Review: Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton

Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween is divided into 6 main chapters. The first two cover the origin of the holiday around the British Isles, beginning with Samhain and the early rituals of the Celts. The author traces the progression of these festivals through the centuries and on up to modern day Hallowe’en. Chapter three moves overseas and examines the parallel evolution of Halloween on the North American continent. Having established the historical context, the author then presents a global picture of the adoption of Halloween in modern times. This is followed by a unit dedicated to the festival of Dias de los Muertos, after which the book wraps up with an examination of Halloween in popular culture.

As author Lisa Morton observes, despite the huge popularity of the holiday in modern times, Halloween has received surprisingly little academic attention. It has also been subject to a variety of misinformation, particularly around its early history and religious significance. Suffice it to say, Trick or Treat offers a wealth of information on the topic, most of which appears well researched. Morton’s approach is objective, and she makes an effort to dispel some of the common Halloween myths in passing.

My biggest issue with this history of Halloween comes down to the structure and presentation of the material. There are times when Morton really steamrolls her way through the content. There is very little opportunity to stop and take stock; the facts are presented, and a sentence or two later we have already moved on. The information was there to be had, but it came in such a barrage that I left feeling unsure how much of it I had really absorbed.

I would also have preferred to see more space dedicated to the subject matter of the first couple chapters; to really flesh out more of the historical context, and pace the progression through time a bit better. The chapter on Dias de los Muertos felt largely unnecessary, and it could easily have been cut down to concentrate on more relevant material.

Finally, the chapter on popular culture felt poorly worked in. A lot of it seemed redundant, having just gone past-to-present in previous chapters, only to do so again in much of the same context as before. That same material, if added in alongside the historical pieces instead of after them, may have really improved the flow of the entire presentation.

On the whole, as someone who has been a fan of Halloween since childhood, I enjoyed the opportunity to develop a more grown up and informed knowledge of this most misunderstood of holidays. Complaints about presentation aside, I would recommend this book to most curious trick-or-treaters.
Rating: 4/5

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