Happy Halloween, almost. It’s astonishing that this year is nearly over. Time has been simultaneously dragging on and flying by as we grapple with the horror of a global pandemic and the terrible loss of life. We’re almost two years into what would normally be considered the stuff of a cinema blockbuster: a fast moving virus, inept governments, a race against time for a cure and the heros who save us, oftentimes from ourselves.
Halloween is the perfect holiday for the moment we’re in because in its original form, Samhain, was a holiday to mark the changing of the season and honor the dead as the days got shorter and the line between darkness and light diminished. From the start we’ve had an uneasy relationship with death and the dead. Let’s face it, we’ve been a superstitious group from the beginning. We can’t see what lies on the other side of life and it vexes us. Prior to the arrival of religion, civilizations hedged their bets with the afterlife by honoring the dead in order to keep them happy so as to avoid being haunted by malicious spirits that could damage their crops, harvests or entire villages. Costumes and disguises were to help avoid being kidnapped by a wayward fairy or nymph.
There are times in life when the dead seem more powerful than the living and if you don’t believe me, pick up a novel by Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelly or Stephen King just to name a few of my favorite authors who’ve covered the topic. As humans, we often yearn for things that ought not to be in our grasp. Classic horror fiction, regardless of the era, highlights humanity’s limits and the perils of exceeding them. Here’s to scary monsters and super creeps and how their stories teach us about the corrosive nature of hysteria, prejudice and superstition.
It seems fitting given the times we live in to revisit some of these classic stories, and remind ourselves of how fragile civilization is. Perhaps this year we can take a traditional view of Halloween and honor our dead, paying tribute to the multitudes who left this world too soon.