This is the critical reference work on the traditions, rituals, symbology, mythology, and folklore of Halloween organized in A-Z encyclopedic fashion. I did not have the pleasure of reading the first edition, but the second edition is certainly definitive.
Keep in mind that this is not the reference work for a detailed discussion of every horror film that obliquely references the holiday (though appendices begin to compile lists of key works of fiction and film on the subject); this is a detailed look at the traditional origins and customs of the holiday itself. I found it impossible to conceive of a significant element, theme, trope, or symbol related to Halloween that Morton does not discuss. (You may be able to come up with an item that Morton and I could not, but I have my doubts.) The encyclopedia also includes articles on affiliated holidays and festivals (e.g., Guy Fawkes Day/Night, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Martinmas, Devil’s Night, etc.) I should note that some of the entries in this volume seem, at first blush, to be only tangentially related to the specific Halloween holiday (e.g., entries on “fairies” and “zoos”), but Morton always does a good job of tying these items to the broader themes of Halloween. I appreciated the appendices that cover, as noted, an annotated review of key written and filmic works on the holiday, along with a thorough chronology of Halloween and a highly useful bibliography of secondary works on Halloween and its precursors.
I would actually like to see Morton undertake a third edition, or more likely, a companion volume, perhaps with a co-author, to offer a similar, detailed exploration of Halloween-related literature and films. She’s begun compiling the annotated bibliography and filmography, now I want to see her flesh these out into a full-length monograph or encyclopedia!
If you are a Halloween aficionado (as I am), you need to acquire this book. Highly recommended.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers