First, some background. Halloween comes to us from ancient New Year festivals. The church, in A.D. 800’s, established All Saints’ Day–continuing a festival that was pre-Christian–and the evening before was All Hallow e’en.
Storytelling Traditions have included tales of ghosts, fortunetelling, and jack-o’-lanterns, turning the paranoia of past times into the paranormal of current times.
According to Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a miser called Jack who couldn’t enter heaven or hell, and had to roam the earth, carrying a lantern, until Judgment Day. In the past, people in England and Ireland have carved beets, potatoes and turnips as the lanterns, but when the custom reached the U.S., pumpkins became the norm. Inspired by this, Ray Bradbury wrote The Halloween Tree.
Fortunetelling was popular, using coins, cards, and yarrow stalks (I Ching). It also often took the form of hiding objects in a cake: a ring, coin and thimble. The person who “found” the coin would become rich. The one who found the ring would marry soon, but the one who found the thimble would not.
People once believed that ghosts roamed the earth on Halloween, as though a chink in the netherworld opened briefly to let them all come out to play or wreak havoc. They also thought that witches gathered on that night to worship the devil.
All this is great foddor for stories. Many stories have opened with someone telling a story that was related to ghosts. Excellent examples are Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, or The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill.
Fortunetelling has been used in novels as well, such as A Wild Ride, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, or The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann.
Other books with ghosts and witches, etc. would be Regarding Avalon, by Dom Ossiah, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and Touched by Cyn Balog, and books by Gregory Maguire, Wicked, and Out of Oz. There is also, of course, the very famous Harry Potter series about witches and warlocks by J.K. Rowling.
And Halloween can’t pass by without mentioning Vampires, those mythological and folkloric beings that were popularized in the early 18th century, coming to Western Europe from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Books about vampires, of course, have become very popular, but some unique tomes that come to mind are Dracula, by Bram Stoker, The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, and the series beginning with Soulless by Gail Carriger.
And isn’t it interesting that the NANOWRIMO starts the day after Halloween.
So much to read. So much that could be written…