From my article four years ago on the writer Arthur Machen:
Tomorrow night, hordes of vampires with plastic fangs and witches with pointy hats will swarm neighborhoods, ring doorbells, and demand candy. One of the reasons they’re cute rather than creepy is because we can go to bed secure in the knowledge that Count Dracula is about as real as Count Chocula.
Cultural historians still puzzle over Halloween traditions. Some trace their deepest roots to the days of the Druids and a Celtic festival called Samhain. The origins of many modern practices are just as mysterious, such as encouraging kids to dress up like the undead and go trick-or-treating.
In one of his classic horror stories, the Welsh author Arthur Machen (1863-1947) has a character propose an unsettling theory that might help explain our autumnal rites: “The real horror is disguised in a form of prankish mischief.” He suggests that monsters really do exist — and that their proof lies in the human habit of trying to tame them in custom and folklore: “Our remote ancestors . . . dressed them up in charming forms, knowing the truth to be the very reverse.”