“There must have been a thousand pumpkins on this tree, hung high and on every branch. A thousand smiles. A thousand grimaces. And twice-times-a-thousand glares and winks and blinks and leerings of fresh-cut eyes,” wrote Ray Bradbury in “The Halloween Tree.”
The winds blew strong, rustling the giant trees through surrounding pathways, setting an eerie Gothic scene for those who waited outside the Mediterranean revival style South Pasadena library on Thursday, eager to see the 1993 animated Hanna-Barbera film “The Halloween Tree.”
Based on Bradbury’s book, the film was shown in the Library’s community room, where related artwork was displayed. The book and film center on a small group of friends costumed for Halloween, who at an ill friend’s urging visit a haunted house and the tree of the book’s title. Filled with the history and mythology that lies behind the celebrated holiday, the book and film share additional insight into the reality of death and illness.
Bradbury was twice guest at the library, once at the author’s own request for his 90th birthday prior to his death at 92 in 2012. And since then, the library has dedicated a conference room in his honor.
Director of Library, Arts, and Culture for the City of South Pasadena Steve Fjeldsted, the evening’s organizer, recalled his first experience with Bradbury’s writing as that of his most famous book, “Fahrenheit 451”—the title that is on the author’s tombstone.
“It works on different levels,” said Fjeldsted of the classic novel. “We’ve had tons of high school [request the book]. It’s maintained complete relevance today.”
The library has since featured films like “The Halloween Tree”, and Bradbury’s own film “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
Redesigned by architect Norman F. Marsh and Carnegie-funded like many traditional libraries in the 1930s, the South Pasadena library will also house a few mementos from the evening.
A brick from Bradbury’s recently demolished home will hang in his dedicated conference room, as well as “Print number one of The Halloween Tree cover art artwork from Gris Grimly,” said Fjeldsted.
Although the holiday that allows revelers to be something they are not for one day is over, Halloween is year round for some.
Macabre illustrator and “mad creator” Grimly, whose original work and prints lined a display wall for the event, and dark fiction writer T. E. Grau, are just two such artists. Both spoke at the event and signed copies of their respective works that celebrate all things that go bump in the night.
There are about 20 illustrations in the 2015 Alfred A. Knopf published book, with most on display at the library. Grimly’s additional illustrative works, which include Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Pinocchio,” and two volumes by Edgar Allen Poe, said he has always gravitated toward Bradbury’s work and had approached the Bradbury estate to propose the book initially.
“I’m a big fan of Ray Bradbury’s work, especially the Halloween centered pieces that he’s done like ‘Halloween Tree,’ ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes,’ ‘October Country,’ and ‘From the Dust Returned,’” said Grimly. “Any short stories he’s done that has to do with Halloween and creepy things.”
Grimly’s influences include illustrators like Edward Gorey, Egon Schiele, Ralph Steadman, and contemporaries such as Jamie Hewlett of “Tank Girl” and Gorillaz fame, as well as filmmaker, animator and illustrator Tim Burton.
After two years with Disney on a Haunted Mansion cartoon that’s since been tabled, he is currently illustrating “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” for Harper Collins and hopes to do work more with Bradbury’s other books.
“The goal for me is that I’ll illustrate more of his pieces,” said Grimly. “I grew up on a farm in a small town, which could be one of the reasons why I gravitate towards Ray Bradbury’s work because I feel that he writes so truthfully and eloquently of autumn in the Midwest and being a kid in a very simplistic and rural community.”
The book features 15 of his short stories of dark and horror fiction from previously published anthologies, magazines, and literary journals gathered over the last five years. He credits his influences as “pulpists Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Thomas Ligatti, classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and of course Ray Bradbury.” The evening’s event was his first at the library and was thrilled it featured Bradbury’s work.
“This is our hometown library,” said Grau. “Plus this is about Ray. And I feel that Ray is sort of a torchbearer for horror fiction done right.”
Attendees came dressed in the spirit and as fans of the books and of the artists who spoke. Jordan Orssell, whose costume for the event was a scarecrow, and her mother and teacher, Staci Orssell, came with a reading group to see the film.
“We have a literature circle that was reading Fahrenheit 451,” said Staci. “We just came to do this together, because it’s a Ray Bradbury thing. And I’m a fan of the artist [Grimly] as well. We did Edgar Allen Poe, and they had this book of his.”
With the close of this the most dark and grim of holiday seasons, and in the spirit, Bradbury once again said it best.
“..With each slam, one more pumpkin and then another and another and another on the huge Halloween Tree snuffed out. By the dozen, by the hundreds, by the thousands, doors banged, pumpkins went blind, snuffed candles smoked delicious smokes,” he wrote.
The South Pasadena Library Community Room will feature true crime writer Steve Hodel and his new book “Most Evil II”, on Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 7 p.m.