Something Wicked This Way Comes (novel)
Dust-jacket art by Gray Foy from the first edition
|Genre||Fantasy, Horror, Supernatural|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
(First edition); See release details for others
|Preceded by||Dandelion Wine|
|Followed by||The Halloween Tree|
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a 1962 dark fantasy novel by Ray Bradbury. It is about 13-year-old best friends, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, and their nightmarish experience with a traveling carnival that comes to their Midwestern town one October. The carnival's leader is the mysterious "Mr. Dark" who seemingly wields the power to grant the citizenry's secret desires. In reality, Dark is a malevolent being who lures these individuals into binding themselves in servitude to him. He is revealed to possess a tattoo bearing the likeness of each person he has thus tricked. Mr. Dark's presence is countered by that of Will's father, Charles Halloway, who harbors his own secret desire to regain his youth because he feels as though he is too old for Will.
The novel combines elements of fantasy and horror, analyzing the conflicting natures of good and evil which exist within all individuals. Unlike many of Bradbury's other novel-length works, such as Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles, which are fix-ups, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a single full-length narrative.
One of the events in Ray Bradbury's childhood that inspired him to become a writer was an encounter with a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico who commanded him to "Live forever!" The 12-year-old Bradbury, intrigued at the concept of eternal life, revisited Mr. Electrico, who spurred his passion for life by heralding him as the reincarnation of a friend lost in World War I. After that memorable day, Bradbury began writing nonstop.
The novel originated in 1955 when Bradbury suggested to his friend Gene Kelly that they collaborate on a movie for Kelly to direct. Kelly was encouraging of the idea, and Bradbury spent the next five weeks adapting his 1948 short story "The Black Ferris" into an 80-page treatment. Kelly shopped the project to various studios, but was unable to obtain financial backing for the movie. Bradbury then gradually expanded the treatment into the novel over a five-year period. He converted the benign presence of Mr. Electrico into a more sinister one and incorporated several members he met at the same carnival with Mr. Electrico, including the Illustrated Man and the Skeleton Man.
The book's autumnal setting was intended as a thematic sequel to Bradbury's summer-tinged Dandelion Wine. Both works are set in the fictitious Green Town (based on Bradbury's hometown, Waukegan, Illinois) but have different tones, with the seasons in which they are set reflecting different aspects of the transition from childhood to adulthood. While none of the characters in Dandelion Wine reappear in Something Wicked This Way Comes, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade can be viewed as one-year older representations of Dandelion Wine's Douglas Spaulding and John Huff, respectively. These two novels, coupled with Bradbury's official 2006 sequel to Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer, constitute what Bradbury has termed his "Green Town Trilogy." The 2008 short story collection Summer Morning, Summer Night is also set in Green Town.
The novel opens on an overcast October 23. Two friends, William "Will" Halloway and Jim Nightshade, both on the verge of their fourteenth birthdays, encounter a strange lightning rod salesman who claims that a storm is coming their way. Throughout that same night, Will and Jim meet up with townsfolk who also sense something in the air; the barber says that the air smells of cotton candy. Among the townspeople is Will's 54-year-old father, Charles Halloway (who works in the local library, and who broods philosophically about his position in life, including on how he misses being young like his son). Both Charles Halloway and the boys learn about the carnival that is to start the next day. Will's father sees a sign in a store window that advertises Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, while Jim and Will find a similar handbill in the street. The boys are excited that a carnival has come so late in the year, but Charles Halloway has a bad feeling about it.
The boys run out to watch the carnival arrive at three in the morning, and they run home after seeing the tents get set up mysteriously. Mr. Halloway talks about this time of night as "soul's midnight," when men are closest to death, locked in the depths of despair. The boys go the next day to explore the carnival and they help their seventh grade teacher, Miss Foley, who is dazed after visiting the Mirror Maze. Later in the day, Jim goes into the maze and Will has to pull him out. Jim insists on coming back that night, and Will agrees, but when they bump into the lightning-rod salesman's bag, they realize that they must stay to learn what has happened to the man. Finally, after searching all of the rides, they go up to a carousel that is supposedly broken. A huge man grabs Will and Jim and tells them that the merry-go-round is broken. Another man tells him to put them down, introduces himself as Mr. Dark and tells them the huge man's name is Mr. Cooger. Mr. Dark is the Illustrated Man, covered in tattoos, and he pays attention only to Jim, who is enthralled by what he sees. Mr. Dark tells them to come back the next day. The boys run off, but then hide and wait. What they see is unbelievable. Mr. Cooger rides backwards on the carousel (while the music plays backwards), and when he steps off he is twelve years old.
