“Too late, I found you can't wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else.”
William Halloway and James Nightshade are two 13-year-old-boys living in Green Town, Illinois when the carnival comes to town. The Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, run by the mysterious Mr Dark, preys on the carnival guests by granting wishes, but for a terrible price.
This is a classic story combining dark fantasy, horror and coming of age. According to Cliff Notes, it's the story Ray Bradbury described his "delicious book" and you do get the impression the author thoroughly enjoyed the telling. No so concerns with the hows and whys of the plot, but the feeling and philosophy shine through. It's the sort of self-indulgence we rarely allow authors these days.
The title, of course, is a reference to Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the muttering of the three witches. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
As happens a lot with the early science fiction authors, I every now and again have to wonder what he's on about. Bradbury often goes off on the most bizarre tangents, but all so beautifully told I was happy to go along for the ride. It helps that I did this one on audiobook, which is always my first choice for meandering narratives which I can often find frustrating to physically read.
Good versus evil
There are a lot of cryptic rants in this book and feels very Gothic in it's long, beautiful pose. There was one movement which really stood out for me, when the father of William, Charles Halloway, expounds on the nature of love.
Could he say love was above all, common cause, shared experience? That was the vital cement, wasn't it? Could he say how he felt about their all being here tonight on this wild world running around a big sun which fell through a bigger space falling through yet vaster immensities of space, maybe toward and maybe away from Something? Could he say: we share this billon-mile-an-hour ride. We have common cause against the night. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
As so much focus is on the boys in the early chapters, Charles seems to sail in like a ghost, until it very much becomes his story. He's a flawed man, who's highly aware of his failings and wants to be better. Charles stands in as Bradbury's voice; an older man now philosophizing on the nature of good and evil.
Something Wicked This Way Comes has had a massive cultural impact and I found many small details which reminded me of stories which have come after. Whether intentional or otherwise. There's a throwaway line about Siamese twins which bears a remarkable resemblance to two characters in the game Fran Bow. The description of Mr. Electrico, one of the circus performers, reminded me of the Black Mirror episode Black Museum.
I'd call this a solid four stars. Many parts creeped me the hell out and Mr Dark has taken his rightful place amongst the characters I'd run for the hills on meeting. The blatant lack of answers and resolution on many aspects of the story makes so much of what happens all the more terrifying.
I would definitely recommend this book if, for no other reason, than it being one of the classics. But mostly, because it's darkly spooky with exceptionally written prose. Perfect for a winter night, or a hot April lockdown.