Halloween Costume Crisis? Some Last-Minute Ideas from the Collection

halloween-storage-com-pumpkin-paintingNow that the end-of-the-year holiday season in America has been pushed back from Thanksgiving to Halloween over the last ten years or so, the festivities associated with October 31st have changed dramatically, not the least of with their profitability–$8.4 billion this year.

Compared to now, the bar was set shockingly low in Manhattan Beach, California, my hometown in the 1960s.  No one considered painting pumpkins.   A day or two before Halloween we hacked crude faces in pumpkins with kitchen knives instead of a selection of cunning little saws.  By first grade, I had graduated from trick-or-treating under the supervision of a sane adult to running around with a pack of neighborhood kids after dark.   Most of us wore homemade costumes and carried swag bags recycled from the grocery store. When we had reached the legal limit of candy, we would head over to the house of Skipper Frank, a local kiddie television show host, to admire the audio-animatronic horror sitting on his porch, being careful not to  set off his bad-tempered Afghan hounds.

One thing hasn’t changed–some one (meaning mom) is under considerable pressure to make their children’s dreams of disguises that can’t be topped come true.  Mothers shake in their boots when outfitting has been  left so long that they can begin living in dread against the day their angel kvetches, “I’ve never forgotten the time I had to go around as a friendly ghost in an old ripped pillow case that was so long I tripped over it and fell down and lost almost all my candy because YOU said the mermaid suit I REEEEALLY wanted was too hard to make.”

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The Halloween nightmare of mothers who aren’t crafty…

To put that maternal anxiety in perspective, look at some examples of gay apparel children donned during the heyday of fancy-dress balls in England during the late 1890s and early 1900s.  Fairy tale and storybook characters, queens and clowns (Pierrot was not a scary creep) were all favorites for dress-up costumes then.  The publisher, Dean’s Rag Book Company, also marketed a brochure promoting different costumes based on illustrations in their books–you paid for the instructions, but received the “rag book material” gratis as thanks for the willingness to be a living advertisement for Dean at a public ball or carnival.  Unfortunately, the Cotsen textile collection does not own an example of the fancy dress costumes.

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Alice Hanslip, Fancy Dress A.B.C. Dean’s Rag Book, number 49. London: Dean’s Rag Book Company, 1905 (Cotsen 74181).

Another book in the collection confirms that costumes like these did not just exist in the eye of the illustrator.   It features a dozen plates of fabulous costumes, any of which makes the construction of the adorable mermaid suit look like child’s play.  Miller’s costumes also suggest that they were built to last for more than one party for more than one child.  For each of the late Victorian costumes, color choices, fabric suggestions, estimates for yardage and special materials were all provided.  It was also possible for families with deep pockets to purchase them ready-made.  Neither option was especially reasonable, from the standpoint of either time or money.

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The choices include Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Dick Whittington, and a fairy godmother. Children’s Fancy Ball Costumes Illustrating Familiar Characters from Nursery Rhymes. London: Samuel Miller, ca. 1905 (Cotsen 1691).

Nowdays trick-or-treaters wouldn’t recognize many of the characters in the Miller book, so of course new ones from contemporary children’s books, cartoons, and movies have taken their place. How about some of the strong women from Greek mythology and French history memorialized in the book of pantins, or jointed paper dolls, below?  They could be the inspiration for a new super heroine with or without the horse.  No need to explain who Penthesilea was, except in a head-to-head with a mom with a chair in the  Classics department.

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Job’s pantin of Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons, killed at Troy by Achilles, is decently covered up, but still looks pretty fierce. Aristide Fabre, Amazones d’hier et d’aujourd’hui. Illustrated by Job (i.e. Jacques Maris Gaston Onfroy de Breville). London: Hachette, ca. 1905 (Cotsen 150584).

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The book’s front board features Joan of Arc and la Grande Mademoiselle.

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Twiggy Paper Doll. Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman, c.1967 (Cotsen in process 7419826).

How about something less ambitious, more modern, but still a little retro?   This paper doll book manufactured as merchandise to be sold during super-model Twiggy’s American tour in 1968 made it easy for her little fans to strut her style.

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With a pair of fishnet stockings, you’re ready to go.

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This is the actual dress bound into the paper doll book. It is one of the more restrained ensembles in the book. Don’t pretend there wasn’t a fake fur mini coat in neon colors hanging in the closet for years…

Take heart, set up the sewing machine, grab your glue gun (or credit card) and remember that even Martha Stewart doesn’t hit the bull’s eye every year..

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The Queen of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things.

And when your husband asks for help coming up with something to wear to the office Halloween party, take a hint from the newest addition to Cotsen’s paper doll collection.  Inspiration is as close as your husband’s closet…  Add that chicken suit lying around from a previous Halloween, he can say he’s Albert Einstein  going to a party at the Institute.

