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Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween Hardcover – September 21, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (September 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158234230X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582342306
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,158,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

All Hallows Eve, to use one of its many aliases, is a night when usual distinctions between fun and fear, children and adults, the living and the dead are magically blurred, argues Skal, author of V Is for Vampire and co-editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Mixing historical fact ("witch-hunts were aided and abetted by European texts like Malleus Maleficarum, and reinforced the misogynistic, witch-as-crone stereotype for the New World") with folklore and urban legends, Skal makes his study much more treat than trick. He recounts the holiday's evolution from the pagan new year of Samhain to a night that has brought the likes of the Miami child murders of the early 1980s and the "Perfectly Under Control" Halloween of Martha Stewart. Skal interviews people who have a particular affinity for the darker side, like horror maven Clive Barker and the mother-and-son duo who run a Horror Hotel Monster Museum, and ends with Halloween 2001, when "never before had so much genuine human feeling and civic solidarity been expended on a holiday previously notorious for its antisocial aspects."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

An expert in scary culture, Skal (V Is for Vampire; The Monster Show) gleefully explores Halloween in America. His exploration of Halloween's origins is competent and evenhanded, but his real focus is on the present, where a lucrative industry has supplanted a frightening holiday. He reveals the people behind the industry who devote their lives to the dark side of American kitsch, covering the Halloween movies, Halloween among the gay community in San Francisco, and tourism in Salem, MA. He also includes a chapter on the effect of September 11 on Halloween celebrations. His breathless attempt to set the book's tone with the tale of a real-life bogeyman feels forced, but as soon as he digs in and starts debunking Halloween urban myths rather than playing into them the book comes to life. Skal's book draws upon Lesley Pratt Bannatyne's Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History (Pelican, 1998), but Skal's focus is on original research. While less comprehensive than Jack Santino's Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life (Univ. of Tennessee, 1994), this is a wonderful choice for larger collections and lends itself to a much wider audience. Audrey Snowden, formerly with Clark Univ., Worcester, MA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

56-57) For anyone seriously wanting to study this holiday, this book will be "must reading."
Steven H Propp
The whole came off a little disjointed, with too much emphasis given to topics that might have made better footnotes than chapters.
Eric the Squish
Detailed history of the holiday (including the 20th century).I was surprised at the research done for this book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on January 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Like many in the baby boom generation, I grew up loving Halloween and have been reluctant to give the holiday up. For years I had a rather elaborate yard haunt that seemed to grow bigger and bigger each year. I haven't put on the annual production in a while but one of these Octobers the casket is going to come out of the garage then its trick-or-treaters beware. With that in mind, one day while browsing around Amazon I came across this book and it caught my interest given my love for the macabre holiday and its traditions.
David Skal in this book gives the reader a quick overview of the holiday. There is a little on the history, a little on the traditions, a little on the legends and a little on about the darker side of Halloween. There is not however much detail on any subject. For example his chapter about Halloween movies deals almost exclusively with the "Halloween" movie series and its shortcomings. If he had just switched over to television he could have written an entire chapter just on The Simpsons, let alone all of the other series that have started to do Halloween episodes, something almost unheard of before 1990 or so.
I found his chapter on debunking the poison candy myths to be one of the best in the book and was of course attracted to the chapter on yard haunts. The chapter he offers about witches was also interesting although I am sure there are some Salem merchants who would disagree. Overall this is a pretty good book but it could have been much better. The appearance of the author's personal agenda on occasion didn't help but overall I just never really got a feel for what he was trying to say about Halloween. I enjoyed the book and did pick up a few bits of information but I couldn't help but think something was missing.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David J. Skal on November 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Although I appreciate for providing a forum for customer reviews, it needs to be pointed out that the review of my book DEATH MAKES A HOLIDAY by "Zaine Ridling" is an unattributed cut-and-paste of a piece actually written by USA TODAY reporter David Colton and published by USA TODAY last week. While the review is very favorable, I hope that will nonetheless take appropriate steps to give a correct attribution to this copyrighted work. As an author, I am sensitive to issues of copyright law. USA TODAY deserves an attribution, if not an apology.
In order to post this message, I am required to "rate" my own work. I will dodge the issue by going for the neutral middle ground -- a "3." (The system doesn't allow me to chose 2.5.)
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Eric the Squish on November 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Being a fan of Mr. Skal's writing (Monster Show is an annual literary tradition for me) and of Halloween in particular, I picked up this book hoping to find a detailed historical account of Halloween and all of its manifestations (from cultural to the commercial).
The initial chapters delivered this perfectly, and I thoroughly enjoyed his account of the origins of Halloween and its cultural significances, however, beyond this riveting opening, the author goes on to pursue disparate topics marginally related to, or peripherally effected by Halloween. The whole came off a little disjointed, with too much emphasis given to topics that might have made better footnotes than chapters. I would rather have had pages of more in-depth information on the Jack-o-lantern or druids than the West Coast Pride parades. That's not to say the borderline topics of the individual chapters weren't interesting, I enjoyed them all and found some of them truly fascinating in their own right, but I couldn't help but want to revisit the initial chapters' themes.
I wanted more History with my Halloween, as per the book's title.
Granted the first half of this book may be reason enough to buy it (The Candy Man story gave me the creeps), but ultimately, I would rather have had a 300 page detailed exploration of the themes and ideas brought up in the first half of the book, with the remainder of the chapters' topics sprinkled about where necessary. Still, it's a well researched, well written book that can enlighten anyone with more than a passing interest in all things Halloween, I have certainly learned a lot reading this book. There may be a few rocks in this trick-or-treat bag, but ultimately it's a rewarding and engaging read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By LifeboatB on July 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed "Death Makes a Holiday"; I thought it was a fascinating and thorough exploration of a holiday whose origins were always mysterious to me. (They're still somewhat mysterious, as no one can explain for certain where all the traditions came from.) One of the other reviewers complained that he already knew some of the information in the book, but I've never found a history of Halloween that answers the questions this one does; maybe my local library needs to beef up their Halloween section. The book's approach is very personal: the author spends a lot of time on topics he finds interesting, such as monster movies, that not every historian would consider strictly relevant to the celebration of Halloween. However, I found those topics interesting, too, so I didn't mind. Skal's writing style is intelligent but conversational, so the book is a breeze to read. I especially enjoyed his first-hand interviews with haunted-house creators, and Sara Karloff. I wouldn't recommend the book for kids, though, because there are descriptions of real-life murders that are actually quite scary, even for an adult.
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