Ellen Tsagaris is the resident RJW Design Journal guest blogger. She has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls and her blogging work can be found on the doll collecting section of about.com and on her personal doll blogs, Doll Museum, and Dr. E's Doll Museum blog. Ellen is a fan and collector of R. John Wright dolls and we were fortunate to have her guest blog for us about Tasha Tudor, Pumpkin Moonshine, and Pumpkins.
"The Pumpkin" (1850)
Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
John Greenleaf Whittier
Pumpkin Moonshine (1938) was Tasha Tudor’s first book. In a video that features her talking about her life, Tudor talks about how many rejections she suffered before a publisher picked it up. One of the earlier publishers that had rejected her wanted to know why she hadn’t brought the book to them, and she answered that she had, and they had swiftly turned her down. Tudor admitted to feeling a little wicked glee at being able to answer the publisher this way.
Tudor’s spicy personality adds to the wonderful “spice” in her books, like this one about Halloween. It’s timeless; we read the story and once again we are in the child’s world of Halloween, school costume parades, bobbing for apples, Trick-or-Treating with mom or dad keeping watch, popcorn balls, caramel apples, and bags of candy that we could actually eat without benefit of X-ray.
This delightful story belongs on the bookshelf with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Miss Flora McFlimsey’s Halloween, Stellaluna, andRay Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. These characters populate childhood, and make us feel the chill breeze of fall and see the oranges, golds, reds, and brown of autumn.
Tom and Sylvie by R. John Wright bring a 3D dimension to our pumpkin dreams. RJW has captured the innocence and sense of fun that pervade Tudor’s books, even as we marvel at her deceptively simple illustrations
Really, Halloween and jack-o-lanterns are also deceptively simple. The first jack-o-lanterns are Celtic in origin, and were probably turnips. They were carved with faces into small lanterns and reminded their carriers of Jack, who searched the world holding a lantern containing an ember from hell, looking for salvation after he nearly lost his soul to the devil. Like the gargoyles that guard many buildings, especially cathedrals, the grotesque pumpkin faces were meant to ward off evil. Halloween in Ireland was celebrated differently than it is here. To read about Irish Halloween’s in the early 20th century, look up the short story “Clay” from James Joyce’s Dubliners.
Somewhere in the new world, the turnip became a pumpkin, and the jack-o-lantern found its way into Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” with the star character, The Headless Horseman, choosing a carved pumpkin to replace his lost head.
Jack-o-lanterns and carved pumpkins are staples of the season, and have become more and more elaborate, but many still prefer the traditional faces made of triangles and circles. Gourds of all types have become icons of Halloween and Thanksgiving, and there is a Midwest festival called “O Gourd-geous Day” that celebrates all the things one can do with them, including making dolls and other artifacts.
Pumpkins, real and fake, become heads for Halloween Décor dolls and for Scarecrows, popular fall cousins of dolls. The Great Pumpkin renewed interest in pumpkin caring and décor, and the horror fill “Pumpkin Head” inspired doll figures; one life-sized one was once in the doll collection of Anne Rice. Living Dead Dolls just put out Jack- O -Lantern, a new doll that picks up on the Jack legend.
Halloween’s origins are ancient, and Ray Bradbury does an excellent job of summarizing its history in The Halloween Tree. If you can find the book, get the animated film that Bradbury narrates. In the world of the Ancient Celts, October 31st was the Samhain, pronounced “Sowin” which represented not only the Harvest, but the New Year when the veils between the mortal and spirit worlds parted, and the dead could walk the earth. In Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, the Calaveras or sugar skulls, icons of El Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead, celebrate the afterlife of those we love who have gone to the afterlife. The Day of the Dead is celebrated all over the US and celebrations take place during November 1st and 2nd, All Saints and All Souls Days in the Catholic Church. Other churches have similar celebrations, but they do not always take place during fall.
Harvest dolls and their cousins, pilgrim candles, Halloween figures, jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows evoke the world of Tasha Tudor and Pumpkin Moonshine, and remind us that ritual and tradition are important to all of us, child and adult, and that the dolls that are part of tradition have a history as old as the earth itself.