Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Literature: A List of Books that Explain and Capture the Mood of the Day

Halloween Literature: A List of Books that Explain and Capture the Mood of the Day

Most of us are familiar with Washington Irving’s creepy classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In his own incomparable fashion, Johnny Depp portrayed the cinematic version of the horseman-hunting constable. However, Horseman is far from the only piece of fright-full literature. Think also of Poe’s eccentric poetry and prose. Shelley’s Frankenstein. Stoker’s Dracula. Stephen King’s everybook. Even Ann Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” have become modern classics. And speaking of modern, first there was Harry Potter. Now we have the whole Twilight craze initiating a new generation into the horror genre. Of course, there’s a new spin on an old classic, with the mashup ( Pride and Prejudice and Zombies threatening to unseat Twilight and fellow vampiric lit pals.

Here are a few brief reviews some Halloween books and anthologies, along with a few others of interest to those with a fascination for the macabre.

Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life – Jack Santino has pulled together 13 essays examining history and legend of Halloween. These writings question our concepts of religiosity and spirituality while they contribute to our understanding of Halloween as a panoramic reflection of our cultures’ past, present, and future identities.

The Halloween Encyclopedia – In one comprehensive volume, Lisa Morton explores the history, mythology, fortune-telling lore, and harvest legends surrounding Halloween. It’s a great source for the origins of all those scary stories you've read or heard about in literature and legend.

Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night – Perhaps picking up where Jean Markale leaves off in the The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween, Nicholas Rogers dives into the complex history of this holiday, rooted in Celtic and Christian ritual. Halloween has morphed from a ritualistic ethnic celebration to a day that marries street festival, fright night, and colossal commercial enterprise.

A Halloween Reader: Poems, Stories, and Plays From Halloweens Past – Lesley Pratt Bannatyne gives us her perspective on the history of Halloween, including literary gems from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, Robert Burns, and others. This book is scary fun for any time of the year. In her introduction, Bannatyne explains: "What makes the older Halloween literature so enthralling is that it lets us travel back and forth to the land of the dead without consequence."

Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous – Some people live and die by Jon & Kate. This book is for those who prefer to dish about the scandalous deaths of celebrities, from Napoleon to Jayne Mansfield. Perfect for boning up on your party chatter before heading out on the town.

On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears – This well-written book, by Columbia College (Chicago) professor Stephen T. Asma, takes a long view of the origins of the monsters in our human psyche. The last chapter explores the future that we may inhabit with our insatiable desire for all things technological.

The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween – For those curious about the pagan origins of Halloween, Celtic scholar Jean Markale explores "the shadowy zones" of All Hallows' Eve. Though the name derives from the Christian “All Saints' Eve,” Halloween has actually be traced back thousands of years to Samhain, the beginning of the "dark half" of the Celtic calendar. Markale describes this feasting and celebratory festival, as well as other details about the pagan origins of what has become a costume-festooned ritual.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." So begins Seth Grahame-Smith's update of the beloved Jane Austen classic, featuring new and improved scenes of zombie pandemonium. As the story opens, a mysterious plague has befallen the quiet English village of Meryton — and the undead are run amok! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to eliminate the zombie threat, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. A delightful back-and-forth banter ensues between the two lovers — while our heroine simultaneously wages war against the hordes of flesh-eating undead. Chock-full of romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and rotting corpses galore, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece into something high school juniors might actually want to read.

The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Every Published –Weighing in at 1,083 pages, this tome (edited by Otto Penzler) is not for the uninitiated, as it requires a significant commitment. This bible of vampire tales starts with 19th-century, pre-Dracula stories and poetry and marches into the 21st century with selections by horror heavy-hitters Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dan Simmons and Ray Bradbury. Some of the stories are silly, some are gruesome, and many are eerily disturbing. Includes informative capsule bios of each author — many of which are quite stories in themselves.

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