A Postscript to an Imported Tradition

Jim Henson's The Storyteller - The Soldier and Death

A still photo from Jim Henson's The Storyteller - The Soldier and Death

Horror of horrors. Being in South Africa means we get a spattering of pop culture (relentless bombardment of mostly Hollywood-processed images and thus filtered and/or watered down North American traditions or mythmaking) and other cultural oddities remixed into the local configuration (hahahahaha, I already lost myself there!).

Our kids wanted a Halloween of sorts so they started days ago with cutting up bits of paper into ghost shapes, skulls and ribcages with strings to connect the hands and legs, lots and lots of bats (out of black paper with silver ink outlines), one orange pumpkin about the size of their hand, and a few other things I can’t remember. They stuck these all over the house, often in the most unexpected places like next to a light switch.

A day before Halloween they rediscovered an interactive book we had given them when they were too young called Human Body (a DK – Dorling Kidersley action pack it says!). Well, they are still too young for such a challenging project, so my ever-patient wife who loves the fiddliest of things (I am the clumsy junkman) worked for hours putting together the book’s intricate and superbly detailed human skeleton made out of thin cardboard. Boy was it a show of technical wizardry!

Not having grown up with such a ghastly (nudge, nudge) tradition as Halloween, I was of little help, of course, in thinking of ways to make the evening more interesting. All I could do was hang dark cloths to cover windows and set up dim lighting in one of our spare rooms (my junkroom, actually). The skeleton standing next to a slowly waking lava lamp did add some… cheer?

Skeleton out of cardboard from DK Interactive Book, Human Body

Skeleton out of cardboard from DK Interactive Book, Human Body

Now my wife had other plans. She grew up in North America and it was something huge for her, really lots of fun — or was meant to be anyway.

The kids put on their home made (more like home trashed) outfits of a witch (black silk cape and broom of the wrong design!) and an Eastern European looking Little Red Riding Hood (nope, not really, more like a gypsy actually) then knocked on our door, but then forgot to say TRICK OR TREAT and instead just giggled.

We brought them inside the house, blindfolded them, spun them around three times and then led them to the “Haunted House” (my junkroom, remember?) where cobwebs (a peacock feather!) brushed against their cheeks and foreheads. We sat them down, took off their blindfolds, then made them put their hands in a bag. Gooey stuff on their fingers, they started giggling then went “Ewwww!!” “Yukkk!” “Gross!!!!!”

My wife said it was the guts of someone we had cut up! Hideous laughter from yours truly. Well after the frantic laughter and faces of disgust (all mixed in!) they asked us what it was. “Noodles!” my wife declared. Worse facial reactions accompanied an extended and screeching “YUUUUUKKKK!!!”

The next item was a little bowl with an eye and an ear floating in blood. Grapes, my wife told me later on, would have been best for an eye, but they’re totally out of season in this country. She used, of all sad things, carved out cucumber. The blood was tomato juice. The kids laughed and laughed, but they did eat an eye! My wife managed to string up a story of sorts, nothing I can remember now. What mattered was there were loads of laughter and expressions of gleeful disgust.

So it was a weird first Halloween. Well it would have been way better anyway than my silly idea of showing them an episode of Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller” series – which they have seen a number of times already and would be nothing new or scary anymore. Still, that series and that particular episode I was thinking of, “The Soldier and Death,” remains one of the best rendered fairy tales that I have ever seen. John Hurt is always fantastic, and here plays The Storyteller’s part with perfect dramatic and comic flourishes. I miss Jim Henson’s genius matched with Anthony Minghella’s scriptwriting magic.

Ah, maybe I can watch it on my own again another day.

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About matangmanok

Jim Pascual Agustin writes and translates poetry. Sometimes he tries his hand at essays and stories. In 2011 the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House in Manila released BAHA-BAHAGDANG KARUPUKAN (poems in Filipino) and ALIEN TO ANY SKIN (poems in English). The same publisher released his most recent poetry collections SOUND BEFORE WATER and KALMOT NG PUSA SA TAGILIRAN. In 2015 a new poetry collection in English, A THOUSAND EYES was released. His first collection of short stories in Filipino, SANGA SA BASANG LUPA, was released in 2016. UK publisher The Onslaught Press launches his latest poetry collection, WINGS OF SMOKE, worldwide in February 2017. View all posts by matangmanok

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