Author: Ray Bradbury
First published: 1962
Ray Bradbury is often remembered for his many collections of short stories, so it was an interesting yet wonderful experience to read one of the only single, full-length narratives ever crafted by the legendary author. Being that this is a format that he is not accustomed to regularly writing in, I was incredibly impressed with this novel and it has earned a well-deserved spot among my favorites.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is the story of two best friends, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, caught in the throes of budding maturity on the brink of their 14th birthdays. Will is depicted as a bright boy captured by the light of life, while Jim, equally intelligent, has an irresistible attraction to the darkness. Bradbury does an excellent job of showing the juxtapositions of the two friends and how their differences complement each other, making for an interesting relationship throughout the tale. The story begins when what they know about themselves, and each other, is challenged one late October night when Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger’s terrifying carnival sweeps into the boys’ small town.
The friends set out to investigate the band of new arrivals, only to end up on the hellish company’s hit list when they discover that the carnival is harboring frightful secrets. Drawn to the deceptive offers of promises to fulfill unmet desires, many of the naive townsfolk find themselves lured into the trap that is Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. As witnesses to the terrors wrought by the nightmarish camp, the boys are determined to run the carnival out of town. The adventure follows Jim and Will’s struggles as they attempt to evade every endeavor the carnival enacts to suck the boys into the living nightmare that Dark and Cooger have created. Through these tribulations the boys’ friendship is put to the test, as well as their relationships with their fellow townsfolk. Will’s father and the town library’s janitor, Charles Halloway, begins to sense that something is amiss and takes up his own investigation, and unexpectedly finds himself in the thick of the conflict.
Although the story at face value is quite entertaining and engaging, it is the relatable, gems of life-truths sprinkled throughout the novel that really make this story come alive. From the scenes that lead to the development of Will and Charles’ relationship to the mysterious temptations of the carnival, there are many points throughout the novel that succeed at enchanting the reader. The overarching theme of the book (light versus dark, evil pitted against good, summer counter to autumn) is executed fantastically within every nook and cranny of the novel without being over the top. The story drives home that all things must pass, each life phase is just as important as the last (or what is to come), and that age should not define what you can or cannot do. Overall, this is an incredible story that I would highly recommend to anyone perplexed by and fascinated with the mysteries of life.