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einstein Gift of John Bidwell, gift of Molly Bidwell and Susan Klaiber.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:” A Review that Puzzles out but Keeps the Secrets

la-et-cm-harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-london-2016-20150626Here’s a review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for readers waiting to buy tickets to the first United States production when they go on sale.  The two-part script published last July was billed as the eighth and final installment of Harry Potter.  It was a bold, even risky, decision to bring the saga to its conclusion in a play, but how does the story work on the page?584731898-britain-entertainment-literature-harry-potterThe Cursed Child is slick, elegant market-driven bookmaking, with the numerous stakeholders’ claims on the title page verso.  Everything about the design of the “Special Rehearsal Edition Script”–the dust jacket’s conservative typography, the shiny (but not too shiny raised letters), and the discreet touch of gold–helps define a new franchise under the Harry Potter brand’s umbrella. The enigmatic logo does not say “for young readers” as clearly as does Mary Grandpre’s colorful artwork for the American Harry Potter jackets and covers. Could the script be trying to distance itself from the fantasy series for kids from nine to ninety?  Some fans were disappointed that The Cursed Child was not a novel, but they should have been tipped off by the credits at the end that figure in playbills–original London cast, production credits down to the chaperones and house seats assistant, biographies of the original story team (Rowling, Tiffany, and Thorne), plus acknowledgments.

imageIs the script of The Cursed Child  for Potterheads only?   It certainly helps to belong to the fan base because the plot is dependent upon knowledge of Harry Potter and the Goblet of  Fire. harry_potter_and_the_goblet_of_fire_us_coverThe chronicle of year four was dominated by the Triwizard Tournament, when fourteen-year-old Harry was pitted against his adolescent self, his friends, Hogwarts, unwelcome celebrity, and He Who Must Not Be Named.   If you can’t recall much about about Victor Krumm, Winky the house elf, and blast-ended skrewts you can get by, but understanding how the relationship between Harry Cedric Diggory changed during the three tasks makes it much easier to understand the characters’ motives and in turn the plot of The Cursed Child.harry-cedric_xxxlarge42683340-54d9-0133-0b85-0e34a4cc753dAs there was no novel to dramatize, the script reveals the extent to which the wizards backstage fleshed out the eighth Harry Potter.   With what must be jaw-dropping special effects as the foundation, Thorne’s play whirls from past, present, and a future that must not be allowed to take place.  However the kaleidoscope of rapidly changing scenes shrinks most of the dialogue to rapid-fire exchanges.  This is not a shortcoming in scenes where there’s no time to be wasted, like the surprising encounter between the Trolley Witch, Albus, and Scorpius.  But the scenes with Ginny and Harry, for example, might have made a greater impact if the characters had been given more lines to reveal their fears and feelings.  Perhaps this isn’t as noticeable in the darkened theater as in the living room.

The story proper begins when the inseparable odd couple, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, decide to right a great wrong in the past using a Time Turner, the magical object that played a critical role in The Prisoner of Azkaban.  Dumbledore gave Hermione a beta version so she could double up on her courses and he also hinted that it could be rather useful in the rescue of Sirius and Buckbeak.  Unlike the Egyptian tyet in E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet, the Time Turner is a precision instrument that either teenage wizards or powerful witches can operate without prior training.   The boys are too weighed down by Freudian angst and the urgency of rescuing the wizarding world to have any larks when they time travel: they return only to certain critical episodes in Harry Potter’s childhood first to improve, then preserve the past as it happened.  There is a side trip to the school they would have attended if Voldemort had won the Battle of Hogwarts. The brief reign of Dolores Umbridge as High Inquisitor in Order of the Phoenix foreshadows these nightmarish scenes, whose secondary function seems to be bringing back Severus Snape for a not especially satisfying cameo appearance.

The alignment of play’s narrative arc with that of the novels seems quite deliberate and it may reflect a creative decision to allow the audience to re-experience the myth rather than to engage them with the lives of the younger generation’s lives.  Somewhat to its detriment, The Cursed Child is no The Year of the Griffin.  Some of the new material seems coldly calculated to stir a frisson of surprise in an audience that knows the score: for example, on the Hogwarts Express, Albus and Scorpius become best friends forever at first sight, instead of continuing the enmity of their fathers.  The undercurrent of their banter throughout most of the play suggests a strong physical attraction, but it turns out to be a tease, which I hear let down young gay fans in Northern Europe.  Scorpius’ puppy love for Rose Granger Weasley is surely a foreshadowing of intermarriage between antagonistic wizarding families and perhaps was intended as symbol that the age of Voldemort had indeed passed.

Casting African-born British actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione was another uneasy if well-intentioned move after the fact to make the Harry Potter series more diverse.  I would love to see what Dumezweni made of the role.  Granger may be the Minister of Magic, but deep down she is still the trio’s fixer and problem-solver.  It is hard to believe that she has changed so little, now that she is the boss of Harry Potter, head of the Department of Magical Enforcement.  On the other hand the fact that she is still married to to the goofy underachiever Ron Weasley, makes it psychologically plausible, if politically incorrect.  Hermione’s situation vis-a-vis Harry was always reminiscent of Mary Lennox at the end of The Secret Garden, edged aside by the author so as not to detract from the hero’s triumph. It is ironic that Hermione–and all the other strong women in the Cursed Child– are defined largely by their men.

As important as a mother’s love or friendship between the sexes is to the Harry Potter series, in the end it’s a boy’s chronicle.  The Cursed Child‘s dynamics revolve  around the ties between fathers and their children: Harry’s struggle to connect with his son Albus is contrasted with that of Draco and Scorpius Malfoy on the one hand, and the inconsolable grief of  Amos Diggory for the dead Cedric on the other, with Dumbledore reappearing as Harry’s most important father substitute.  Equally resonant are the children who  destroyed their fathers or those who longed to prove themselves to fathers they never knew.  By the end of the play, the ongoing tensions between the fathers and children have been resolved to such an extent that the passions driving the seven Harry Potter novels are reduced to dying embers.  In principle, J. K Rowling could write a novel based on the script of The Cursed Child, but we should take her at her word that this spectacular production really is the end.   At least until the break out of a certain prisoner in Azkaban…

Who then is  the cursed child?   If I am right, the clues concealed in the text and the logo point to not one, but two characters,  a male and a female.  What’s your take?

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