Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shrunken gods and eternal mysteries abound

Just the other day Theo asked me, "What is it that you love about horror movies, Punkinstein?  Is it the adrenaline rush?  The thrills?  The fear?"
And faithful friends, I was stumped.
I, who is in possession of perhaps the most superfluous word-horde of anyone I know, had no answer.

I felt like a very confused little league coach who has just been asked some very complex questions.  "The kids hit the ball.  Yeah."

I knew not how to answer Theo.  I don't find them scary, horror movies.  I just like them.  Whatever does that say about my mental condition?

Last year "Trick r Treat" finally saw the glowing light of plasma screens everywhere when it came to DVD and Blu Ray.  After so long of anticipation, word of mouth, and outright guessing, we the viewing audience were treated to the joy that is "Trick r Treat".  I am not going to review the film.  Plenty of websites, blogs and wits have done this already.  I want to talk about the best bit of the film for me personally, my own little sack-headed hero in footie pajamas...Sam.

Oh, SPOILER ALERT, I suppose.

Anyway, not owned by me but taken from here is Sam:

I love Sam.  Sam is my bloody hero.

Here is why:

First I want to make clear that there is not now, nor has there ever been a Celtic 'god' named Samhain.  Confusion concerning this can be traced back several centuries and blamed squarely on poor scholarship.  Perpetuation of this misunderstanding can be blamed on a combination of poor scholarship, popular 'wisdom' and Chick Tracts.

The elves, faeries, brownies, huldu folk, gnomes and dwarves of the world have not always been so marketable, nor have they had stats such that they could be fought in tabletop and video gaming.  Oh no.
Fans of Celtic history (and fantasy as well) know that the Sidhe (from which we derive the word 'banshee' but  that is another post) were a race of, shall we say, gods in Irish cultural legend.  
To encapsulate a two hour lecture by my mentor, the late (and great) Dr. Steve Glosecki: over time gods shrink as belief in them fades and need for them alters.  You start with tall, beautiful otherworldly fae, you end up with leprechauns.   
So there is no 'god' of Halloween.  There is no 'Lord of the Dead' poncing about answering to Samhain.  We can, however, look to the character of Sam and looking at what we know of the years of devaluing outdated traditions and linguistic morphology and say that there is  'spirit' of Halloween, just as we speak of Christmas Spirit.
Sam is that spirit.
Sam is what Halloween is all about, or should be.  Who better to represent such a holiday that combines innocence with horror than a tiny demon/child?
Throughout the entire film the apparently immortal Sam exists to observe and enforce the commandments of Halloween, the rules of the event, the spirit of the thing.  Watch the film and see how only those who violate the 'rules' of Halloween are punished by Sam, but how he is always observant nonetheless.

Thus, while there is no "Samhain, Lord of the Dead", Mr. Dougherty has created an anthropomorphic personification of Halloween (Hallowe'en, All Hallows Even, All Hallows Eve, Samhain) and made him not some towering monster, or some goat-legged demon bedecked with horns, but a diminutive demon that is so-darned cute as to be a child.  The gods of old, and the significance of their celebrations may have shrunk and been devalued in our modern age where we just don't seem to believe in much anymore, but as long as there is Sam to provide the yearly reminder I think we will be okay.

See, despite what all the Halloween haters say about it being a Satanic holiday, it is not.
And despite what the neo-pagan says, it's not all unicorns and rainbows either.
It is something special.  It is not about fertility but about harvest.  It is not about life or death, but life beyond death.  I mean to say that Sam, as cute as he is, is my hero because Halloween, my favorite holiday, needs to be just a little bit scary and a little bit dark as well as fun and Sam is there to remind us of that.

So have a happy Hallowe'en and keep your pumpkins lit, friends.  Those are the rules.


  1. I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head. I like my Halloween a bit scary and a bit fun, too. I'm not keen on purely gore decor, not a big fan of totally cutsie and safe celebrations either.

    Halloween should be "safe", in that all ages are allowed to participate and enjoy, but there should always be that underlying twitch in the back of your brain whispering, "What if the old stories hold some truth?" I think that's the part I like the best. Traditions are in place for some reason. What is that reason? I feel like it is that tiny bit of mystery that keeps the spirit of Halloween alive in this modern and scientific time.

  2. Amen to that. You have summed it up beautifully