Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes

This is one of Bradbury's rare SF novels, for most of his works are short stories. It's set in Green River, Ill., the mythical setting for _Dandelion Wine_ and a number of his short stories--including one set in Green River, Mars, or so it seems. This isn't a fix-up work, such as The Martian Chronicles or Dandelion Wine or The Illustrated Man.

What is wicked is a carnival that comes to Green River in October, long past the season for a visit from what is really a summer event. Carnivals belong in a fantasy world with their wild rides and games and freaks where one can win a toy or stuffed animal, with luck. It promises fun and forgetfulness from the day's cares for a short time anyway.

But this carnival, Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, not only comes at the wrong time of the year, October, it also comes during the night when most people are asleep. It doesn't enter the town in broad daylight with a parade and open trucks displaying the exhibits to bring the people, but it comes in the dark, quietly and surreptitiously.

Aside from this clandestine entrance, Bradbury also provides the reader with several clues through the names he provides. For example, the name of the carnival gives several hints as to its true nature. "Cooger" sounds like cougar, a large predatory feline, also known in various parts of North and South America as a puma, a mountain lion, or a panther. The other owner's name is Dark, which is a suggestive name, especially in fantasy work. Moreover, he carries a walking stick whose head is a carved serpent. One more hint comes from the carnival's name; "Pandemonium" is the Satan's Palace in Milton's Paradise Lost. This carnival is hell.

The major point of view characters are two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. Their names are also suggestive. "Hallow" means to make holy or sacred. An archaic meaning of "hallow" is a saint or a holy person. Will's name certainly hints that he is on the side of the good. Charles Halloway, his father, tells us he and his wife, both half-bad, "put their good halves together and... got one human all good to share between." That "one human all good" was his son Will.

Will's best friend Jim Nightshade, however, seems a bit more ambiguous about his place in the scheme of the novel. First, his last name, "Nightshade," is frequently paired with a modifier--deadly nightshade. "Nightshade" is a poison, perhaps best known as belladonna. Secondly, his encounter with the lightning rod salesman very early in the novel suggests that Jim is ambivalent about his relationship to the world. It doesn't end with just one occurrence, for throughout the novel, Bradbury offers up several troubling incidents involving Jim.

This carnival's threat is that it seems to be able to grant people's wishes, which plays on the old saying that one should be careful about what one wishes for, because one might find the wish came true. The carnival or its owners can make wishes come true, but only at a terrible price--one's soul. Several of the townspeople paid that price, Mr. Dark is now determined that Jim will join them, not as a victim, but perhaps as a partner some time in the future. While Will and his father face a physical threat, Jim's is a more dangerous one; it is moral.

Although this is fantasy and the wicked possess magical powers, they are opposed by ordinary humans whose greatest weapon is laughter. Evil, apparently, can not face up to open, honest, and courageous laughter.


  1. I was wondering if you've read anything more recent by Bradbury? If so, can you recommend anything?

  2. Cheryl,

    Here is a list of more recent works by Bradbury.

    1. _Death is a lonely Business_.
    A detective named Elmo Crumley and a young writer seek the killer who has left bodies among the dismantled remains of the Venice, California, amusement pier. 1985.
    I know it's not that recent, but it's the first of a series of murder mysteries by Bradbury.

    2. _The Stories of Ray Bradbury_, a collection of 100 of his stories, 1990. I don't think there is a one volume collection of all Bradbury's short works. Frankly I think it would have to be a two volume set, at least. However, this one is a good start,even if it is missing a few of my favorites.

    3. _A Graveyard for Lunatics_. Second in series beginning with _Death is a Lonely Business_. The young writer is now a SF screenwriter (what else?) for a Hollywood studio, and he again teams up with Elmo Crumley. 1990

    4. _Quicker than the Eye_, a collection of short stories, 1996

    5. _Let's All Kill Constance_, the SF screenwriter and Elmo Crumley team up for a third time. 2003

    6. _Farewell Summer_, sequel to _Dandelion Wine_. 2005.

    7. _Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band is Playing & Leviathan '99_, two fantasy novellas, 2007.


  3. Here's a link to Ray Bradury's speech from a writing symposium:

    It's the video listed under Saturday 7/19/08. In it, he tells how he came to write "Something Wicked This Way Comes". ( It's about 40 minutes into the speech.) He's fascinating to listen to.

  4. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the link, but I'm using dialup and that would take about an hour and a half with getting only 2 second segments, interspersed with 10 second breaks.

    Did the list I left you answer your question about recent works?

  5. Yes. Thank you for the list.