By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Kevin Foley
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a masterpiece of science fiction. It entertains while offering insight to the psychology of life.
Ray Bradbury blends a mixture of miscreants, families, and carny rides to tell a story about evil, love, and laughter. He pictures life’s temporariness, wholeness, and redemption. He writes like a lyricist with words that fit a macabre fugue.
Bradbury revives the “Illustrated Man”, a tattooed villain created in an earlier short story. In contrast to Bradbury’s short story, this tattooed villain is wholly evil. His name is Mr. Dark. He manages a carnival in “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Like Bradbury’s earlier short story, body tattoos represent lives.
Carnivals have a mixed image. They suggest fun and wonder with a hint of evil. Scary rides, painted faces and deformed exhibitionists populate a temporarily constructed wonderland. Bradbury describes a carnival that comes to town once every twenty years; late in the year; always in October, near Halloween.
The tattooed man’s carnival is a traveling recruitment advertisement. He is looking for carnival recruits. The tattooed man sells a dream. He offers a merry-go-round ride as an opportunity to get something for nothing. The something is immortality. The nothing is aging, something thought of as a consequence; not a value.
Will and Jim are two boys, born one day before and one day after Halloween. Both are 13 years old. Will is the son of a loving mother and a library janitor named Charles Halloway. Jim is a son of an absent father and a loving mother with the last name Nightshade. The names Halloway and Nightshade remind one of good and evil.
The two boys are inseparable but different. Halloway is a complacent conscience; Nightshade is an adventurous free-spirit. The two boys are bound by love but view life differently. Will Halloway feels life should be lived by rules. Jim Nightshade feels rules should be tested by life.
When the carnival comes to town, Will and Jim are excited to attend. The tattooed man offers free tickets to Will and Jim for the carnival. What Will and Jim find is a merry-go-round that can add or subtract a year of life for each revolution. Depending on which way the merry-go-round turns, one year is added; one year is subtracted.
Jim is thrilled with the idea of being older, skipping from 13 to 20 or 21. Will is terrified by the idea of Jim leaving him behind; terrified of Jim riding the merry-go-round and being too old to remain his best friend.
Will’s father is in his 50s. Mr. Dark bargains with Will’s dad for his son’s whereabouts. Mr. Dark asks, “What would it be like to be 30 again?” Mr. Dark says all it takes is 20 reverse revolutions of the merry-go-round. Mr. Dark is offering something for nothing. The nothing he is asking for is the whereabouts of Will and Jim.
What one finds from Will and Jim’s investigation is that Mr. Dark is a liar. The merry-go-round does not always work the way Mr. Dark says it does. A 50-year-old may become 9. A 50-year-old may become 95. The merry-go-round may not stop until you are dead.
Will and Jim find the truth of the merry-go-round by seeing what it does to some of their neighbors. Will does not believe one gets something for nothing. Jim is not so sure. Jim is seduced by the idea of getting something for nothing. Jim damns the rules of life and plunges; he decides to ride the merry-go-round.
An added pleasure of Bradbury’s story is its clever ending that reveals how important love and laughter are to the temporariness and wholeness of life.