My only previous encounters with Ray Bradbury had been reading Fahrenheit 451 as an 8th grader and watching his HBO series The Ray Bradbury Theater
in the mid-80s. After reading Something Wicked This Way Comes
, I feel much greater sorrow over his recent death. I want to hear so much more from him! The book is chilling, dark, chock full of powerful imagery, and absolutely gorgeous. The reading felt like dreaming.
Bradbury depicts relationships and insecurities wonderfully. The friendship between Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade feels true--the sense of young people that close friendships will last forever; the insecurity of one friend being better at something than the other; the itch to mature, age, gain independence in life; the adventure of sneaking out of the house in the wee morning hours. One early sequence reveals much:
And running, Will thought, Boy, it's the same old thing. I talk. Jim runs. I tilt stones, Jim grabs the cold junk under the stones and--lickety-split! I climb hills. Jim yells off church steeples. I got a bank account. Jim's got the hair on his head, the yell in his mouth, the shirt on his back and the tennis shoes on his feet. How come I think he's richer? Because, Will thought, I sit on a rock in the sun and old Jim, he prickles his arm-hairs by moonlight and dances with hoptoads. I tend cows. Jim tames Gila monsters. Fool! I yell at Jim. Coward! he yells back. And here we--go!
Damn that's good inner dialogue and pop-psychology drill during a frantic 3 a.m. run!
Then there's the often uncomfortable father-son interactions between Will and Charles Halloway. Both want to be a different age than they are; to be closer to one another. Both have secret longings and regrets. Turns out it's such insecurities and yearning that fuel the carnival's voracious appetite for discontented souls. Evil spreads not only through blatant means (Hitler and such), but also through the commonplace--mid-life crises, teen angst, the petty things we think and do on a daily basis. We want more out of our lives, and we're sometimes willing to go to dubious lengths to attain... what? Something different, the not-current.
For Bradbury, blind yearning and regret allow darkness to enter. A sermon by Pastor Newgate Phillips (cited by Charles Halloway in describing the overseers of the carnival) describes these depressed denizens of darkness as "autumn people".
"'For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ's birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles--breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.'"
It may sound like Bradbury's going a bit "power of positive thinking" on us. I never felt like I was sitting in on one of Norman Vincent Peale's lectures, however. This universe, though dark, is far from Lovecraftian. Bradbury gives humankind plenty of agency in sculpting the world in which we want to live. Evil's victory is far from inevitable. Sure, death happens. But we're alive now! We can and should set aside fear and have the courage to live fully. Really, do endings get any more life-affirming than this one?
Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts.
I'm happy now, are you?
Even if you find the ending to have a certain "oh puleez!" factor, Bradbury's mastery of the English language makes Something Wicked This Way Comes
worth the effort. The man can craft a story! I recommend the book very highly.