Many people find one of the most enjoyable aspects of Halloween to be the myriad creatures associated with it. Legendary villains like Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and zombies of all stripes emerge on or about October 31st in the forms of costumes, films, and books. America’s tendency to associate such creatures with Halloween is so embedded in our culture that we frequently forget that most of these creatures--or at least the versions of them we best remember--are relatively recent creations that are often less than two centuries old.
When Frank McCourt passed last month, he left behind memoirs filled with anguish, love, and dark merriment. Personal experiences are what this Irish-American author took and shaped into works of sorrowful beauty.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
No one really liked Duny. The boy was wild, proud, and full of temper-- well-suited to the company of the goats he herded. Then came the day when he overheard his aunt chanting a spell to call her goat down from the roof of her house. He remembered the rhyme and later spoke it to his own herd:
"Noth hierth malk man hiolk han merth han!"
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
"It's a horrible day," said Will Stanton. "It's creepy somehow."
On the day before his eleventh birthday, Will and his brother escaped from their noisy, happy house into the quiet English countryside. A black wind was blowing just a bit of snow, but there was more to come, snow and blackness both, for the Dark was rising across the land.
They stopped to get some hay at Dawson's Farm. The farmer took Will aside.
"The Walker is abroad... and this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining."
The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick
When Horn's war party found the girl, she was hidden in the corner of the cave, undressed, and past comforting by the wolves who raised her. They had been slaughtered by the Lawspeaker's band or else run off, howling their rage and loneliness. A foundling, surely, filthy, perhaps seven or eight summers old. Horn, the Lawspeaker, growled that she should not join the Storn tribe. A worthless child... another mouth to feed in starving times.
Beverly thought she had the greatest life. Things were exciting on the family farm for a little girl, and her mom and dad were working too hard to keep their dark-haired daughter from having fun. On glorious days filled with sunshine, she helped bring the lazy cows in from the pasture, picked armfuls of wild flowers, and learned the names of the trees and the birds from her father as they rode in the wagon across the field to gather firewood.
Eleanor Ruth Rosenfeld (Estes) loved to tell stories to children. She began by working as a children's assistant in her hometown library, but when she became sick with tuberculosis, she spent the quiet days of her recovery writing down her childhood memories as a series of stories for young readers.
In The Moffats, a terrific family, growing up during tough times in Cranbury, Connecticut in the 1910s, face calamity when the landlord puts a "For Sale" sign on their beloved yellow house. Janey's widowed mother works as a seamstress every day to put food on the table, coal in the grate, and clothes on their backs, but there isn't enough money left to buy a home. Week after week, month after month, the kids--fifteen-year-old Sylvie, twelve-year-old Joey, nine-year-old Janey, and five-year-old Rufus--expect the worst: that someone will buy their house, and then what will happen?
C. S. Lewis spent his first years at the family home, called Little Lea, in Belfast, Ireland. He was never really called C. S. or even Clive (C. S. stands for Clive Staples). This young man wanted to be called Jack. Like another college professor (Indiana Jones), Jack nicknamed himself after his beloved dog, Jacksie, who died when the author was quite young. His friends called him "Plain Jack Lewis," and it suited him. He was not especially handsome, but he was kind and bluff and came to have many friends.
She was born Madeleine Camp in grand old New York City on November 29, 1918. Young Madeleine took her meals on a tray in her room with her beloved Nanny, in the English fashion. Often at night, her father and mother would go out to the theatre. Other times, the theatre and literary world would come to them. Madeleine's mother, a Southern belle, played the grand piano wonderfully, and the family apartment would be filled with music and friends.