Guts and Grog Tooned Up

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sitting in a Dark Tavern Reflecting on The Pumpkin Smasher

When I first heard of another place full of booze and horror I had to become a regular. I now am that drunk guy at the end of the bar over at The Tavern of Terror. 

                                REFLECTIONS ON A PUMPKIN SMASHER

It’s Halloween morning and here I am, back from having walked the dog in the chilly autumnal air, sipping on a cup of coffee with my old, worn, and beloved copy of Anita Benarde’s The Pumpkin Smasher by my side.

When Eric of Guts and Grog approached me to partake in his series of posts “A Look Back on Horror with Training Wheels”, where he and other bloggers from the horrorsphere are revisiting spookies from childhood, the first thing I thought of was this book. I am delighted to have been invited and that I get to cover it.

Even as a child, I reveled in anything related to Halloween. I played with my Remco mini-monster all year round and checked out Crestwood House monster books from the library over and over again, inducing eye-rolling from my Dad. But there was one book that I actually owned and cherish above all others.

The Pumpkin Smasher was published in 1972, so it had been out for a while by the time I arrived in 1977. I can’t be sure how I ended up with it, as I really can’t remember ever not having it. Every Halloween my Mom and I would read through this little book and I would stare, awestruck, at the whimsical illustrations, all done in only black, white and orange. The yarn spun within is of a town banding together to save Halloween from a witch that is out to spoil the fun by destroying everyone’s jack-o-lanterns. The drawings really brought the simple tale to life using the core shades associated with the holiday, and made the illustrations seem to encapsulate the eerie magic of the season with its dead leaves, tangerine moons and charcoal skies.

Now, as a grown man, when I read this book the sense of nostalgia is positively flooding, and that same eerie magic that the book contained for me as a child is elevated by years of golden Halloween memories. Each page is a treasured artifact, flashing back on not just my own lost childhood but on a simpler time when Halloween hadn’t yet become so commercial and transformed by an increasingly cynical society. This was when Halloween was really about running through the streets at night in homemade costumes, kicking up leaves and munching on candy, all while living out the fantasy of being a witch or a goblin. It was a night when everyone made believe together and neighbors reconnected before the long winters would shut them in their homes. Now Halloween is sold in pop-up stores and trick-or-treating is mostly done in party form at malls or other “safe places” (though I’ll never understand how taking candy from the stranger at Foot Locker is safer than taking candy from the stranger down the street). Also, the kids who participate just keep getting younger as they all grow up faster. Today’s eight-year-old is more interested in their cell phone than in wearing a mask. The moonlit night gallivanting and the carefree impetuousness of youth are sadly missing from the holiday now, for the most part, but not so in this little time capsule of a book that is now celebrating its fortieth Halloween.

I’m glad to have held on to this book for all these years. Other people who grew up with its spooky charm now scramble to find this out-of-print gem and used copies sell for hundreds of dollars online. There’s nothing like nostalgia to make a collector open up their wallets. No price seems too high when we’re desperately trying to recapture the magic of our youth. Ray Bradbury explained that very well in his own Halloween tale Something Wicked This Way Comes.

 I suppose every generation struggles with change. Autumn itself is a time of great change, and somber in its way, hinting at another year closing to an end. While Halloween itself has changed, I am at least glad to see it growing in popularity over the years even as its traditions transform.

I hope I get at least a few trick-or-treaters tonight. I always deck my house out for Halloween, and each year I seem to be more and more alone in doing so. But by the time the holiday arrives all the neighborhood kids who understand the holiday’s magic know which house they want to go to. I’ll have my pumpkins out there too, and if a certain witch comes around trying to smash them, thankfully I’ll know what to do, having always appreciated Anita Benarde’s special little tale.

- Koyote the Bartender  

Koyote runs Tavern of Terror where you can find cool liquor and cult horror. It is the horror bar that reviews scary movies and suggests what alcohol to enjoy with them.

1 comment:


Thanks for sharing. Brought back my own memories as a kid back in the day when Halloween wasn't commeralized. I wish I still had this book. Thanks for the memories!