Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes Cover

A Baroque Phantasmagoria


Well, you’ve got to grant that Ray Bradbury is not a boring novelist. The entire story of Something Wicked This Way Comes runs almost entirely on enthusiasm. Part morality tale and part freak show, Something Wicked finds something of a happy medium as an exuberant young adult novel, a wild and unstoppable train of delight in every moment of living. The two protagonists Jim and Will live unimpeded lives without any great danger until the day the Dark Train arrives in the middle of the night, at the witching hour. Unfortunately, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show offers more than mere curiosities and entertainments: it offers your heart’s desire... for a price. Are you looking for true love? Your lost youth? Cooger & Dark will give it to you, just take a short ride on this carousel over here.

It’s easy for a reader to lose the overall geography of the novel in favor of its individual parts. Bradbury’s prose oozes with flamboyance and a baroque explosion of literary decoration. Consider this description of a library from the second chapter:

Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss Watriss, purple-stamped your books, but down off away were Tibet and Antarctica, the Congo. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, through Outer Mongolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes. Way down the third book corridor, an oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen spices...

Arguably, the overall body of the novel takes second place to its members. Bradbury’s prose is such a delight to read that you might find yourself surprised to see a story wrapping itself up in the final chapters.

But what is this novel? A horror story? An allegory of sin and temptation? An exercise in literary gluttony? I would suggest that it’s a little bit of each. The moral, insofar as there is a coherent one at all, concerns the power of a sanguine attitude over the dark despair that comes in the middle of the night when you’re tossing awake in bed. The Dark People could be interpreted as embodiments of ennui or despondency, as noonday devils who twist one’s head around backwards to glare forever at what he has left behind. They feed on the unhappiness of ordinary people, and have so fed for centuries if not millennia. The fact that laughter has such great power over Mr. Dark and his carnival freaks would support this approach to the story.

Most of all, I think that Something Wicked is worth reading for its grab-life-by-the-tail-and-hang-on attitude. It lacks a certain type of literary quality, but makes up for it with spiritedness, like a child who creates a whole imaginative universe using only Legos and crayons. One might need to be in the right mood for this novel, but it’s not an unpleasant mood. Not unpleasant at all.