I first read this book something like 35 years ago, give or take, probably in 5th grade. I reasonably certain it had to have been before spring break of my 6th grade year, because that was the year of the tornado. After we rebuilt the house, I got to have a room of my own. This is relevant because I envisioned the room I shared with my brother as Will’s room as I read the book. (Assuming my memory isn’t playing tricks on me.)
There’s a risk when you return to a beloved novel from your youth. Will it live up to the memory? Often it doesn’t.
The advantage here is that after so many years, I didn’t remember more than a few scenes from the book, primarily the Dust Witch coming after the boys in the balloon in the middle of the night. Other than a few general things, I didn’t recall much.
I’m pleased to say that the novel held up quite well. It was better than I remembered.
Something Wicked This Way Comes tells the story of two twelve year old boys. Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway. It’s also the story of Will’s father Charles. Jim’s mother is raising him on her own, although the reason for this isn’t given. Charles fills the role of father figure for him. The boys, Jim especially, long to be older and have adventures. Charles, on the other hand didn’t marry until he was 39. He’s in his 50s now and would love to be a boy again.
One Friday a week before Halloween a carnival arrives in the middle of the night and sets up in a field on the edge of town. Billing itself as Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, it immediately has a malevolent effect on the town.
The carousel has the power to age a person or take years off their life. The tattoos on Mr. Dark take on a life of their own. The mirror maze will show you reflections, but they are reflections of your fears regarding yourself. The Dust Witch is blind, but she is more than capable of finding you. And if she’s looking for you, you are in real trouble.
Ray Bradbury was one of the first authors I read who wrote for adults. Through the latter years of elementary school and all through middle school and high school, I read almost everything of his I could. As new collections and novels were published in my adult years, I bought them. He’s still one of my favorite writers, and one of the few who has an entire shelf dedicated solely to his works.
I was a little apprehensive in rereading this novel. One aspect of Bradbury’s style that has become less than endearing as I’ve gotten older and read more widely is his tendency to, for lack of a better expression, Commit Metaphor. I was worried that the prose would get in the way of the story.
With only a couple of exceptions, the primary one being the conversation between Charles and the boys in the town library, that wasn’t the case. The story moves at a consistent pace, maintaining the tension. And when it slows down, such as the scene on the stage at the carnival where an injured Charles steps forth and volunteers to participate in a deadly stunt, the suspense is intense. Frankly, I don’t recall any passages in Bradbury’s work where he handles suspense with this skill. (Granted it’s been a while, so a reread may be in order.)
Something Wicked This Way Comes is very much a coming of age story. Bradbury deftly handles the contrast between Jim’s temptation to use the carousel to age himself against Charles’ opposite desire to return to the energetic, carefree days of his youth.
Regret is a constant theme, as seen in the fate of the school teacher. In a way, her story, which is a small part of the larger story, is the most tragic. Bradbury points out that second chances aren’t always that. And that some temptations should be resisted for reasons beyond the obvious ones.
There’s a reason why Something Wicked This Way Comes is a classic not just of horror but also of American literature. It touches on themes that are timeless. If you’ve not read it, do yourself a favor and check it out.