October is my favorite month; here in Minnesota, the whether is often at a perfect, temporary median between hot, humid summer and frigid, icy winter. For the most part, of course; sporadic warmer periods (so-called “Indian Summer”) is perfect for a last chance to enjoy some kayaking, and how could we forget the Halloween of 1991? The leaves are just at the peak throughout most of the state during the month, and a variety of regional seasonal treats are also at peak; apples, pumpkins, candy… wait, what was that last one?
I think I can say it; as a kid, I loved the season, for the most part, because of Halloween. It was always a favorite American holiday of mine, for reasons I’m not quite sure about. I was always a very easily frightened child; my sister would torment me at the video store by passing me titles from the horror section, and the very idea of blood would upset me for days. I guess a few bloodied scarecrows and dripping vampire fangs were worth a night of going wild in costumes (dinosaur, bird watcher, Scotsman were a few of my best ones), scrambling for candies, watching spooky cartoon specials and listening to ghost stories. Something about the macabre, imaginative vibe of the day,
In adulthood, even if I am not able to keep on trick or treating and nobody’s going to be knocking on my apartment door, either, I try to keep the “spirit” of the season in mind; reading spooky books, listening to my dorky little playlists, and making a lot of stuff with pumpkin in it. If I can visit a haunted house or a Halloween party, that’s awesome. As was discussed in yesterday’s Obsessed Podcast with Joseph Scrimshaw and Nika Harper, I am not quite sure what I find so aesthetically pleasing about cats, pumpkins, and witches, but it still a very nostalgic time for me, even more so than Christmas I’d have to say.
Speaking of nostalgia, here I will share a few of my favorite childhood Halloween nostalgia books, titles I enjoyed reading around October (or anytime else I needed to feel spooked), ranked in order of my discovery of them.
Grandpa’s Ghost Stories by James Flora
I still have vivid memories of being read this story with a bunch of other kids by some guy in a basement somewhere, and being deliciously creeped out; awesome trippy ‘70s illustrations, absurdist storytelling, and skeletons, witches, and ghosts and other things "too terrible to tell," make this a great childhood relic; still out of print, though, so check out this Youtube interpretation.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
The mother lode; these collections of condensed urban legends and folklore had a hallowed place in many grade school Halloween parties; partly due to the chilling tales included inside that any second grader could use to terrorize their classmates, but Steven Gammell's terrifying illustrations were what really stuck with us (I hear that they have done away with them for later editions. Really??). Truly the standard that all scary stories need be compared.
Whistle in the Graveyard by Maria Leach
Found this in my elementary school library; another out of print one, sadly, Whistle in the Graveyard is a slightly less traumatizing collection of spooky folktales (specializing in Nova Scotia and the Canadian Maritimes) than Alvin Schwartz' work, but there are definitely things here to curdle the blood; one particular tale still gets to my sister these decades later. Cauld, cauld, forever cauld, and you shall be cauld forever more!
Bunnicula series by James Howe
While not exactly scary, even for children, the Bunnicula series always entertained us, with its childish whimsy, effective animal characters, and smart wit, parodying many horror and mystery tropes with the erstwhile Watsonian sheep dog Harold investigating the vampiric rabbit Bunnicula with the high strung, paranormal researching cat Chester. May have been my first exposure to a lot of classic monster movie motifs.
Dying of Fright: Masterpieces of the Macabre by Les Daniels
I think this one is out of print too, but I recently requested it from the library and my high school library came back to me with that old library smell wafting up from the pages. This was my first exposure to a lot of "classic" Anglo-American horror short fiction from the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood, and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft. Seems to be a pretty good anthology of the "essentials." Not a bad place to start!