Something Wicked This Way Comes ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
A carnival comes to a small Illinois town in October. Carnivals don’t usually come after Labor Day, but this carnival is different. It’s Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. It’s been in business for hundreds of years, traveling around from place to place, feeding on people’s sorrow, despair and tears. It makes empty promises and gets unhappy, sorrowful people to give up their souls. And what do these people get in exchange for their souls? They get NOTHING! You’d be surprised how easy it is to get some people to give up everything for nothing.
Mr. Dark is also known as the Illustrated Man. He’s the driving force behind the carnival. Every inch of his body is covered with tattoos of sinister creatures that move (or seem to move). Mr. Cooger, the other owner of the carnival, doesn’t have much to say. He has ridden on the carousel that makes people younger as it goes backward and older as it goes forward. When we see him, he might be a tiny child or he might be over two hundred years old. But, wait a minute! Isn’t Mr. Cooger also Mr. Electrico, the man who has been cooked in the electric chair as part of the show? One never seems to know about Mr. Cooger.
There’s a Mirror Maze in the carnival that, when people enter, sucks the souls right out of them. Once you enter the mirror maze, you may never be the same again, or you might not come out at all. There are freaks whose distorted bodies reflect their sins; a calliope that plays music backwards; big tents, sideshows, cotton candy and everything else you’d expect from a carnival.
Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are inseparable friends living next door to each other. They are not quite fourteen, one of them having been born one minute before midnight on Halloween and the other one minute after. They are very much alike except that Jim’s personality is “dark” and Will’s is “light.” They are drawn to the unusual carnival and right away they know, or think they know, its sinister intentions.
Will’s father, Charles Halloway, is an old man, fifty-four, janitor at the library. He likes working nights at the library when nobody is there. He is an unusual kind of father, philosophical and understanding. He reads some books on the subject of evil when he is alone at night in the library and uncovers information about carnivals such as Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. He realizes that Jim and Will, and other people in the town, are in danger. Mr. Dark wants their souls. The carnival loves all things “dark,” but if there’s anything it hates it’s laughter and happiness: a simple thing that might be enough to make the carnival move on. You can’t have any souls in this town. Of course, laughter and happiness won’t put the carnival out of business; all it has to be is move someplace else where laughter and happiness don’t exist.
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, was first published in 1962. Its language is nearly poetic, a little overblown at times, with a sometimes tiresome stream of metaphors, as shown in this passage where Jim and Will first encounter Mr. Dark: This second man was tall as a lamp post. His pale face, lunar pockmarks denting it, cast light on those who stood below. His vest was the color of fresh blood. His eyebrows, his hair, his suit were licorice black, and the sun-yellow gem which stared from the tie pin thrust in his cravat was the same unblinking shade and bright crystal as his eyes.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story of good versus evil, dark versus light, happiness versus sadness, one of the seminal works of dark fantasy that has influenced a whole generation of writers. So, if you are the kind of person who can always find something to be unhappy about (I’ve known a few of these), you are making yourself more susceptible to evil, and the boogeyman (or Mr. Dark) might just come and snatch away your soul.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp