Friday, May 2, 2014

Review of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) is the story of Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, neighbors born two minutes apart.  Will a minute before midnight on Halloween and Jim and minute after, the two boys rollick and cavort about their town, creating mischief as twelve year old boys do.  Playing in outside one autumn day, they are approached by a lightning rod salesman.  A storm on the horizon, Jim panics and purchases one of the metal devices, running to his roof to install it.  That night as clouds gather, the two boys hear a train approach their sleepy town, the smoke from its engine a haze in the night.  Escaping through their windows, the boys go to Moon Meadow, where, for reasons neither can explain, the train has stopped and slowly taking shape around it is a carnival.  A cloud of malice hanging in the air, the two stand transfixed as they witness a moment of the macabre on the carnival’s merry-go-round.  Scared witless, Will and Jim tear off into the night, their little town all the more scary.

Bradbury a superb stylist, Something Wicked This Way Comes palpably oozes mood.  The arrival of the carnival, the coming storm, the people which emerge from the seemingly self-erecting tents, and the bizarre side shows have a dynamic sensuality most fantasy books lack.  Borderline magic realist, the text possesses all the color and mettle of Bradbury’s talents, the imagery and story ripe as a result.

As generic an idea it may be, the novel is a symbolic presentation of evil.  Not in the polar fashion most often manifesting itself in fantasy, Bradbury probes the subject with a literary scalpel, utilizing humanist elements to exemplify the intangibles lurking beneath the surface of wickedness rather than via overt character action which can easily be weighed on a moral scale.  Tendencies, responsibilities, temptations, latent possibilities, will power, and the immortality of evil receive the majority of attention, individual deeds left to other writers to examine.  The conclusion nothing ground-shakingly profound, the story that arrives at the point nevertheless affirms the mindset needed to deal with the evils of the world, regard for friendship and the duty of parents the strongest among them.

Though a concept possibly arising only in hindsight (the novel was written in the country’s Golden Age), there is a strong sense of Americana to Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Will and Jim everything that is snips and snails, and puppy dog tails, the evil mood brought to town by the carnival is contrasted by the idyll of innocent American towns where boys can escape their bedrooms at night, barbershops still have the swirling candy cane pole, shop owners sweep their front steps, libraries have a wealth of books for boys to indulge their imaginations, and, the carnival still comes to town.  These aspects almost entirely lacking from modern American life, Bradbury, consciously or not, preserves a vignette of yesteryear midtown America.

In the end, Something Wicked This Way Comes may be the ultimate evil carnival story.  A dark, moody piece, Bradbury imbues the scenes with a sense of the macabre that never translates to simple blood and gore.  Symbolic in nature, Will and Jim’s relationship with Mr. Dark, as well as the role Will’s father plays, cohere into a whole in dialogue with classics that also interrogate the idea of evil, all the way back to the Bible.  A balanced work, the unsettling experiences of the boys is offset by the uplifting message of the finale, resulting in a classic American tale.

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