Monday, December 1, 2014

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, the man who gave us "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles", among many other great works, really outdid himself when he wrote this book. The subsequent movie with Jason Robards, is no slouch itself. Set in the Midwest of the late 1920's, the book concerns the arrival in town of a Carnival. The carnival arrives on the heels of a mysterious lightning rod salesman who predicts that a storm is coming their way. And it is..

The two main characters are Will Halloway and his friend, Jim Nightshade. They are both 14, which is a magical age for boys. I used to be one. Will's Dad is also at the center of the story, as a middle aged man who works at the library and, like Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird",is all too conscious of the fact that he is no longer young. When he learns of the Carnival due to arrive the next day the story is set in motion.

Will and Jim plan on setting out at 3 AM in the morning to watch the Carnival set up just outside of town. What they witness, in the way of the Carnival coming to life, upsets them and they run home. The next day they return to explore the mystery that they have witnessed. It is there that they encounter their 7th grade teacher,Miss Foley, whom they find dazed and confused after coming from the "Hall of Mirrors." When Jim ventures inside, Will is forced to pull him out. Scared, but still not satisfied, they return again that night after finding the lightning rod salesman's bag and wondering what happened to him. More importantly they wonder about his connection to "Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Show", which is the name of the Carnival.

That night, when they return, they search all of the tents and exhibits, finding no trace of the missing man. When they go to board the Carousel they are seized by a man who tells them that the ride is broken. This is Mr.Cooger, of Cooger and Dark's. Another man appears and directs Cooger to release the boys. He is Mr. Dark, a man covered in tatoos that mesmerize the boys. He then instructs them to return the next day as his guests, and the boys agree. But instead of leaving, they remain hidden. What they see shocks them, as Mr. Cooger rides the Carousel backwards, to backwards music. And when the ride is finished, he is 12 years old!

Following him to Miss Foley's house he is introduced to them as her nephew. The 12 year old Mr. Cooger is now on to them and a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues. When the boys encounter a young girl crying in the street, they realize that this is their teacher! What connection can there be between the Carousel, Mr. Dark, the young Mr. Cooger and the teacher?

Mr. Dark has, by now, realized the danger that the boys pose to him, and to that end he has organized a parade which he leads through the town in order to find them. When he meets Will's father and realizes who he is, he attempts to find out their whereabouts. But the elder Mr. Halloway feigns ignorance. He does, however, notice the faces of his son and Jim on Mr. Dark's tatooed hands.

The trio retreat to the library where Mr. Halloway researches the Carnival with disturbing results. Hiding the boys in the library he waits for Mr. Dark to show up. When he does, the two shake hands, with Mr. Dark attempting to stop Mr. Halloway's heart. The appearance of the "Dust Witch" ensures that the boys will be unable to help the Will's Dad. Just as he is about to die, Mr. Halloway, who has discovered that love is the only weapon against the evil Carnival, looks at the Dust Witch and laughs hysterically. This spooks her and she disappears. The boys have, by now, been taken to the Carnival, where an untimely fate awaits them.

Mr. Halloway then goes to the Carnival to confront Mr. Dark and get the boys. During the following battle of wits between Good and Evil, Mr. Halloway must defeat the "Dust Witch", destroy the Mirror Maze, and get the boys back safely. And he must do so using only the powers of laughter, happiness and love. When Jim is caught on the Carousel, Will tries to free him, but they both end up on the ride with no way off. Will finally manages to pull them both free and they lay on the ground next to the Carousel, with Jim nearly dead.

Mr. Dark still has one trick up his sleeve, and disguising himself as a child he comes to the trio begging for help. When Mr. Halloway recognizes the evil within the boy, he hugs him tightly, killing him with love. The Carnival collapses before their eyes and Jim is finally revived by the joyous singing of Will and his father.

This book was first written in the 1940's by Mr. Bradbury as a short story. When it was filmed in 1983 he wrote the screenplay. He considered it to be one of the best adaptations of his works.

The book is short, a little over 200 pages. The film is true to the narrative, with the Direction tightly conceived. Jason Robards was at his best in this film, playing a man searching for something that has eluded him for so long. This story ranks alongside "Moby Dick" in it's treatment of the subject at hand - Good versus Evil. And although Science Fiction/Fantasy are rarely my cup of tea, this book, as well as the movie adaptation, have drawn me back, time and again, to this truly remarkable tale.

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