Five Halloween Costume Ideas Inspired by Kelly Link’s "Pretty Monsters"

By Katy Day

Breaking news! Today is Halloween. OK, not exactly breaking news, but if you’re like the NEA Literature staff, you’ve had your nose stuffed in books for the entire month of October (in our case, the four new titles we’ve added to the NEA Big Read library) and now you’re scrambling to throw together a Halloween costume. Lucky for us (and for you), we had to look no further than our very own NEA Big Read shelf to Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters for costume inspiration.

Dubbed “a sorceress to be reckoned with” by The New York Times, Link’s collection of short stories is packed with supernatural characters ranging from aliens to undead babysitters, from pirates to grave-digging poets, from shape-shifters to a fanged statue of George Washington. One of the things we love most about this collection is that sometimes the ghouls really are meant to be taken as ghouls and sometimes they’re just fictional characters from a television show or imagined personas in a made-up game by dueling stepsiblings. Whether they’re real or not, here are five Halloween costume ideas inspired by characters from Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters.

Grave-Digging Poet: Few forces are stronger than the will of a teenaged poet whose original poems are buried in his dead girlfriend’s coffin and who now needs (wants?) them back to enter in a poetry contest. In “The Wrong Grave,” Miles Sperry shows up to Bethany Baldwin’s grave with a graveyard map; a Velcro headlamp; a battery-operated, telescoping shovel; his mother’s gardening gloves; and a tube of cherry ChapStick, an improvisation from a Google search for “grave digging,” which advised him to rub Vicks VapoRub under his nose. As you might imagine, the task gets him rather muddied. He also spouts off poetic sentiments like death is “foggy… but also prickly… a fog made of little sharp things. Needles. Every death fog has a lot of needles. [Does] that make sense?”

Unhelpful Wizard: The wizards in “The Wizards of Perfil” live in the tippy tops of tall, crumbling towers in the magical marshes of Perfil. They’re hundreds of years old with "long twitching noses like rats." Or are they young and lovely with a stutter and an affinity for slices of the moon? Or is it that they hate sunlight and eat children? Or are they “sly, greedy, absentminded, obsessed with stars and bugs, parsimonious, frivolous, invisible, tyrannous, untrustworthy, secretive, inquisitive, meddlesome, long-lived, dangerous, useless, and have far too good an opinion of themselves?” Or do they have “bottomless canyons” for wrinkles that are infested with marsh fairies? Or are they birds? Had they turned themselves into furniture? Or mist or a vapor of some sort? This is all just hearsay, of course. The truth is, the wizards don’t come down from their towers much and no one’s really sure what they’re good for. You can bring to this costume your own interpretation, but the key here is for your magical powers to be as futile as possible and to remain somewhat of a mystery.

Dueling Librarian: In “Magic for Beginners,” Fox is a “renegade librarian and magician” who repeatedly saves the world by fighting off wolves, masked pirate-magicians, a fanged statue of George Washington, or a horned Anubis earwig. She’s also a television character in The Library, a show to which Jeremy Mars and his group of friends are passionately devoted. Set in a multi-storied library called Free People’s World-Tree Library, this TV show is unlike most: it comes on at irregular intervals—sometimes in the middle of the night, on varying channels—usually the ones with static, and most of the characters are played by a different actor or actress in each episode. Once an episode had no dialogue. Once an episode was documentary-style. Once an episode took place entirely in a card catalog drawer. Though Fox is always played by a different actress, her costume is invariably a small green shirt and a long skirt that hides her tail, and she always speaks in a squeaky voice which Jeremy’s dad once described as “a sexy and demented helium balloon.”

Grandmother with a Hairy, Human-Swallowing Handbag: Grandmother Zofia in “The Faery Handbag” claims to hail from the country Baldeziwurlekistan. She wears her long black hair in “braided spiky towers and plaits.” She’s very tall and she looks “like a spy or ballerina or a lady pirate or a rock star. She acts like one too.” She also claims to be 200 years old and the guardian of a family heirloom handbag that is huge and black and furry and houses a community of fairies. The handbag never leaves her side and she says you have to turn the clasp a certain way to enter it. She also blames her overdue library books and her missing husband on the handbag. Once you go into the faery handbag, it could be a hundred years before you come out, after all.

Werewolf Cinderella: Peter’s mother and stepfather are having a date night when Peter’s stepsister demands he play Cinderella with her in “The Cinderella Game.” He agrees, but only under his conditions. He’ll play Cinderella, and she’ll be the evil stepsister. Oh yeah, and Cinderella is a villain too. Who could blame Cinderella for being evil after a backstory like hers, anyway? This version of Cinderella says things like “My what big teeth I have,” “I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” and spontaneously breaks out into howl.

If you’re planning on staying in this Halloween, we suggest reading these and other stories from Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters.