Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publication Date: June 1962
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 hearts
Read if You Liked: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or anything by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, or R.L. Stein.
I picked up this book when I was still wishing for autumn. The sweat of summer clung to my clothes, but my hands and heart clung to this book, wishing for it to take me to a place far away from the scalding sun, wishing for it to envelope me in what Bradbury calls “The October Country.”
I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to read more Bradbury. I’ve taught Fahrenheit 451 for years, but never really thought about reading any of his other stuff until I had devoured all of Neil Gaiman‘s novels and was left wanting more. Gaiman always discusses how influential Bradbury was on him as a young writer and reader, so I figured that this would be a good place to start.
I chose this one out of the bevy of Bradbury books because of the title. I love teaching Macbeth–the blood, the witches, the betrayal–so I thought a novel using one of the most iconic lines–“By the pricking of our thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”–as a title must be up my alley. I was so right.
The story follows the adventures of two boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade (could these character names be any better?). They are thirteen years old (of course they are), on the delicate precipice of childhood and adulthood, when a carnival comes to town.
The boys sense a change in the air on October 23rd–is it simply the changing of seasons or could it be something more sinister? They sneak out in the dead of night to watch the train hauling Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show roll eerily into town. They hear the haunting calliope play as the autumn wind flows through it, and sneak down to watch as the tents are mysteriously set up. They leave feeling like they had been watching something that they should not have seen.
With the coming of the carnival strange things begin to happen. Their seventh grade teacher, Miss Foley, mysteriously starts rambling after walking through the mirror maze, speaking of a sad young girl she saw in the mirrors. A lightning rod salesman disappears completely leaving all of his wares scattered on the side of the road. Even, Mr. Charles Halloway, Will’s father, warns the boys of getting too close to the carnival as if he has seen this all happen before.
However, nothing can keep the boys away from the carnival. The promises of freak shows, carnival sweets, and thrilling rides are too enticing to their young imaginations. Jim seems especially drawn to the carnival and even disappears into the hall of mirrors for such a long period of time that Will is forced to physically drag him out. Even though Will is troubled by Jim’s fascination with the carnival, the boys return again to the carnival at night.
It is then that the boys first meet the proprietors of the carnival: the hulking, surly Mr. Cooger and the charismatic Mr. Dark, also known as The Illustrated Man who is covered with strange tattoos. They meet when the boys attempt to board the carousel. Although it is obvious that Mr. Dark has taken an interest in the boys, they are told by that it is broken and to come back the next day. However the boys are ever-curious and hide in order to see what is really going on behind the smoke and mirrors of this carnival.
Once all the people are thought to have left the grounds, the merry-go-round fires up with Mr. Cooger its only passenger. Yet, instead of going forward, it runs backward. The boys watch in horror as with each rotation of the carousel Mr. Cooger becomes younger and younger. To their shock and dismay, Mr. Cooger eventually walks off the carousel as a twelve-year-old boy with malice and mischief in his eyes.
Throughout the story, Will and Jim unravel even more secrets of the mysterious carnival. However, with that knowledge comes the wrath of people who want to keep that knowledge a secret. Along with Mr. Halloway, they must stop the carnival from consuming their town, and from consuming themselves as well.
I had just finished Stranger Things on Netflix when I read this book, so if you too need to fill the void in your life that can only be filled by adolescent misadventures with the supernatural then this book is for you.
However, don’t let the seemingly juvenile subject matter fool you: this is a very sophisticated, well-written novel. As an adult reader, I was continually entranced by the layers of theme, language, and conflict within this novel. Something Wicked This Way Comes is filled to the brim with nostalgic narration that makes you long for the simplicity of your childhood, but it’s really the adult themes and messages that will keep you reading. Sick your teeth into this quote on the nature of death: “Death doesn’t exist. It never did, it never will. But we’ve drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we’ve got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing.” Pretty obvious that this isn’t just a water-down YA Novel.
This story is ultimately one about time, about adolescence and adulthood, about life and death. The people of the carnival, with the help of their magical merry-go-round, are able to cheat death and basically live forever. Yet there is a price…there’s always a price. The price is seeing one’s family and friends die and wither away as you stay ever young. The price is being cut off from mortals who must become sick and eventually die. The price is, as Charles Halloway says, “You get your reward: madness.”
It’s clear that Bradbury truly knows how to incorporate a theme into all areas of his novels. The setting echoes the theme of time beautifully. The action takes place in autumn in the time between the vibrancy of summer and the stark darkness of winter. The theme also permeates through the engaging imagery and repeating motifs of clocks and time. Even the main character Charles Halloway reverberates the theme. He is in the autumn of his life, he is hopefully years away from dying, but he sees the decaying of his own body and wishes for his youth.
I think the thing that surprised me most in this book was how much more I related to Charles Halloway than to Jim or Will. He’s a sad man, prone to waxing philosophic about the life he feels like he’s wasted. He feels trapped by his aging body even though he feels his mind is young. He ultimately becomes the hero of the story while he helps his son and Jim escape from the clutches of Mr. Dark. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that 29-year-old me would relate more with someone who wants their youth back, but it was his role in the story that really struck me the most.
My Favorite Part
One of my favorite moments of the novel is when he races his son Will up the ladder on the side of their house. Will uses the ladder to sneak in and out of the house at night, and when Charles catches him sneaking out they end up having a long talk where the reader is able to see how much Will looks up to his father.
After the talk with his dad, Will tries to goad him into acting young again by climbing into the house using the ladder, and for this one moment in the book the reader can tell that Charles Halloway feels alive, young, and connected with his son. He has a difficult time climbing up, but he is triumphant, breathless, and never more alive than when he finally climbs through Will’s window. At that moment the two are the “same size, same weight, colored same by the stars, and sat embraced once more with grand fine exhaustion, gasping on huge ingulped laughs.” It’s such a sweet moment and reprieve from all the darkness and sinister plots that pepper this book.
If you’re looking for a creepy Autumn read to get you through the October ahead, then this story is for you. This story is one filled with darkness and light, life and death, and the classic battle of good and evil. It ultimately is about the darkness that can be found within us all, and the temptation we must fight in order to avoid unleashing that darkness.
Imagine if the haunting carousel was real. Just a few rotations forward and we could all be old enough to do what we want. Just a few rotations backward and we could all be young again with the world before us. Round and round we could go on the carousel, but Something Wicked This Way Comes explores what is really at stake when we start playing around with life and death. How much is the carousel ride really cost us? According to Bradbury, it costs much more than the price of admission.
What’s your favorite fall read? What books do you snuggle up with on a chilly autumn night? Comment below! I’m looking for some new reads to get me through October 🙂
Lit & Love,