I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes while as a teenager. I was going through a massive Ray Bradbury kick, and I was devouring his books like many do pizza. Something Wicked found its way in between some of his other works in the monthly large pile I got from my local library, and I must admit at the time it didn’t make a dent on me.
It didn’t emotionally touch me as Dandelion Wine or inspire me like The Martian Chronicles or R is for Rocket. I can clearly remember spending most of my time reading it comparing it in my mind to the movie version by Disney I had seen a few years earlier. Yet, when people talk about his classics, especially after his death, Something Wicked is always discussed; so to honor the great man I decided to reread the book again.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is the story of an evil carnival that invades the town of Green Town, Illinois (A town that will not sound unfamiliar to readers of Mr. Bradbury). Two boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, are the only souls in the town that are able to see the carnival for what it is, a place of evil magic and sinister characters. It is after the carnival workers (under their leader the illustrated man, Mr. Dark), realize the boys are on to them that things start to become more intense.
Something Wicked has an interesting history to its creation. It first began as an abandoned short story, then Bradbury turned it into a screenplay after being inspired by Gene Kelly.
No, I’m serious.
He watched a musical film by Gene Kelly and went home and created a suspenseful horror screenplay for him. That is out-of-the-box thinking on a grand scale! Thinking like that shows the creativity that makes a good fiction writer. It’s also creativity like that that shows Bradbury made the right call in not seeking an occupation as an agent for actors. To no one’s surprise, movie studios didn’t think people would want Gene in a horror film (but he did earn the dedication in the book) and the film was not made until the 1983 version by Disney.
Reading this book after years of studying writing definitely gave me a different perspective on the work. While as a teenager I was transported by the idea of an evil carnival coming into town, now when I read the novel, I can see the man hiding behind the curtain working the controls. I can tell what part was probably from the short story, what part was written just for the novel, and what was probably adapted from the screenplay.
For example, the entire first part of the book (“Arrival”), sounds like one of Bradbury’s novels. It’s lyrical, filled with his trademark romantic wonder of nature and being young and free. (I love it when he writes like this. In a way, he romanticizes my own childhood through his writing.) However, in the later sections, like in the library or the final confrontation at the carnival, they sound like they were written right out of a screenplay with more dialogue and with much of his more lyrical writing style gone.
The fact I can feel this shift does weaken the book in some ways for me, but many readers won’t have this same issue. Yet, another more major concern I have with the work is there is no clear real reason for the carnival. Yes, Charles Holloway (the father of Will) has a huge speech about his realization around the carnival, but I still don’t feel the motive behind this. A good speech by Mr. Dark about hunger could have solved this, but I digress.
One of the things I found wonderfully jarring about the book is the chapter structure Bradbury uses in the work. It is almost as if he did it intentionally to always keep the reader on his/her toes (and knowing his creative mind, that was probably what he was thinking). For example, many times chapters are broken up within the same scene, and even the same conversation! Yes, a chapter can end with one statement from a character with the next beginning with another character’s response.
And then there is the genius of chapter 31 which made me smile in a major way. The chapter was only one sentence:
“Nothing much else happened, all the rest of that night.”
I love that!
One of the other things that impressed me in the novel was the story of Will’s father, Charles. Charles Halloway is an older father (54) and judges himself harshly for daring to age or even have a child so late in life. He even once asks this dreadful and morbid question in hearing distance of Will, which is something a child should never hear a parent say. While you can judge Charles at the beginning of the book for these missteps, he steps forward in many ways later, becoming the real hero of the book. If it wasn’t for the character growth of Charles, this book probably would remain nothing more than another of Bradbury’s numerous works.
Through the character of Charles, Bradbury is trying to say something about parenting, about being there for your child, listening to them, supporting them, and, more importantly, enjoying and loving them. It’s a beautiful message, and one I found quite touching as the father of two little children.
Yet, for all of that, it is a lighter work in many ways. And in today’s world where horror and dark magic tales are nothing new, it can feel very dated (especially around the children’s dialogue which almost may need a translator today). Where he does succeed is in the idea of dealing with the temptation of want. I don’t mean the want of that bright new shiny car; I mean the want for missed opportunity, age, and life (the things that haunt us before we go to sleep, the “what ifs” we collect each year of our lives). These are definitely heavier themes than you would get in a typical young adult book today.
Ray Bradbury is a master of moments that capture our attention, making it not surprising that his stronger works were always short story collections (The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, The October Country, etc.), or collections pretending to be novels (Dandelion Wine). Something Wicked This Way Comes is a classic because of its place in his library of works, it is not the first of his books I would recommend to a reader, nor is it anywhere near the last. It exists for me with his other books that are obsessed with autumn, the falling leaves, and the shadows we find as the nights get longer than the days.
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!