One of Ray Bradbury’s best-known and most popular novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, now featuring a new introduction and material about its longstanding influence on culture and genre.
For those who still dream and remember, for those yet to experience the hypnotic power of its dark poetry, step inside. The show is about to begin. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. Two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes…and the stuff of nightmares.
Few novels have endured in the heart and memory as has Ray Bradbury’s unparalleled literary masterpiece Something Wicked This Way Comes. Scary and suspenseful, it is a timeless classic in the American canon.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – A Review (Part 1)
“There are times when we’re all autumn people.”
This is a book I have lived with for most of my reading life.
I first came across it in a small town library at home in the West of Scotland. I think I was about 13, the same age as the boys, and it immediately resonated with me… not because of the small town Americana, which seemed too different from my industrial town Scottish upbringing, but because of the boys. It’s a book about friendship, but not just about friendship. It’s a book about growing up, but not just about growing up. And it’s a book about good, and evil, and magic.
But it’s not just about those things.
Above all else, it’s a book about life, and joy, and hope. And that’s why I’ve found myself drawn back to it again and again over the intervening years, particularly when dark clouds gather in my soul.
The book splits naturally into three main sections, and I’ll deal with them in turn but first, Bradbury’s own prologue introduces the boys in his usual poetic but economical fashion.
“Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands. And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more.”
Part 1: Arrivals
We’re first interested to the boys, Will and Jim, through the eyes of a travelling lightning rod salesman. In a series of trademark word pictures, Bradbury paints us the boys lying on the grass outside their houses, then has the salesman take center stage to ominously refer to a coming storm. He even gives Jim a ‘magical’ lightning rod to stave it off, but the dies have been cast; we’ve already been set up for the coming of something that will, like a thunderclap, change the boys’ lives irrevocably. It’s a remarkable, very short, first chapter, but it has already done its job. I’m, once again, hooked and off and away to adventure with the lads.
Our next arrival is seen through the eyes of the lads when they visit the local library. Will’s dad, Charles Holloway, is the janitor there, but more than that, he knows all the books immediately. He has become a father late in life, and, in these early stages at least, appears to cut a rather sad and lonely figure among the shelves. There is some chatter between the three of them of black and white hats, more foreshadowing of things to come but with such style we hardly notice among the magical prose and the sounds of music in the wind before the coming storm.
There’s a smell of licorice and cotton candy in the air as the town closes down for the night. The boys are running for home, hoping the storm will come and they’ll see the lightning rod in action. We start to get intimations of their characters. Will is the serious one, Jim’s more patient, always wanting to see more, more of the town’s theatre folk in action, more of danger, more of life. At the same time Will’s father catches sight of another arrival, the first cart of a Travelling Show, one that stirs old bittersweet memories in him from his own boyhood. We’re only 30 or so pages into it but Bradley’s way with emotions linked to nostalgia is already tugging at our heartstrings.
Our next arrival is the train bringing the carnival. The passage describing its whistle has always stuck with me.
“The wails of a lifetime were gathered in it from other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the outgone shreds of breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!”
Damn, I wish I could write a paragraph like that, just once.
The boys cannot contain themselves. They escape from home in the early hours of the morning and head for the carnival. And it is here the temptations begin. The first to be tempted is Miss Foley, one of the boys’ teachers. We get the first real hint of the darkness to come as she is almost swallowed by the mirror maze while chasing a younger version of herself. The boys save her, but Will is horrified, while Jim appears strangely fascinated.
The boys find the discarded bag of the lightning rod salesman from earlier, and return to the carnival in search of him. We get our next arrival, and the most important one, when they meet an illustrated man, Mr Dark. Jim is immediately both fascinated and scared, but ignores Will’s entreaties to go home. They stay, and watch the merry-go-round run backwards, and an old man, Mr Cooger, becomes a boy. They follow the new boy, who tries to pretend he is Mr Foley’s nephew, but when confronted, runs back to the carnival.
We get another of Bradbury’s wonderful scenes as the merry-go-round goes forward again. Mr Cooger gets older again, then Will knocks the switch, sending it into fast forward, causing Mr Cooger to age a hundred years in a few seconds. The boys flee again to fetch the police, but on return to the carnival they are met with Mr Cooger in a new guise as Mr Electrico. Mr Dark charms the police force and offers the boys free tickets to the rides.
But much of the charm of the carnival has gone for them.
They want to go home.
So, the first act is done, the players have been revealed, and the stakes laid down. We’re starting to see how this might go, and we’re getting worried for the state of the boys’ friendship, given Jim’s impetuous nature. There’s more strange magic to come; it has saturated the air in the small town, and Bradbury has us squirming on his hook.
It’s already a tour-de-force, and I’m delighted to be along for the ride (s).
Boo-ology: William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than twenty five novels published in the genre, and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. His work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies. When he is not writing, he plays guitar, drinks beer, and dreams of forture and glory.