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Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

January 20, 2013

Another selection by the IC Book Club, and yet another selection that I’ve finished dreadfully behind schedule. But better late than never, and it was worth the wait.Something_wicked_this_way_comes_first

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a 1962 novel by Ray Bradbury. It is about boys, Will and Jim, on the cusp of adolescence, and their intersection with a carnival that arrives in town one week before Halloween. After witnessing the dark magic of the carnival, they are hunted by the circus-folk, led maleficence incarnate, Mr Dark, the Illustrated Man. The only help they have to hand comes in form of Will’s dad, Charles Halloway, an upright man agonising over his lost youth.

On the face of it, this is an enjoyable but straightforward tale of blended horror and fantasy. The plot is simple enough – two boys against a carnival – and much of it consists of running away or from the carnival. However, Bradbury also uses the book to explore certain dichotomous relationships, which moves this book from readable to compelling, once it gets going.

Of foremost importance, to me at least, there is good and evil, that archetypal war. At first, it is hinted at by Will and Jim, or the potential of what they could become. Best friends, and born so close together, but wildly different. Will has the germ of boyish goodness in him while Jim, the natural leader of the two, is depicted as slightly older than his years, having already seen a bit too much. However, the theme is concreted in the contest between Misters Dark and Halloway. Mr Dark plays the villain of a most classical trope, being excellently evil and in places, genuinely frightening. Against him, stands Charles Halloway whose moral rectitude, though tested, is beyond reproach. For a large body of exposition and philosophising in the middle of the book, Bradbury uses him as his mouthpiece.

I don’t want to spoil this book but the Power of Love wins the day, but does so tastefully, not cheesily so.

I had heard good things of Ray Bradbury before (mostly from Neil Gaiman) but this is the first time I’ve picked up a book by him. I like it, not just for what I’ve already described but also that Bradbury writes with a magical intensity, running on imagination as much as English. However, I will concede that he occasionally gets carried away in his own metaphors and the middle America turn-of-phrase sometimes jars me from the narrative.

However, these faults (of his or mine I cannot tell) should detract from what is a wonderfully pure tale of boys and adventure, of good and evil. This would make good reading for Halloween and that limnial autumn between discontentful winter and glorious summer. If I had to describe this book in one line, I would say it’s what the Darren Shan series of novels would be like if written by Neil Gaiman. Which is no bad thing. A solid introduction to an author worth reading.

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