"A Hallowe'en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writings over the Centuries" Book Review
Written by R.J. MacReady
Published by McFarland
Written by Lisa Morton
2008, 214 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on January 23rd, 2008
Lisa Morton, writer of the well-regarded Halloween Encyclopedia, created A Hallowe'en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writings over the Centuries back in 2008 and confides in the preface that this book came about because there was too much material to explore in-depth in the encyclopedic format. This "anthology" gathers together many works on the history of Halloween, from pre-Christian Celtic work to early 20th century articles. There's a lot of variety here, from poems to short stories, to a one-act play and more.
For a fan of the popular holiday, how does it stack up?
Make no mistake here: This is not an anthology of short stories. This is a deep dive into history. Your casual reader may find the majority of this book too dry for their tastes, but for anyone looking for a glimpse into the origins of Hallowe'en, this is a deep well.
Beginning with a few short stories from Celtic times (800B.C. - 500A.D.), the book moves chronologically from oldest to newest. The Celtic stories are interesting and shed some light on what horror stories were like in olden times.
That's followed up with a poem from 1548 by Sir Walter Scott that's colorful in its portrayal of a cursed fairy prince and the woman who tries to save him on Hallowe'en night. It is somewhat of a chore to read, though, given the style and features a problem that really comes to the forefront in the next poem.
"Flyting Against Polwart" is a poem from 1584 by Alexander Montgomerie. I'd like to say it’s good, but the problem is that it's full of Anglo-Saxon language. The author is nice enough to add a legend beneath each page that defines the strange words, but it becomes tedious to have to look down ten times per page to get a definition (that's not an exaggeration). I believe in a future pressing it would be more helpful to print the poem with the translation done, with a legend below showing you what word was originally used. (Or, if space is not at a premium, print them side by side for comparison.)
After that, we jump almost two hundred years forward to 1785's "Hallowe'en" by Robert Burns, featuring the original foreword by James Currie. Morton likens this poem to "Twas the Night Before Christmas" in that it's most closely aligned to the holiday. It conjures up images of fairies – which were one of the most prevalent entities talked about during Hallowe'en in the old country – and also features some of the games that were traditionally played way back when. (Kail-pulling and nut burning.)
I'm not going to go any more into individual pieces; there are simply too many to break down. I'll say it's accurate to call this an anthology, as there are entries that are better than others. As I said, many of the early pieces are so rich in Anglo-Saxon language that they're a chore to read, but others like "A European Custom of Pagan Times Brought over to America" are short but fascinating. "The Hallowe'en Fires" from 1913 provides some little-known information about the folklore and traditions of the holiday.
I should also note that there are a few black-and-white photos and illustrations that are of varying interest.
For the Halloween completist or anyone doing serious research into the holiday, A Hallowe'en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writings over the Centuries is a must-have book. A lot of the material in here is stuff that I've never seen covered elsewhere, and I've read a lot of Halloween books. It's probably too erudite for your average reader who's just looking for fun facts, but there are tons of those books already out there. There aren't a lot of books like this one.
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