Something Wicked This Way Comes...Every Year

Setpember 16, 2010 — I feel stupid writing about this book. I might as well extol the beauty of a starry sky, the merits of a loving family, the pleasures of WKRP in Cincinnati. We all already know, so I should just shut up about it.

But I can’t. Not if I’m trying to write about my Autumn season.

I don’t re-read books often. I’m an extremely slow reader, so every book I re-read is another book I will never have the time to get to. Also, it can interfere with my TV watching. However, for the past decade or so, I have read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes every Autumn. In other words, I have sacrificed entire shelves of amazing stories to reread this book.

And every time I read Something Wicked, my belief is confirmed that this is Bradbury’s penultimate work (except in those summers when I’ve read Dandelion Wine and think that to be his best).
Image by Brian Weaver

Published in 1962, Something Wicked elegantly tells thestory of a pair of 13-year-old midwestern boys named Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway who encounter a dark carnival so textured, so compelling, and so full of soul peril that there should have been a 100-year moratorium placed on any other writer trying to create one, much less allowing it to transmography into the cliché that other writers have turned it into.

The story takes place about a week before Halloween , although the holiday itself doesn’t much figure into the story. Mostly, Bradbury sets his tale at that time of year to take advantage of that special shade of darkness that only the nights of late October seem to cast. The kind of darkness that has less to do with the arrangement of celestial bodies and more to do with the collected terrors, fears, regrets, and sorrows that leak from the souls of a species who not only must endure change but must endure the knowledge of having changed, as well.
Image by Brian Weaver

On one of those despair-dark nights, a mysterious and supernatural carnival, Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, steams into town. The carnival is full of Autumn People, lost and trapped souls, evil creatures, freaks of nature, all run by a fiend covered in tattoos, the eponymous Mr. Dark, the Illustrated Man.

As a result of this carnival and its enticements, Jim and Will are placed in a predicament that has one of them yearning to grow up faster and the other afraid to be left behind, while other, elder townsfolk attempt to recapture lost bits of their lives. And that’s pretty much what the book’s about… the terrors of growing up and the terrors of having grown up. Children thinking they are stuck in a place they’ll never escape and older people believing they’ve been forcibly and unfairly evicted from it.

One of those adults faced with that enormous press of sunset regret is Will’s father, Charles Halloway, the janitor at the town library. When I first discovered the book, the characters of Jim and Will completely enthralled me. However, as I got older, that fascination was redirected to Charles Halloway to the point that I find his character one of the most intriguing that I’ve come across in literature. So you can keep your Hamlets, your Holden Caulfields, your Zaphod Beeblebroxes. Charles Halloway is the eyepiece I want to inspect humanity through (wait…give me back Zaphod Beeblebrox).

Image by Brian Weaver
In the end, Something Wicked fits its season. Every page is a crackling brown leaf, blown about on orchard- and bonfire-scented winds. Every bit of description is painfully evocative, extraordinarily vivid. It’s a melancholy, bittersweet little tale, much like Autumn itself.

After all, Autumn is a time of remembering, of nostalgia. It’s a time to reap the fruits of past labors. It portends the coming winter and mourns the loss of summer and spring. It’s a time when we subconsciously realize that death isn’t the horrible thing about life. Growing a year older is. In many ways, Autumn itself is that backwards-running carousel that both takes us back and terrifies us with what this way comes.

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