Bookish Themes to Reanimate Your Halloween Party
  Lists    October 17, 2016     Eric Larkin


You’ve had the same Halloween party for years, and you’re worried folks are gonna blow it off. How about a theme?

Having a themed party is tricky. If you don’t have an enthusiastic set of friends, you need to have low expectations, because some folks just don’t get it. Some folks just don’t care about your desire to turn your place into an 80s arcade or pirate ship or undead cotillion or whatever. Sometimes, they won’t even bother with the simplest of instructions. Example: I had a birthday party once where I asked everyone to wear black. That’s it; just wear black. Most did, and it looked really cool, but about a fourth just showed up in whatever. When confronted, the general vibe was “Oh… I didn’t know that was actually a thing.” Like, I just accidentally typed “Please wear black” on the invite, along with a chicken soup recipe and the lineup of the fourth Lollapalooza, cuz sometimes I just type stuff you know whatever. Point being: be flexible and have a good attitude, because most of the theming for your party will be done by you and you alone. If you have a Walking Dead party, some idiot is gonna show up as a vampire. C’est la vie.

Also, announce as soon as you can, so that the willing & able have time to plan their costume.

Here are the ideas, inspired by books and/or genres. Make them your own or Frankenstein them into something better.


Squid attack aboard the Nautilus!! photo Jean-Francoise Cauche

Squid attack aboard the Nautilus!! photo Jean-Francoise Cauche

Jules Verne

This works broadly and specifically. Not only can you and your guests indulge any lingering steampunk/Victoriana tendencies – which is very general – but you could zero in on deep-sea divers from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or pirates from The Mysterious Island — you can make specific references to Jules Verne’s vast oeuvre. In terms of your space, how about a room with blue/green lighting, and a large screen TV positioned up against a window with underwater footage playing? Welcome to the Nautilus! Look for footage with sunken ships or Atlantis. Are those giant squid tentacles coming out of the pool?! Maybe another area has stalagmites & stalactites & giant mushrooms & dinosaurs visible thru the window. Welcome to the Center of the Earth. From the Earth to the Moon? Around the World in 80 Days? Yeah, okay – it’s mostly steampunk/Victoriana – but if that’s your jam, this seems a capital idea. (And hey – if you wanna sneak some HG Wells in there, do it – it’s your party.)


Stephen King

This dude has a billion books with a billion iconic characters: Carrie, Cujo, Pennywise, vampires, Kathy Bates with a sledgehammer – you barely even have to decorate. Of course, it helps to have a set of friends who are King-savvy. On the other hand, everyone has seen at least a few of the movies. If you do decorate: prom paraphernalia for Carrie, a pet semetary in the front yard – something from Dark Tower? With Stephen King, you could prob do a lot with very little, but huge bonus points for making blood gush through a door like the elevator in The Shining.



No brainer. From Udolpho to Anne Rice, it doesn’t have to be vampires, but it totally can. You already know if you have gothy, costumey friends. Decor: black, lace, candelabras or just candles or both – probably both – caskets, chains, rainy/stormy sounds, blacklight (don’t overdo it, though), organ music, chants, bloodred beverages, bones & skulls, howling, withered flowers – it’s too easy. But for the love of all that is holy, no plastic teeth. Lord, please.

Some simple lighting, fancy books & a skull: you can totally pull this one off. photo Anoldent

Some simple lighting, fancy books & a skull: you can totally pull this one off. photo Anoldent

Along those lines….

The Hybrids

You may remember last year we did a costume post for hybridized classics. Here it is. These fit nicely with the Gothic thing.


Ed & Ed & Howard

The three amigos of dread: Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Gorey and HP Lovecraft. There are ample costume possibilities and lots of latitude, meaning that you could go humorous with Gorey or inhuman with Lovecraft and everything in between. Decor for this one might be a lot like gothic, but note that there is nothing truly supernatural in Lovecraft, so don’t forget the alien/animalistic element.


Holy shit - if you could get barbed wire and baby shoes - that's a gnarly dystopia. photo Dargie Lynch

Holy shit – if you could get barbed wire and baby shoes – that’s a gnarly dystopia. DETAILS make all the difference.  photo Dargie Lynch


This one is a little heady. Before you rush off and zombify your place, think of all the dystopian options out there (we have a post about this, too): 1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, Handmaid’s Tale, The Road, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, A Clockwork Orange, etc. etc.. Nary a zombie in sight. So, you can do the zombie thing – it’s a cheap way to decorate: just fuck your place up – but there are other options. Decor for this one can be way more subtle: techno alterno-future, like Blade Runner or bizarrely changed culture norms, like Handmaid’s Tale or A Clockwork Orange. It will really separate your friends into the well-read and the not-so-well-read. Also, if you are of a mind to do so, you could tie your dystopia into our current election cycle, because we are on the brink of armageddon, no doubt. Yay.



Time Travel

Of course, you have to use the phrase “Bring your own weapon; safety not guaranteed” on your invite, but that has nothing to do with books. This one is super guest-friendly, because they can be almost anything they want. As far as your decor, you can blend past/present/future, like chez toi is at some sort of crossroads of time/space or you can pick a spot along the timeline. Picking a spot in time is helpful if you happen to have relevant paraphernalia from another party – save a buck with reuse. For example, last November, you hosted a Sadie Hawkins party for your kid, but what the hell are you gonna do with all that Western crap? Easy: your Time Travel Halloween Party now takes place Dodge City, 1879. If you want to say your party is at a time/space nexus, you might pay a visit to the Time Travel Mart and add some relevant props: a flint for fire starting, an emotion chip for your robot, and so on. Hey – if you have some cool time travel related games, you can use these as prizes. Games could include a history trivia game, with stumpers from the future, or maybe you make up the most popular sport in the Andromeda Colonies, using a square ball and laser paddles. Broadly speaking, time travel means you can both use what you already have and make shit up. It’s just like writing.


SciFi – Fantasy

Duh. If you and your pals are into either of these genres or any of their many variations, you prob already have a cool themed party set up and your real dilemma is choosing which of your many costumes to use OR you’re just worried you won’t finish making your new one on time. I shall not insult thee with my Captain Obvious advice, except for this: a slightly narrowed down theme (or storyline) can help your guests with costume ideas, but don’t be too specific. Examples: “Alienettes & Astronauts” suggests everything from the Star Wars Cantina to NASA, and has a hint of story, ie an intergalactic encounter. But “Legends of Dune” is like… Fremen or… what? Worms? Extremely fancy costumes? I love Dune, but unless your friends are Dune fanatics, that’s too specific. Also, for fantasy, “Wizards & Warriors” is too limiting. You either have a sword or a pointy hat. Meh. But what about “Battle for Middle Earth”? Or “Dungeons & Dragons”? You could be any number of species. And party games? Do or do not; there is no try.


The Battle for... okay, honestly I don't know what the fuck this is, but you wish you had friends this unselfconscious. photo Ralf Hüls

The Battle for… okay, honestly I don’t know what the fuck this is, but you wish you had friends this unselfconscious. photo Ralf Hüls


With theming, remember to keep in mind the nerd-level of your gang and plan accordingly. Expecting your hipster friends to do anything but ironically protect their image is a bad idea; prepare for disappointment. And no matter what happens, if people totally blow off your theme, still be happy that they showed up for your party. And you – it takes guts to throw a party, so kudos, even if your plans come to naught.

OKAY, you have 2 weeks! Make a decision, send your invites & start conjuring the world of your party.




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