They follow Mr. Cooger to Miss Foley's house, where he pretends to be her nephew who got lost earlier at the carnival. Jim tries to meet up with Mr. Cooger, because he wants to ride the carousel, but Will stops him briefly before Jim takes off toward the carnival. When Will reaches the carnival, Mr. Cooger is on the carousel, growing older, and Jim is about to join him. Will knocks the switch on the carousel and it flies out of control, spinning rapidly forward. Mr. Cooger ages over 100 years before the carousel stops, and Jim and Will take off. They return with the police, but Mr. Cooger is nowhere to be found. Inside the tents he is set up as a new act, Mr. Electrico, a man they run electricity through. Mr. Dark tells the boys to come back to the carnival the next day. Will tries to keep his father out of the situation, promising him that he will tell all soon. That night, the Dust Witch comes in her balloon to find Jim and Will, but Will lures her to an abandoned house and destroys her balloon with an bow and arrow. They later both dream of a bizarre funeral for the balloon, featuring a giant, misshapen coffin.
The next day the boys see a young girl crying and realize after talking to her that she is Miss Foley. They go to her house, but when they come back their path is blocked by a parade. The carnival is out searching the streets for them. They hide and the little girl is gone. Will's father sees them hiding under an iron grille in the sidewalk in front of the cigar store and the boys convince him to keep quiet, because the Illustrated Man comes to talk to him. Will's father pretends not to know the two boys whose faces are tattooed on the man's hand, and then when the Witch comes and begins to sense the boys' presence he blows cigar smoke at her, choking her and forcing her to leave. Mr. Dark asks Charles Halloway for his name, and Will's father tells him where he works and who he is. Later that night Will and Jim meet Mr. Halloway at the library, where he has done research and found out some things about the carnival. He tells them that their best weapon is love, but they are not sure how to fight. Then Mr. Dark shows up and the boys hide. He finds them and crushes Charles Halloway's hand when the man tries to fight him. The Dust Witch casts spells on the boys to make them easy to handle and goes to stop Mr. Halloway's heart. Just before he is about to die, Charles Halloway looks at the Witch and begins to laugh hysterically, and his laughter wounds her deeply and drives her away. He goes to the carnival to rescue the boys.
At the carnival Charles Halloway outsmarts Mr. Dark, finds his son, kills the Witch, and destroys the Mirror Maze in a matter of minutes, all through the use of laughter and happiness. Then, he and Will search for Jim. Mr. Cooger turns to dust and blows away before he can be saved at the carousel, and Jim moves towards the merry-go-round. Jim starts to ride and Will tries to stop him. They both end up going for a ride before Will jumps off and rips Jim away from the machine. Jim falls into a stupor, close to death. A child comes begging them to help him, but Mr. Halloway recognizes the boy as Mr. Dark. He holds the boy tight and kills him with affection, because Mr. Dark cannot survive in such close contact with someone good. The carnival falls apart as Will tries to revive Jim. They save Jim by singing and dancing and laughing; their happiness bringing him back from the edge of death.
- William "Will" Halloway
- Born one minute before midnight on October 30, Will is described as having done "only six years of staring." (He is described as having white-blonde hair with eyes "as clear as summer rain".) Will is naturally obedient and wary of getting involved in difficult situations; nonetheless, he takes on an active role in fighting the carnival's evil power.
- James "Jim" Nightshade
- Born one minute after midnight on October 31, Jim is brooding and brash, acting as a foil for Will's cautiousness and practicality. (He is described as having wild and tangled chestnut brown hair and eyes the color of green grass.) Jim yearns to become older, which makes him vulnerable to the carnival's temptations, but he is ultimately saved by his friendship with Will.
