five with frights:
- lesley bannatyne
It was Mr. Frights' pleasure to interview Halloween Author LESLEY BANNATYNE, who has penned several great books on the holiday including it's history, a collection of poetry & writings about Halloween, and a terrific children's book all fans of our favorite time of year should have.
Check out her books for purchase!!
- MR. FRIGHTS: Where does your passion for Halloween come from?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: I've never been ashamed of being a Halloween nerd. But the real passion came from spending so much time reading about it, thinking about it, and meeting other Halloweenophiles. Just like most things, the more you find out about something the more exciting it gets.
- MR. FRIGHTS: For your book "Halloween. An American Holiday, An American History", how much and how difficult was it to research the history of Halloween?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: Well, let's put it this way: If I'd waited another few years it would have been a lot easier. I did the research on that book pre-internet, which meant scrolling for hours through microfilms in the dimly-lit basement of the Boston Public Library. (Periodicals didn't use a table of contents in the late 1800s and early 1900's, so to locate Halloween pieces you have to skim each page of film or fiche for the word, "Halloween.") My lucky break was meeting a folklorist who'd spent a lifetime collecting books, and he had his whole collection stacked throughout the first floor of his home. For a $20 deposit I got a key to his house and use of an old copy machine. All in all, the research and writing for that book took about three years.
- MR. FRIGHTS: In "A Halloween How To", the lists and details you compiled, are they from your own experiences or a mix bag of information from several sources?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: Halloween people are the nicest, most generous people I've met. I relied a lot on others for the How-To, especially the people who subscribed to the early Halloween "lists" like Howl2000 and the Halloween L. I've invented a lot of the ideas myself (which is why my freezer was filled with pumpkins in June), but I have to say I would never have thought of "half-man in the ceiling" (thank you, Iron Kingdom). So too, I relied on experts to name the top tens I used in that book.
- MR. FRIGHTS: I saw you have a new book coming out in 2011, can you tell us a little about it?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: So much that's been written about Halloween has been about the holiday's history or about how to decorate, cook, and costume for it (guilty, all counts), but there's not been much about what it is today, who makes Halloween, and why. It's not like the guy sitting next to you on the train is going to let on that he spends most of every summer growing a giant pumpkin that he really hopes David Letterman will explode on late night TV. Or spends weekends painting latex onto molded clay trolls' feet to decorate his yard come October, or works three months on a Ghostbusters costume for World Zombie Day. But Halloween today is so much about this kind of individual passion and creativity that I got curious: what actually does go on behind the scenes at prop shops and national Halloween conventions, at quiet commemorations of pagan Samhain or the raucous Salem Witches' Ball? How is it that this overly commercialized, religiously contentious, and politically fractious holiday unites us in a community based on fantasy and fear; and what draws us together on this one night when we open our doors to strangers? That's what the new book is about.
- MR. FRIGHTS: "Witches' Night Before Halloween" is a grand thing thing to me because Mr. Frights loves when Halloweenophiles take the normal and turn it into something special for fellow fans of the holiday, what was your inspiration for making that happen with such a familiar work from that other holiday?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: The book I originally wrote was Witches' Night Before Christmas-to fit in with the publisher's series of "Night Before" books for kids (e.g., "Truckers' Night Before Christmas" or "Nurses' Night Before Christmas"). But it was deemed too gruesome, and, truth to tell, it was pretty grim for a Christmas tale (Came a driver the likes of whom I've never seen / A towering skeletal red-hooded fiend /Dead-eyed and dusty and fearful of none /He's come to do that which Claus never got done: /Deliver the presents to Witchport's grim folk /And get away quick before any of them woke). They suggested I re-tool it for Halloween, and Witches Night Before Halloween was spawned. The illustrations are by artist Adrian Tans, who I think is wonderful. And for those of you with kids, there's a frog to find on every page.
Hit the Grab Bag Questions below to go on with the interview...
GRAB BAG QUESTIONS
- MR. FRIGHTS: Halloween can sometimes be looked on as sort of taboo, which in a way drives it's popularity... do you think that kind of popularity might some day take the thrill and chill out of the holiday?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: Never. In a politicized culture, everything gets political, even holidays. But it hasn't always been that way (consider that most Halloween haunted houses were produced by churches and JC's only a few decades ago), and politics or religion may be irrelevant to Halloween in another few decades. What Halloween does best now is express what we value, what we fear, what's important in the culture. It's relevant. It gives a stage to satire, commentary, imagination, fantasy. I don't see the need for those things going away anytime soon.
- MR. FRIGHTS: Outside of your own work, are there some other books on Halloween that you favor?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: I'm a huge fan of the historian Ronald Hutton, who's written books on holiday history (including Halloween), paganism, and druidry. I love David Skal on the Hollywood/Halloween connection and Stephen Asma's On Monsters. Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers are both wonderful and kind of Halloween-related.
- MR. FRIGHTS: Are you strictly Halloween or is there a love for some horror outside of the holiday too?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: Twenty years ago I was the girl targeted by haunt actors because it was so easy to make me scream. I closed my eyes during the operation scene in E.T. for goodness sake. But now, yes, I've come to love horror, all kinds of horror. Last fall I stood next to a zombie character who was chewing on a very realistic-looking blood-drenched intestine and thought, 'that's so cool.' Is this is a good or bad thing?
- MR. FRIGHTS: If you had to choose, what do you think would be your best weapon against the undead?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: Machete. Whether or not it works, it just makes you feel like you're being productive.
- MR. FRIGHTS: The key to making a great Halloween is...?
- LESLEY BANNATYNE: Imagination. Oh, and pumpkin ale.