H is for Virginia Hamilton and Halloween

I enjoy several books by Virginia Hamilton. One is the gorgeously illustrated and well-collected anthology Her Stories. Another is In the Beginning, an anthology of creation stories.

My favorite novel by Hamilton is the captivating Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed.

The backdrop for Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed is Orson Welles' Halloween broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which reputably frightened thousands of people. Orson Welles actually apologized for making it (probably entirely insincerely).

Recently, historians have argued that although some people "believed" in the broadcast, many of those same people were deliberately and excitedly scared. One non-fiction book about the event quotes the reaction of a woman and her boyfriend or husband: the woman relates how upon hearing the broadcast, they left their apartment and got on a train heading out of New York. Halfway through their journey, they realized the truth but had no money to buy a return ticket. They weren't upset--rather, the entire evening was a grand adventure.

This is the approach taken by Hamilton. Willie Bea's family and neighbors take the radio program seriously but there is a high-spirited, larger than life aura over the entire event. Willie Bea isn't altogether afraid of the aliens. She wants to meet them! 

There is naturally another side to the broadcast--it came at a time when the United States was teetering on the edge of World War II. Fears of foreign invasion were real. Darkness loomed on the horizon.

Still, I prefer Hamilton's approach and consider it more accurate than historians who paint a picture of widespread panic. Her approach also supplies enchanting insights into the power of art: intelligent listeners/readers/viewers allow themselves to be voluntarily "bamboozled"--they want to engage, sometimes quite literally and physically, with the source of entertainment. That's the fun!

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