Scary Pooches: “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

"AhwOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

As I’ve mentioned before, my collection of Sherlock Holmes stories is one of my go-to books when I’m home sick or just in a bad mood. But even though I find them comforting, some of the stories are spooky enough to be great Halloween reads. The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous Holmes story, and it captures the distinctly British creepiness of an ancient manse with a frightening past on the desolate moor. Here are some of Dr. Watson’s observations:

“In the evening I put on my waterproof and I walked far upon the sodden moor, full of dark imaginings, the rain beating upon my face and the great wind whistling about my ears. God help those who wander into the mire now…In the distant hollow in the left, half hidden by the mist, the two thin towers of Baskerville Hall rose above the trees.”

You’ve got a possibly haunted mansion, treacherous surroundings, and a mysterious, possibly supernatural, murderous hound. What more do you need for Halloween?

Best read on a foggy evening with a strong cup of hot Earl Grey.

Mowgli Redux: “The Graveyard Book”

How better to get into the Halloween spirit than by reading a book set in a cemetery?

The Graveyard Book is a treat. Author Neil Gaiman, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, crafted a marvelous story about a boy raised, not by wild animals, but by the deceased inhabitants of a British graveyard. Young Nobody (“Bod”) Owens is the only living resident of the cemetery.  After his family is murdered, he wanders into the graveyard where he is brought up by the many neighborly spirits who died during different times in history, including a Roman legionnaire and a young girl drowned for suspected witchcraft. Bod learns numerous important skills from the ghosts, including “Fading and Sliding and Dreamwalking.” When he gets a bit older, he must put these abilities to use when he confronts the murderous secret society that killed his family.

I totally nerded-out today when I read Neil Gaiman’s answer to a question about whether the graveyard in the book is based on one in real life. His answer: “The graveyard in The Graveyard Book is a composite of a few Graveyards – mostly of Glasgow Necropolis, Abney Park and Highgate Cemetery West.” The Glasgow Necropolis (isn’t that a great word?) was one of my favorite places to wander about and take pictures during the five months I spent studying in Scotland.

Luckily (sadly?) I never saw any ghosts.

Magic at Midnight: “The Night Circus”

As a total cheapskate, I generally get books for a quarter at used book sales, or for free by borrowing them from friends and family (or stopping by the library or the Book Thing). But last month, I uncharacteristically bought myself a brand new, freshly released, hardcover book, for no reason at all. No reason except that I really, really wanted it. I trotted over to Kramerbooks on my lunch hour, and there it was, the one I was looking for, The Night Circus in all of it’s shiny, new hardbound glory.

Ahh, new book smell…

I had read so many great things about Erin Morgenstern‘s first novel that I was a bit concerned that my expectations would be too high.

They weren’t.

The Night Circus presents us with two young protagonists, Celia and Marco, who are unwillingly trapped in a deadly magic competition by their feuding teachers. The rules of the game are unclear, but at least the venue is: a circus in which Celia and Marco try to one up each other with ever more breathtaking magical feats. Inevitably, our two heroes fall in love. Morgenstern describes each new circus attraction in exquisite detail, from a Cloud Maze to an Ice Garden to a vast and realistic forest within a tent. The circus even has its own groupies, the reveurs, who follow the circus from town to town and wear red scarves to identify one another in the crowd.

The book is both a fantasy tale and a love story, but the most compelling thing about it is the sense of place. Morgenstern evokes all five senses in her descriptions of the circus, the real main character of the story:

It is these aficionados, these reveurs, who see the details in the bigger picture of the circus. They see the nuance of the costumes, the intricacy of the signs. They buy sugar flowers and do not eat them, wrapping them in paper instead, and carefully bringing them home. They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.

And it turns out to be a terrific novel to read during the countdown to Halloween. The book perfectly captures the chill in the autumn air and the wonder in the circus-goers eyes as they meander around the miraculous attractions, sipping the most delicious hot spiced cider in the history of the world and munching on sticky caramel popcorn.

If anyone cares to join me, I plan on going to hear Erin Morgenstern talk about her creation at Politics & Prose on Monday, November 7 at 7 p.m.  I just wish I had a red scarf to wear.

The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50

This makes me very happy:

 

Anyone else remember wishing desperately as a kid that The Tollbooth would appear in your room? So that you could drive off to the Kingdom of Wisdom in your tiny car, meet Tock the Watchdog and the Humbug, and face off against the Terrible Trivium and the Everpresent Wordsnatcher?

The October Country

The air is crisper, the leaves are turning and the ubiquitous pumpkin lattes have returned to the coffee shops. Which means it’s my favorite season–and it’s time to dip into some magical, dark or otherwise Halloween-y books. I’ll share a few of my favorites as we draw nearer to October 31st, starting with one of my all-time childhood favorites, The Halloween Tree. While I eat this delicious fun-sized Nestle Crunch Bar. Because you clearly can’t have Halloween without candy.

If all you’ve read of Ray Bradbury is Fahrenheight 451, you’re missing out. Provided that you like somewhat sinister fantasy tales. I first stumbled across The Halloween Tree at Tenley Library in elementary school, and have read it almost every autumn since. The Halloween Tree tells the story of a group of boys heading out for a night of trick or treating when their friend Pip is kidnapped by a grim, unidentified force. Assisted by a mysterious gentleman named Mr. Moundshroud, the boys travel back in time to bring Pip home. As they journey through ancient Egypt, druidical Britain, and a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, among others, they learn how our modern-day holiday of Halloween came to be.

I adore Bradbury’s writing. Here’s a sample for you, from where the kids meet Mr. Moundshroud:

The huge man in dark clothes soared up out of the leaves, taller and yet taller. He grew like a tree. He put out branches that were hands. He stood framed against the Halloween Tree itself, his outstretched arms and long white bony fingers festooned with orange globes of fire and burning smiles. His eyes were pressed tight as he roared his laughter. His mouth gaped wide to let an autumn wind rush out. “Not treat, boys, no, not Treat! Trick, boys, Trick! Trick!”

The Halloween Tree is best enjoyed with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, while the windows are opened to let in the aroma of dry leaves and wood fires.

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