1-19 - Book Review: SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMESRay Bradbury
Simon & Schuster
1962

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.

The carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight our of a chill Midwestern October eve. Ushering in Halloween a week before its time, a calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. Young boyhood companions James Nightshade and Will Halloway are the first to heed its call. From a place of safety, they watch a midway come to spectral life, their emotions a riot of eagerness, trepidation, bravado, and uncertainty. For they can sense the change that’s in the air; that this is the Autumn in which innocence must vanish in the harsh, acrid smoke of disillusionment…and horror. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic show’s mazes and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes and the stuff of nightmares.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, to me, is a bit of an anomaly as far as reading goes. First off, it’s something of a dark fantasy with genuine horror elements, written by Ray Bradbury, who is more known for the Science Fiction side of speculative fiction. It’s also a novel that I’ve always wanted to read, since very young adulthood, but when it came down to it, I was always a bit timid to actually open up the pages and take it in, once I held it in my hands. Like a lot of the classic era sci-fi and horror fiction from the early-to-mid 20th Century, it took a while to work my way up to reading the darn thing. But, after obtaining a Sci-Fi Book Club edition hardcover reprint, I finally got around to reading it back in 2003. It’s stuck with me to this day, and I’m just now getting around to jotting down my brain droppings on the book.

The story involves a couple of young boys, on the very cusp of young adult-hood (any time I can use the word “cusp” in a sentence, I grasp the opportunity), hanging out one late October evening, when a carnival blows into town, quite literally along with a fall storm: Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. With a name like that alone, I’ll be the first in line for tickets. The boys are excited about the prospect of a late-in-the-season bit of flashy carnival entertainment, but the father of one of the boys has some serious misgivings about the thing. It feels more than a bit off. And when some of the townsfolk start emerging from the attractions different than what they normally are, mannerisms or otherwise, the boys start investigating what may be up inside the carnival. And when they run into the curators of this Pandemonium Shadow Show and all the curious souls that work there, they all find themselves in a battle between good and evil. Which is how all of my trips to county fairs end up, to tell the truth.

After reading Something Wicked This Way Comes, I can see the influence this book has had on many other authors and stories I’ve read in the past. Not just the straight-up Carnival of Fear trope itself, but also of the evil entity blowing into town to offer everyone their very desires, only at the cost of their very souls. Evil tempting you with bright, shiny fun. And possibly funnel cake.

I also found it interesting that this story actually subverts a well-used cliche’ in the whole Gothic literary setting, by way of sacred religious artifacts and symbols don’t effect the (for lack of a better word) Carnies, but (SPOILERS) it’s the power of love that does them in. In once instance, merely a smile, and a picture of a happy face does them in. Which makes me wonder if Huey Lewis was on to something, there.

Anyway, it should go without saying, but I’ll do so anyway: If you’re a fan of dark fantasy and Gothic horror, and if you haven’t read Something Wicked This Way Comes yet, you should really do so at least once. It’s in my Must Always Have collection in my library.

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