- Charles Halloway
- A middle-aged man who starts out in the novel as quiet and unhappy. He's not very close to his son, but eventually gains self-awareness and faith while up against the carnival (defeating the "Dust Witch" and "Jed/Mr. Dark"). He becomes a fighter in his own right by the end of the novel, along with gaining the admiration, love, and friendship of his son.
- G. M. Dark
- The main antagonist, he is a sinister man who bears tattoos all over his body, one for each person successfully tempted into joining the carnival. Mr. Dark initially holds sway over the other main characters, but his power weakens when Charles uses positive emotions against him, something he cannot comprehend or withstand. Dark's background is a mystery, although when asked if he reads the Bible, he replies, "I've had every page, line and word read at me, sir!" This could refer to a possible Christian upbringing, or his victims quoting the Bible in attempts to ward him off.
- J. C. Cooger
- Dark's partner in running the carnival, Mr. Cooger, is a fierce, red-headed man who is first seen repairing the carousel. He catches and terrifies Will and Jim until Mr. Dark intervenes. In the guise of her twelve-year-old nephew, he is able to persuade Miss Foley to come to the carnival. The tables are turned on him, however, when Will increases the speed of the carousel as Mr. Cooger is riding it, causing him to rapidly age to the point of decrepitude. At the climax of the book he crumbles into dust and dies when the freaks accidentally drop him while carrying him back to the carousel. Like Mr. Dark, his origins are unknown.
- The Dust Witch
- A blind soothsayer possessing a sixth sense and the ability to perform many feats of magic, the Witch is portrayed as one of the carnival's most dangerous members. However, her increased sensitivity to the presence and emotions of other people makes her vulnerable to positive feelings. Charles uses this weakness to kill her with a bullet carved with a smile. Her origins are unknown, but she is illustrated on Mr. Dark's wrist as a "black-nun blind woman".
- Miss Foley
- A fifty-year-old schoolteacher of Will and Jim. Much like the other victims of the carnival, Miss Foley wished to become young. Her wish is granted, although she is transformed into a little girl with all her memories intact, unable to return to her former life and with no one to take care of her. It is not stated in the novel what happened to Miss Foley at the end; the best theory is that she ran away with the freaks as the carnival collapsed.
- The Skeleton
- An extremely thin, skeleton-like creature who is one of the more frequently appearing freaks. Like all of the other freaks, he once desired to be younger and was eventually tricked into joining the carnival. The Skeleton appears to be one of the more loyal freaks as, near the book's end, he takes the time to carry the recently deceased and young Mr. Dark with him after all the other freaks ran away. He is last seen walking away into the hills that border the town.
- Tom Fury/Dwarf
- A lightning rod salesman who, succumbing to his desire to see the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, is turned into an insane dwarf by the carnival and is recruited into it, with no memories of his former life.
Structure of the novel
Something Wicked This Way Comes can be interpreted as an allegory of the struggle between good and evil, with the human characters Will, Jim, and Charles on the side of morality, and Mr. Dark and his carnival on the side of sin and temptation. As in many other fictional works revolving around the same concept, good prevails in the end, not with supernatural or physical powers, but with purity of heart. Jim represents good that is always on the verge of giving into temptation, while Will, though he has crises and doubts, is the part of us that resists giving in.
As in Dandelion Wine, Bradbury infuses the novel with nostalgia for his childhood. However, Dandelion Wine embodies the idyllic memories of youth, whereas Something Wicked This Way Comes superimposes folk-tale and supernatural elements over a small-town Americana setting in order to explore the dark undercurrents that surround the transition to adulthood.
Transition from childhood to adulthood
The carnival's main allure to its participants is its ability to change age easily against natural causes. Jim wants to become an adult by riding the carousel forward, and Charles Halloway initially considers riding the carousel backwards. Even Will is somewhat tempted by the offer for a free trip to adulthood.
Charles, however, quickly sees that a ride on the carousel can have unforeseen circumstances, because despite age being changed instantly, the carousel would not change the mind. "If I made you twenty-five tomorrow, Jim, your thoughts would still be boy thoughts, and it'd show! Or if they turned me into a boy of ten this instant, my brain would still be fifty and that boy would act funnier and older and weirder than any boy ever."
