Jul 20, 2010

Fantasy Masterworks: Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes was my first contact with Bradbury, and it was a mindblast! The powerful story of archetypes and conviction that has inspired not a few of Steven King's books, and the beautiful and colorful prose of the novel enchanted me in a way that very few authors have ever managed.

The story is set in a small Midwestern town. One October, a mysterious traveling carnival arrives, filled with strange attractions and stranger performers. And as the carnival's dark promises of secret desires turn to madness and despair, the lives of two 13-year old boys change forever.

The beauty of Something Wicked This Way Comes is contained in its contrasts. Will Halloway is born a minute before midnight on October 30. Blond and blue-eyed, he is careful and timid. Jim Nightshade on the other hand - born a minute after midnight on October 31 - is his exact opposite. With his chestnut hair and dark eyes, brooding and always "looking at his shadow", he is ever getting into trouble. Perhaps it is this duality that accounts for the boys' friendship. It is also another beautiful contrast that Jim's brashness is what makes him the weak one in the story, while Will's timidity hides greater strength.

The monstrous performers of Mr. Dark's carnival are among the most vivid images of nightmarish dementia I've seen in any type of fantasy, not in small part due to Bradbury's amazing descriptions. The scene of the Wax Witch's flight in a balloon held by her breaths, as she touches people's dreams in search for the boys, brands itself deep into the imagination, and won't let go long after you've put the book down. And it is but one example of the powerful imagery that occurs many times throughout the book.

In the end, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story of growing up and coming of age, of overcoming the greatest obstacles - your own desires and self-doubts - and of finding strength in what makes us human, against a power that would steal your dreams and turn them to nightmares. The book has mythic resonance, despite its "YA" setup and small-town setting, and in its wake one feels maybe a little stronger, as if the reader, and not the characters, has overcome the obstacles of Mr. Dark's traveling carnival. It is a beautifully written and imagined novel, and an attestation to the genius of Ray Bradbury's writing. I can not recommend it enough!


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