Cardinal Column #5: Literary Halloween Costumes

(Editor’s note: More of a niche column than anything else, designed for me to be timely and expound on a few things. Didn’t age as well as the others, but it has its place.)

Les lists literary costume ideas

Originally published in The Daily Cardinal, October 26, 2005

I love Halloween for a lot of reasons: the thrill of blowing close to a hundred dollars on a costume, sugar rush of eating a whole bag of mini candy bars and the backlog of drunken pictures better than any house party. It’s the one holiday where it’s simply not acceptable to stay inside and read, as the whole point is to go out there and be seen in a new light.

Of course every year there’s the pressure to be more creative with a costume, finding something that hasn’t been done before or you can do better than others. It’s especially hard on a State Street Halloween, where at least half of the people are looking to stand out at a major house party or make an amusing mug shot for later that night.

To break out of the shell of repetition and avoid going as a stereotypical vampire or sexy devil (I apologize for calling up an image of me in that costume), I usually turn to the unexplored world of literature costumes – and I’ve found some great ones. This year I plan to don a top hat and cane for Willy Wonka, and earlier I mumbled and staggered my way down State Street in the guise of Hunter S. Thompson.

If you pick a favorite book for your costume, there’s endless room to improvise. A “Lord of the Rings” fan can put on a gold ring and cloak to go as Frodo, get a tall grey hat and beard for Gandalf or cover themselves with tree branches as an Ent. Douglas Adams fans can either be as simple as a bathrobe and towel, or strap mannequin arms and heads on as Zaphod Beeblebrox.

If you want to travel out in a group, book costumes can help there because there’s plenty of partnerships and organizations that are begging to be interpreted. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, a class of Hogwarts students and the entire Fellowship of the Ring are all opportunities to bounce quotes off other people and develop a show of solidarity.

Of course, most of these costumes have an advantage – they’ve gone from simply being books to movie adaptations, meaning it’s easier to put the costume together and be recognized when you go out. Red leather jackets and spiked hair are now associated with Tyler Durden instead of a simple punk, and a person wearing a grey cloak is rightly seen as a hobbit instead of a short ghost.

There’s a downside to this popularity, however, since the movies have made it harder to be original with the costume. A book forces you to come up with your own image of a character – especially when the author skimps on the details – but a film leaves no room for interpretation and simply provides a blueprint for the costume and quotes you should adapt.

My advice is that if you pick a costume based on a book and a movie, don’t be afraid to have some fun with it. If you’ve seen the movie twice, skim over the book at least four times, and if there’s cover or inside illustrations pick out some of those details for yourself. Figure out if you want to impersonate the film version’s voice or devise your own unique accent, and with either choice pick out at least three good lines you can quote at random at whatever party you go to. Falling back on the book image may make you seem a little out of place among the sea of film copycats, but on a holiday where reality is suspended there’s really no reason not to stand out.

And also, regardless of what image you step into this weekend, keep safe – if a pack of riot control officers moves down State Street, you’re better off remembering how to run then you are remembering your accent.

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