that are used to dismiss those experiences as unreal show us blind spots in our collective consciousness that are hard to see clearly in any other way.”
Only $3.99 on the Kindle store.
2. Halloween: The History of America’s Darkest Holiday by David J. Skal:
An in-depth history of Halloween past and present. Surprising fact: current Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating only began as recently as the 1920s. From Halloween: “And so the tradition grew: for one night each year, permission would be granted to mortals to peer into the future, divine their fates, communicate with supernatural entities, and otherwise enjoy a degree of license and liberty unimaginable — or simply unattainable — the rest of the year. The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vice versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented. And, most important, graves open and the departed return.”
3. Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey:
A fascinating cultural history of ghost stories and haunted houses in America, both extant and fictional. The Wall Street Journal writes about Ghostland: “For a relatively young nation, America is overrun with spirits. Mr. Dickey visits with Salem’s witches, spectral lights at a Nevada brothel and the eccentric widow who designed the sprawling, never-finished Winchester Mystery House… [to] suggest that by analyzing them we can learn a great deal about ourselves.”
4. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury:
Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) writes a children’s novella where a group of children search for their missing friend with the aid of the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, lost in the history of Halloweens past. A chilling breeze to read.
Short excerpt: “See, boys?” Moundshroud’s face flickered with fire. “The days of the Long Cold are done. Because of this one brave, new-thinking man, summer lives in the winter cave.” “But?” said Tom. “What’s that got to do with Halloween?” “Do? Why, blast my bones, everything. When you and your friends die every day, there’s no time to think of Death, is there? Only time to run. But when you stop running at long last—” He touched the walls. The apemen froze in mid-flight. “—now you have the time to think of where you came from, where you’re going. And fire lights the way, boys. Fire and lightning. Morning stars to gaze at. Fire in your own cave to protect you. Only by night fires was the caveman, beastman, able at last to turn his thoughts on a spit and baste them with wonder. The sun died in the sky. Winter came on like a great white beast shaking its fur, burying him. Would spring ever come back to the world? Would the sun be reborn next year or stay murdered? Egyptians asked it. Cavemen asked it a million years before. Will the sun rise tomorrow morning?” “And that’s how Halloween began?” “With such long thoughts at night, boys. And always at the center of it, fire. The sun. The sun dying down the cold sky forever. How that must have scared early man, eh? That was the Big Death. If the sun went away forever, then what?”
5. Beyond the Occult: Twenty Years’ Research into the Paranormal by Colin Wilson:
Colin Wilson cites literary history and historical anecdotes to make a compulsively readable case for what he calls Faculty X: the untapped potential of the human mind.
“In a celebrated case a Mrs Butler, who lived in Ireland, dreamt repeatedly of ‘the most enchanting house I ever saw’. She and her husband decided to move to England and inspected many properties around London. One day they went to look at a house in Hampshire and Mrs Butler recognized it as her dream house. She was so familiar with it that she was able to show the housekeeper around the premises and describe every room before they entered it. The price of the house was absurdly low, and when they went to see the agent he told them why. ‘The house is haunted.’ But, he added, ‘you need not be concerned. You are the ghost.’”
Bonus: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow:
While not a Halloween book, the book centers around Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction at DisneyWorld. This sci-fi novel takes place in a future where we have cured permanent death (consciousness being reuploaded to clones), and society uses reputation as currency. Each section of the Magic Kingdom is operated by competing ad-hoc groups, vying for park visitor attention. The protagonist investigates his own murder and tries to keep the other ad-hocs from stealing his foothold on The Haunted Mansion, his childhood favorite attraction. Great read.
The author supports Creative Commons, so the e-book is available for free at his website: https://craphound.com/category/down/