“‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’ So vague, yet so immense.”
Ray Bradbury’s crafting of Something Wicked This Way Comes can easily be embodied in this phrase. Bradbury’s trademark is his ability to describe his settings and his characters down to the last molecule while still maintaining an air of mystery. While reading any of his novels, it can feel like you’re watching the scene unfold but everything is enveloped in a fog. Something Wicked This Way Comes showcases this same alluring style which made the novel quite enjoyable to read.
From a young age, Bradbury had a fascination with eternal life. This fascination was further developed while one day at a carnival a man told him to ‘Live forever!” When Bradbury started writing more this experience developed into a very short story about two boys’ experience at a carnival and was stashed away until, he became acquainted with Gene Kelly. Bradbury wanted to create a film with Kelly and presented an 80 page outline to him which Kelly loved. After Kelly tried and failed to get financial support for the film, Bradbury continued to develop the Dark Carnival for the next five years, culminating in the 1962 debut of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The novel follows three main characters: Charles Halloway, William Halloway, and Jim Nightshade as they deal with their own troubles, desires, insecurities, and the carnival that came to town a little later than normal. Bradbury’s fascination with mortality is heavily explored throughout the novel and culminates in the message that every part of life is inevitable and is meant to be lived through, not avoided.
The carnival is portrayed as the embodiment of evil, it’s centerpiece being a calliope that can age people or make them younger, essentially allowing them to avoid stages of life. The song that the calliope moves to is the funeral march. If it plays normally it ages people and if it plays backward it makes them younger. Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger, the proprietors of the carnival, routinely use the calliope for their own benefit, primarily to tempt others into using the calliope themselves. It seems like a great deal, being able to cheat death or avoid the awkwardness of adolescence, until they find themselves alone, unable to tell anyone who they are — because who would believe them? This misery is what the carnival runs on.
The sense of mystery that surrounds the carnival is essential to the plot of the novel and Bradbury’s writing style helps to develop it. It makes the book more compelling to read and keeps the reader hooked and wanting to find out more about the carnival and it’s strange owners. There is something compelling about the thought of eternal life. The ability of someone to forever have an impact on the world. This power is shown to corrupt the two men to the point where they cannot accept love and affection. There is a lot about Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger that remains unknown. But in the context of the story it doesn’t matter because the only thing that needs to be known about them is that the use of the calliope has led to the loss of their humanity.
The story in and of itself isn’t bad but can come across as simplistic. Reading through it can seem like Bradbury is trying to say that any unhappiness can be solved if people only make the active choice to be happy. However, Bradbury’s central message is about accepting mortality. To understand the novel, the reader has to be willing to look deeper than the surface. Otherwise, the conclusion can fall flat compared to the other aspects of the novel. Nevertheless, approaching the novel from a surface level can still be enjoyable. It can take what is a very somber novel and add some levity to it. A simple fable or fairy tale-type story that can provide some entertainment after a long day. For those approaching the novel looking for something deeper, they find a lesson about accepting their own mortality and the value of humanity and love.
That Bradbury’s writing sometimes allows the reader too much freedom to reach conclusions based upon their own interpretation, a character’s catalyst for change can often remain simplistic, vague, even unanswered. The development of Will is almost non-existent and is towards the end of the novel limited to being Jim’s friend and Charles’s son. In regards to Jim Nightshade, there is a certain point where it seems like he is becoming more fearful of the carnival, losing some of the bravado that contrasted him from Will, but later he rebounds, just as reckless as he was at the beginning of the novel. With Charles Halloway, there suddenly appears a moment in which he accepts that 54-years-old isn’t “old,” after all, but with very little build up to the moment. The progression of these characters feels like there is something missing in the interim.
While the characters are at times difficult to follow, the way that Bradbury uses them to craft his narrative is masterful. Having Will remain a static character and his purpose revolve around him being Jim’s friend and Charles’s son allows for Jim and Charles to demonstrate two ends of the spectrum that Bradbury is trying to discuss. Jim is close to Will but is itching to grow up without Will and leave him behind. Charles is estranged from Will because he feels like he is too old to be a good father to Will and wishes that he were younger. The plot revolves around their acceptance of their lives. Jim has to finally appreciate having a friend like Will and Charles has to accept that his age doesn’t mean that Will would be better off without him. It is only through seeing the characters struggle with mortality and life that Bradbury’s message is conveyed.
Wanting to be older is the desire of many children. Wanting their youth back is a common desire among the elderly. It isn’t a crime to want those things. However, ultimately it’s futile to wish for years. The young will waste their lives hoping for the future, only to ruin their present and find nothing when they get to the future they were begging for so desperately. The old will yearn for the days of their youth only to die with regrets of a hundred thousand days on their minds. Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is a cautionary tale to the Jim Nightshades of the world to appreciate the life ahead of them, and an aspiration of the Charles Halloways of the world who have their regrets but learn to appreciate the life they lived.
The faults of Something Wicked This Way Comes, while mildly frustrating, do not take away the enjoyment that comes from reading the novel. It remains a book with a supernatural mystery wrapped up in a simple, neat bow, perfect for the Halloween season.
Mythreyi Namuduri is a freelance pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl