Regrettably, I have never had the pleasure of reading anything by Ray Bradbury; Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t assigned in any of my classes, and I have never delved comprehensively into the Science Fiction or Horror genres. It turns out that this is my loss, for as his horror classic Something Wicked This Way Comes shows, Bradbury is considered among the most well-loved authors of our time for good reason.
When choosing genres, I decided early on that I wanted to read a classic horror. Having already read a vampire book for my science fiction choice, Dracula was out, so I researched some of the other classics and came across the intriguingly titled Something Wicked This Way Comes, with an even more intriguing summary:
Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are simultaneously best friends and polar opposites, one born just before and the other just after midnight of October 31st. In the fall of their thirteenth year, a mysterious carnival arrives in their small town in Illinois, bringing with it a foreboding sense of darkness that unnerves most, but entices those vulnerable to its offerings—including the troubled and adventurous Jim, who yearns to escape childhood and quickly grow up. As the boys soon discover, this is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill carnival, but rather a supernatural operation run by corrupted beings who feed off the fears of the townspeople. Mr. Dark, the ringleader of this freakshow, is a truly terrifying, yet alluring villain; he expertly manipulates people’s emotions to gain power over them, and seems all-knowing and practically invincible.
The premise may sound like a Goosebumps book, but I found Bradbury's novel to be very adult-oriented and complex. The prose is beautiful and poetic, using elaborate imagery to create a vividly imagined setting and creepy atmosphere. Based on the plethora of themes Bradbury explores, I would go so far as to call this book profoundly philosophical. Such themes include the loss of innocence, secret desires, the world’s constant state of corruption, and holding on to youth vs. longing for adulthood. However, for those who don’t want to slog through the allegory and who are just looking for a good story, this is at its core a story about good triumphing over evil, and about the incredible strength of human bonds, which I think almost anyone can relate to.
One of the strongest points of this book are the characters, some realistic and well-developed, like the boys, and others imaginative and terrifying, like Mr. Dark and his crew of freaks. The dark tone that characteristically pervades horror novels is present here, yet Bradbury still maintains a sense of optimism as well. Beneath all of the doom and gloom exists a hope that good can defeat evil—that the demons and sins of humanity constantly corrupting the world can be overcome through the power of human love and compassion.
I would recommend this book, without hesitation, to anyone who is willing to wrestle with some cryptic language, metaphors, and thought-provoking ideas about the nature of evil. I think just about anyone who enjoys horror and/or fantasy would find this classic an enjoyable read.
Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Publication date: 1962 (original)
Number of pages: 293
Setting: Small town in Illinois
Time period: Not specified, but probably mid-twentieth century
Subject headings: Horror tales—Fiction, Male friendship—Fiction, Fathers and sons—Fiction.