Because of this, a person who rode the carousel would be reformed only physically, with the same sins and emotions contained inside. Moreover, his new physical form, created unnaturally, would alienate him from his family and peers, leaving him with nowhere to turn except for the carnival.
Charles best personifies this theme; while he is middle-aged in body, he is still youthful in mind and spirit. At first, he sees the two conflicting personas within him as irreconcilable and longs to be physically young too, but his active participation in toppling the carnival proves to him that mental fitness and perception of one's age is more important than physical health.
Ironically, Will and Jim can be said to have aged prematurely in the novel; the horrors of the carnival force them to grow up fast to be able to deal with its tricks on a knowledgeable level. Furthermore, Will and Jim do take a brief ride on the carousel before Will pulls Jim off, and they are never shown reversing this process before Charles destroys its machinations. Thus, it can be stated that they, in fact, grow up slightly. In this case, though, Will and Jim have also matured emotionally, too, having had their first encounter with evil. This enables them to grow more proportionally in both physical and emotional status.
Belief and fear
The novel also conveys the theme that the power of people, objects, and ideas have over you depends on the power you instill in them with your own mind. Because of this, the carnival is able to easily take advantage of the common human fears of aging, death, and loneliness which everyone has or relates to.
Charles Halloway is the character who learns the most about this; he initially views death as unpleasant and it thus becomes a sinister force to him that the Mirror Maze magnifies. However, Will's words of love help him to see that age does not matter if one focuses instead on the knowledge and affections gained with it, and as his fear vanishes, so does the Mirror Maze. He also is able to defeat the Dust Witch once he realizes that she does not have ultimate control over him. With his belief in her powers gone, he turns the tables on the Witch by instilling the same fear in her of his smile that he used to have of her magic.
Viewpoint on life
Self-centered desires and wishes are portrayed as the base of human malice and unhappiness because they blind people to the blessings of life with an unattainable dream. The novel's main example of this is Miss Foley's seduction by Cooger's promise of youth that causes her to fail to see his deception as her "nephew," and lose her rightful place in society.
It is implied that the counter-force against this is acceptance of one's faults and an enthusiastic pursuit of the everyday joys of life, signified by Charles' simultaneous running with Jim and Will at the end of the novel. The fact that he is nearly forty years older than them pales in comparison to the pleasure he gains from simple human companionship.
Critics have praised Something Wicked This Way Comes as a classic of fantasy and horror, noting its masterful blending of both genres and Bradbury's unusual and mesmerizing prose. The most referenced characteristic of the novel's plot is its unusual subtlety and realism for its genres.
The magazine Science Fiction Weekly published a review of the novel; an excerpt of it follows:
|“||A dark fantasy set in a small town, its people are brought to life so expertly readers feel very much like citizens ... even when their adopted hometown is menaced by outside forces against which it is helpless. Bradbury's prose is musical and hypnotic, fully engaging the senses and emotions. This is a book, once opened, that truly makes the real world disappear.||”|
Science Fiction Crowsnest, another science fiction magazine reviewed it with high praise, referring to it as a "Masterwork" with "a suitably fantastic and scary plot around colourful description ... with hidden meanings, mysteries and symbols adding to the layers of tension."
Legacy and literary influence
Something Wicked This Way Comes has served as a direct influence on several fantasy and horror authors, including Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Gaiman paid tribute to Bradbury's influence on him and many of his peers in a 2012 The Guardian article following Bradbury's death. Gaiman's novel American Gods can be read as a tribute to and attempt to surpass many of the "dark carnival" themes in Bradbury's work. The motif of ordinary people up against sinister, supernatural forces appears in many of King's works, including It and Dreamcatcher. King also discusses this novel at length in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre.
The book also influenced R.L. Stine, who said, "Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I always tell people that the scariest book I ever read was one of his books—Something Wicked This Way Comes."
Reference in other works
Stephen King mentions the book in his novel The Dead Zone and echoes the beginning scene of it by referring to a lightning-rod salesman in a chapter titled "Dark Carnival." Needful Things and 'Salem's Lot also contain references from Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The TV show South Park parodied the novel in the episode "Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes" with a similar plot about the titular department store luring townsfolk with its super-low prices. British TV comedy series The League of Gentlemen features the Pandemonium Carnival of Papa Lazarou.
Harry Nilsson released an album in 1967 titled Pandemonium Shadow Show. On it, the song "1941" is about a boy running away with the circus. The song "She Sang Hymns Out of Tune" is an odd song which sounds very Bradburyesque.
The band Creature Feature released a song titled "The Greatest Show Unearthed", which references the novel and takes heavy inspiration for the lyrics. 
The novel was made into the 1983 Disney film Something Wicked This Way Comes, with Bradbury as the screenwriter. In a later interview, Bradbury said that he considered the film one of the better adaptations of his works.
Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company performed a play based on the novel in Los Angeles on October 1, 2003, directed by Alan Neal Hubbs, also associated with the 1970 stage adaptation of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. The main cast was Grady Hutt as Will Halloway, J. Skylar Testa as Jim Nightshade, Jay Gerber as Charles Halloway, and Mark Aaron as Mr. Dark. Critics gave the play generally favorable reviews, stating that it captured the lyricism and dark tone of the novel. They also praised its special effects, which included a carousel constructed of mirrors with actors as the horses, and Jay Gerber as Charles Halloway. Sharon Perlmutter of Talkin' Broadway, however, said that Hutt and Tests gave bland performances as the two lead characters.
Something Wicked This Way Comes was produced as a full-cast radio play by the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air, and released by Blackstone Audio on October 1, 2007. Ray Bradbury wrote the script, modified for audio from his stage play. The cast includes Jerry Robbins as Mr. Halloway, J.T. Turner as Mr. Dark, Anastas Varinos as Will Halloway, and Matthew Scott Robertson as Jim Nightshade. This production was directed by Nancy Curran Willis, with music by Jeffrey Gage and post-production by Chris Snyder.
Catherine Wheels adapted Something Wicked This Way Comes for the stage in coproduction with the National Theatre of Scotland in 2009. The production opened at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews October 27, 2009 and toured the UK.
Something Wicked This Way Comes was produced as a radio play for the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play series and was broadcast on 29 October 2011. The production was adapted for radio by Diana Griffths and produced/directed by Pauline Harris with music by David Paul Jones and sound by Paul Cargill. The cast included Theo Gregory as Will, Josef Lindsay as Jim, Henry Goodman as Charles Halloway, Gerard McDermott as Mr. Cooger/The Lightning Rod Salesman and Kenneth Cranham as Mr. Dark.
- 1962, US, Simon & Schuster (ISBN 0-671-67960-0), Pub date: June 1962, hardcover (First edition)
- 1963, US Bantam (ASIN B000NQBVPO Bantam # H2630 ), Pub date: September 1963, paperback (first printing)
- 1983, US, Alfred A. Knopf (ISBN 0-394-53041-1), Pub date: March 1983, hardcover
- 1997, US, Bantam US (ISBN 0-553-28032-5), Pub date: December 1997, paperback (Grand Master Editions)
- 1998, US, Avon (ISBN 0-380-72940-7), Pub date: March 1998, paperback (Mass Market Paperback)
- 1999, US, Eos (ISBN 0-380-97727-3), Pub date: June 1999, hardcover
- 2001, US, Bookspan (ISBN 0-9650204-5-2), Pub date: 2001, hardcover
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- Mark Graham, "Five Reasons to Be Paranoid" (book reviews), Denver Rocky Mountain News, July 11, 1999, p. 4E. Quoted in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Retrieved on January 2, 2007.
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- "Pandemonium Shadow Show". The Official Harry Nilsson Site.
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- Hitchcock, Laura. A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes. Retrieved on January 2, 2007.
- Perlmutter, Sharon. Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews: 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'. Retrieved on January 2, 2007.
- "Something Wicked This Way Comes". National Theatre of Scotland. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
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- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, reviewed by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)
- Official Ray Bradbury Web site
- Something Wicked This Way Comes learning guide, analysis, quotes, & teacher resources
- BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play: Something Wicked This Way Comes