Tag Archives: Halloween

Over the Garden Wall, a Picture-Perfect Autumnal Feast 

If you’re an autumn afficionado, you may have seen the cartoon masterpiece that is Over the Garden Wall, the 2014 children’s series that ran on Cartoon Network over the course of one week. Since then, the show has reached cult classic status among adult viewers who return to the short, 10-episode series yearly as the air turns cold and the leaves turn vibrant. Aside from the impeccable fall vibes, I’ve been thinking about what makes this one-off series so enduring. There are tons of fall-flavoured specials out there, but Over the Garden Wall seems to hit the bullseye—like teasing out the appealing elements of other media and combining them into the ultimate autumnal stew. It’s got the coziness we all crave this time of year without forgoing the spookiness of the season (maybe just a touch spookier than most children’s fare?), while pulling directly from cultural touchstones of yore. It also localizes the story to a pseudo-New England setting, in some vaguely post-Civil War/turn of the 20th century timespan. It’s a feast for Halloween fans, but also for big ol’ literature and history nerds (like myself).  

The plot of Over the Garden Wall is simple: two brothers Greg and Wirt find themselves lost in a strange land called the Unknown, a place out of time that is full of dark forests, strange inhabitants, and a sliding scale of sinister threats. As they try to find their way, they earn the help of a less-than-friendly bluebird named Beatrice who promises to take them to Adelaide of the Pasture, ostensibly their ticket home. Story-wise, Over the Garden Wall recalls familiar tropes of Western literature, especially the young person’s journey dotted with eclectic weirdos going all the way back to chivalric tales of Medieval Europe (a la King Arthur and his round table) and into the 20th century with the likes of The Wizard of Oz. OTGW pokes meta jokes at this (and its Hansel and Gretel fairytale structure) in episodes like Songs of the Dark Lantern, where the brothers come upon a tavern full of townsfolk who are known only by their occupation: the Butcher, the Midwife, the Tailor and the Apprentice. They prod Wirt until they discover his narrative function: he’s the Pilgrim, a “traveler on a sacred journey, a master of your own destiny!” 

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The Vampire: A Brief History

This spooky season I find myself falling headlong back into the clutches of vampire fiction, a turn of events spurred on by the fantastic new television adaptation of Interview With the Vampire. Ever since HBO’s bonkers True Blood ended, I’ve been craving something that truly gets the horror, the thrill, the sheer camp of vampires. Pop culture needed a bit of a break from them, but this fall we have four new vampire book adaptations airing. We’re back, baby! And we (vampire fans) are getting everything our goth little hearts desire. For too long it’s been all about zombies. Enough. Time for the return of decadence. 

For the past couple hundred years, vampires have enjoyed a stable presence in literature, waning in and out of fashion. And while people might still roll their eyes at the concept of vampire romance, probably bemoaning the cheesiness of Twilight, the fact of the matter is that for as long as there have been vampires in fiction, they have been intrinsically tied to romance—or at least, to desire. In 1700s Western Europe, the novel as we know it was in its fledgling form, and much of the written content was meant to be lurid and titillating (often under the guise of morality-teaching) for a newly widespread audience (think Fanny Hill or Pamela). Around the same time, Eastern Europe was gripped by a “vampire epidemic”; a sort of mass hysteria that caused townsfolk to exhume corpses they were convinced were coming back to life. Shortly after this time period came Gothic literature. The motifs are familiar: decaying castles or abbeys, vengeful murder, damsels, lascivious villains, and so on. Basically, Gothic fiction was the height of melodrama (for a crystallization of all of these themes and more, see 1796’s The Monk by Matthew Lewis). 

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My Heart is a Chainsaw and the Comfort of Slashers

The words “comfort” and “slasher” might not seem to go together—in fact, you might see them as diametrically opposed. After all, what’s comforting about a masked man jumping out of your closet brandishing a knife, or a strange voice on the phone asking if you like scary movies? But in Stephen Graham Jones’ new novel My Heart is a Chainsaw, the well-trod roads of the horror genre are just that, a safety net for his traumatized protagonist. As mysterious—but ominously familiar—events start popping up around the gentrifying town of Proofrock, Jade Daniels uses her encyclopedic knowledge of horror conventions to investigate the goings-on. 

Horror isn’t for everyone, but those who love it, love it. I used to know someone who watched horror movies before bed, the way I might watch an episode of Friends or New Girl (this person also worked in a funeral home, so make of that what you will). In My Heart is a Chainsaw, Jade is singularly obsessed with slasher films, knows them inside out, her stream-of-consciousness-like narration a running encyclopedia of the genre (this Letterboxd list compiles Jade’s film references, all 171 of them). She knows her Final Girls, from Laurie Strode to Nancy Thompson to Sidney Prescott; those “good girls” who follow the rules of surviving a horror movie while their less virtuous friends get offed. Jade herself is something of a Final Girl, but she exists on the fringes of society: an Indigenous teenager with an abusive father and absent mother, who barely scrapes through school and has multiple suicide attempts under her belt. Since the Final Girl rules were cemented by Halloween in 1978, filmmakers have played with them, subverted them, modernized them—but Jade, devotee of the classics, doesn’t even consider that she might have Final Girl potential until she’s all but run out of options.  

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