The whole world, it seems, is mourning the loss of Ray Bradbury, who died on June 5 at the age of 91. One of the greatest American science fiction and fantasy writers of the past century, Bradbury has inspired countless readers and writers. Count me among them. For many people, the initial encounter with Bradbury’s genius is Fahrenheit 451 or perhaps The Martian Chronicles, both of which are staples in the high school classroom.
I don’t want to diminish the impact of those two books—both are wonderfully accessible and thought-provoking—but the one that has stuck with me throughout the years is Something Wicked This Way Comes (Simon & Schuster, 1962). This may be due to the fact that it was the first book of Bradbury’s that I read. It may have been because, at 13, I was the same age as the book’s two protagonists, Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade. All I know is that I found it both beautiful and terrifying.
Will and Jim are best friends, born just two minutes apart: Will, at 11:59 p.m., All Saint’s Day, and Jim, at 12:01 a.m. on Halloween. Light and dark personified. A carnival rolls into Green Town (based on Bradbury’s home town, Waukegan, Illinois) in the middle of the night, on the heels of a storm predicted by a strange lightning rod salesman named Mr. Fury.
Will and Jim are eager to experience the thrills of the carnival—until they discover its sinister secrets. Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show is not just any carnival, although it contains the usual collection of sideshows, rides, and freaks. Mr. Dark, the mysterious ringmaster, lures unsuspecting townspeople with the promise of granting their heart’s desire. Is it, like Will’s father, to become young again? Ride the carousel in reverse, and the years melt away. Ride it forward, and Jim can be a grown man. But there is a price, of course—your soul. Can the boys resist joining Mr. Dark’s haunted band of freaks?
Bradbury’s lyrical writing style owes much to Shakespeare, and indeed, the title of the book comes from Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes.” This atmospheric book will have you turning the pages far too long into the night.
Near the end of the book, Will’s father muses, “Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts.”
You made it count, Ray.