No one evokes the link between autumn and fear like Bradbury. Or names his heroes more appropriately—Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade just sound like the kind of boys who'd follow the creepiest carnival in the history of the universe to the edge of town and the edge of sanity. Something Wicked This Way Comes is as awesome as the Good vs. Evil story gets, a perfect pitting of youthful wisdom and recklessness against ancient but empty Death.
Typically known as a sci-fi writer, Bradbury has actually written more horror fiction. Not the blood-and-guts type—more along the lines of "that is genuinely one of the most chilling things I've ever read." Cougar and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show rolls into town one night and opens shop in a field, and if the carnival's name alone doesn't terrify you, you're either a superhero or you haven't read much imaginative fiction. The eminently-tattooed proprietor Mr. Dark soon begins his manipulation of the townspeople via routes bizarre and profane.
In the way of all boy heroes, Halloway and Nightshade find themselves responsible, not just for the safekeeping of their own souls, but for the preservation of the moral and spiritual fabric of everyone in the town. The carnival's plentiful attractions, after all, aren't just attractions. The Shadow Show is equal parts infernal Vanity Fair and hell-on-wheels, and each visitor finds something that looks vaguely like what they've always wanted, forgetting that carnies are the ultimate masters of illusion.
What eventually dispels the evil is surprising and obvious. It isn't boyish innocence, which Bradbury takes pains to demonstrate is something of a romantic fantasy on the part of older, more jaded people. Jim and Will have their own dark temptations to overcome in the carnival, after all, and it isn't without significant loss that they overcome them. But Something Wicked isn't simply disturbing—easily one of Bradbury's most hopeful books, it's a manifesto for those who believe that childhood passes with pain only because mature adulthood is worth the effort.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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