The Mystery of Devil Boy

I finished my annual reading of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. I have about a dozen different editions of it scattered around the library. This year I chose one that he autographed.

I know, I know. But this one is a beat-up copy that I got cheap off eBay. And I have other Ray Bradbury autographs. The joke goes that finding a Bradbury book without his autograph is rarer than finding a book with his autograph. Bradbury was an autograph-hound from childhood, so he loved returning the favor once he got famous.

It makes it a little more special that the book in my hands was once held by Bradbury himself. A little more intimate of an experience. But there’s one part of the experience it doesn’t change at all.

Every time I read this book, I remember the one mystery in it that I’ve never been able to solve to my satisfaction: The Mystery of Devil Boy.

In the story, there are eight boys. Nine counting Pipkin, but Pipkin, for the purposes of this mystery, doesn’t count because he’s separated from the group for the entire story, more or less.

Those eight boys are introduced in Chapter 1 in these costumes, even before we know their names: Skeleton, Witch, Gargoyle, Beggar, Apeman, Grim Reaper, Mummy, and a final boy described as “Someone Hidden Behind Yet Another Mystery of Muslin and Paint.”

All good so far. Although the completist in me itches a little that Bradbury didn’t include the name of the eighth right away.

In Chapter 5, we learn that there’s a “Devil boy” (Bradbury’s capitalization). That could be the “Someone Hidden” from Chapter 1, and it gives us our eight costumes. In fact, for the edition that I’m reading (a 1988 Dell Yearling Book), that’s exactly the eight costumes on the cover that together form a skull.

But then, in the very next paragraph, he mentions Ghost (Bradbury’s capital, not mine). That’s…nine costumes, nine boys. And, again, none of them are Pipkin.

In Chapter 8, Bradbury namechecks them all again, as they form the tail of the giant Pterodactyl kite on its way to Egypt. He even gives the trick-or-treaters their boy names: Tom Skelton as the Skeleton, Henry Hank as the Witch, Ralph Bengstrum as the Mummy, Georgie Smith as the Ghost, J.J. as the Apeman, Wally Babb as the Gargoyle, Fred Fryer as the Beggar, and “Hackles” Nibley as the Grim Reaper. In Chapter 12, he does so again, as they tumble out of the sky in a cloud of Autumn leaves and onto the British Isles. It is the same list as in Chapter 8.

And neither one has a Devil.

Who is Devil boy?

My instinct is always to assume that the Gargoyle and the Devil are the same. That “Devil boy” was Bradbury being poetic about an evil-looking horned creature.

In fact, in Chapters 15 through 17, when they’re rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the names that Bradbury uses for gargoyles is demons.

This year, I checked Gus Grimly’s illustrated version of the tale, as he also drew all eight boys on a wraparound cover and at various points internally. Unlike Leo and Diane Dillon (who did the Dell Yearling cover), Grimly includes the ghost costume and has only one horned creature, this one with a red mask and a jesters outfit. So he also apparently believes Devil Boy and Gargoyle are the same.

Seeming to further confuse this theory (although also possibly to substantiate it) is that Gargoyle is never once full described and Devil boy is. At one point, Gargoyle is described as looking like he’s from the top of a cathedral, and then at that same point in Chapter 12 where they find themselves in the British Isles, their costumes all bedraggled, he is described as looking more like Quasimodo than a Gargoyle. I think that means more of Wally Babb is poking through the costume than he was at the beginning of the adventure.

Devil boy, he only mentions once, in Chapter 5, but he immediately comes with a description, “red cloak and sharp rubber horns and lovely pitchfork.”

And that’s my problem. That’s definitely the description of the Devil and not a Gargoyle. I mean, sure, Gargoyles can have those features, but the red of the cloak throws that off. And neither it, nor the pitchfork are used in Grimly’s illustration.

In the Mexico scene, when they boys break the pinatas that look like them, there is a Devil pinata. Not a Gargoyle one.

There were many places in this book that the Christian Devil would be relevant (the Grim Reaper scene and the Witch scene, for instance). But Bradbury never makes the definite connection, that is that the Christian devil also looks like a gargoyle. Even in the Notre Dame scene, where it seems like it would be important, he doesn’t make the connection. Heck, he rarely even uses Wally Babb and his Gargoyle costume in the scene. It’s more like a Tom Skelton scene.

And while, sure, he calls gargoyles both demons and devils in that scene, he also calls them everything else, from beasts to witches to saints to apes to mermaids. All eight boys could be gargoyles in his language.

So, again, I know that Gargoyle must equal Devil, but the duality of that costume isn’t reflected with any of the other eight costumes. I’m not sure what that means.

Sometimes I throw that theory out and wonder if Bradbury played around and switched around and experimented with the eight costumes enough to have left in a mistake. Other times, I like to think that Devil boy is some random trick-or-treater that stumbled onto the Halloween Tree and Moundshroud’s house from his own Halloween adventure or followed the other boys there.

And, maybe, he was the Devil himself sneaking briefly into the story. Seems like the type to hang around somebody like Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud.