Thursday, October 31, 2013

You Don't Know Jack

It's Halloween! It's Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can't be seen
On any other night.

Skeletons and ghosts and ghouls,
Grinning goblins fighting duels,
Werewolves rising from their tombs,
Witches on their magic brooms.

In masks and gowns
We haunt the street
And knock on doors
For trick or treat.

Tonight we are
The king and queen,
For oh tonight
It's Halloween!

-Jack Prelutsky

I love that poem, because in a very short amount of time, it seems to get across everything that's so great about this holiday. The ghosts and ghouls, the trick-or-treating, the feeling that something is different from the other 364 days of the year. And most importantly, the power of being whoever or whatever you want to be, if only for one night. It's intoxicating.

However, it also points out something about Halloween that makes it unique among holidays (in fact, Daffy laid it out very well in his last post): there's no central figure of representation. All Hallow's Eve is truly an ensemble cast of monsters, spirits, and other grotesques, and I have to confess that I rather like it that way. It just seems to fit that the holiday for misfits and outcasts would include everyone on the bill. I know some people like to equate a popular horror movie villain with the role, but if their story isn't expressly ABOUT Halloween (and not merely taking place on Halloween night, Mr. Myers), I don't think it works. Many folks think that Sam from the film Trick 'r Treat would be the perfect mascot, and while I do love Sam, he hasn't been around long enough to do the job. Give it a few more decades and we'll see.

He is a cutie though.

The point is, Halloween is steeped in tradition and folklore, and owes just as much to Washington Irving (perhaps much more) as it does to John Carpenter. And while Daffy made an excellent choice for who should be the face of Halloween, my selection is a little more... antiquated. He is also named Jack, funnily enough.

If you're a regular visitor to the Drive-in, then you probably have a handle on who I'm talking about, but here's a quick recap: a long time ago, there was an Irishman named Jack who was one nasty scab of a human being. When he died, he certainly didn't get to enter Heaven, but he was so mischievous and annoying that the devil wouldn't allow him to stay in Hell either. When Jack complained that his punishment of walking the earth forever was too much to bear, the devil gave him an eternally glowing piece of coal to light his way (variations on the story say he stole it from Hell, which would match Jack's track record). Jack took the coal and placed it in a turnip that he had hollowed out and carved a face into. Merely to act as a lantern, or maybe so he'd also have a friend? Either way, he's said to still be traveling the world, looking to atone for his past sins.

Of course, this legend gives us the origin of the jack-o-lantern, perhaps the most iconic image in the Halloween box. Carving pumpkins has been a tradition in my home since I was little, and I'm sure that many of you also enjoy laying out the newspaper and scooping Jack's "brains" onto the floor before giving him that toothy grin. The great thing about it is, it's both a specific character (Nasty Jack) AND the ensemble cast. Jack-o-lanterns are like snowflakes, no two look exactly alike, even if you use stencils, you cheater. That's what makes it, in my mind, the perfect candidate for the face of Halloween. You've got a spooky centuries-old story, you've got tradition, you've got iconic imagery, and you've got a million different looks. Maybe that toothy grin means that Jack's heart has softened, or maybe it means that he's just thinking of his next nasty trick. Either way, it's Halloween.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! The poem is a great representation of the day. As for Sam, I'd be fine with him being the mascot to the day. Love him and so happy to know another film is on its way! Happy Hallowe'en to you!