That, and the incomparable writing of Ray Bradbury, are probably the reasons why I have such a fondness for the 1962 novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It probably helps, too, that the novel begins in a way that has always rung particularly true to me:
First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren't rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn't begun yet. July, well, July's really fine: there's no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June's best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September's a billion years away.As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I adore the month of October. Not only is it the month of my birth, but it's when Fall (my favorite season) is at its most attractive to me. There's still enough life left in the world that it doesn't feel as depressing as November and it manifests a kind of glory that is utterly absent in warmer and more conventional vibrant months. And, of course, there's Halloween, a holiday replete with both religious and secular meaning, which I enjoy probably more than almost any other, save Easter. So, I was probably predisposed to like Something Wicked This Way Comes before I'd even read it.
But you take October, now. School's been on a month and you're riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you'll dump on old man Prickett's porch, or the hairy-ape costume you'll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it's around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash grey at twilight, it seems Hallowe'en will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.
But one strange wild dark long year, Hallowe'en came early.
The novel tells the story of two friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. The boys are both thirteen years old and, as the story begins, they're returning home as a big storm is about to hit their home of Green Town. There's lightning and thunder and some say they can smell cotton candy in the air as well. The pair stop off at the library, where Will's father works, allowing Bradbury the opportunity to wax rhapsodic about libraries, books -- and growing old:
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. . . .As I get older myself, I find this section of the book even more affecting than it was in the past, doubly so as the story unfolds and we learn that Will's father envies his son his youth and looks back longingly on "The boy [he] once was ... who runs like the leaves down sidewalks on autumn nights."
It was always a surprise - that old man, his work, his name. That's Charles William Halloway, thought Will, not grand-father, not far-wandering, ancient uncle, as some might think, but. . .my father.
So, looking back down the corridor, was Dad shocked to see he owned a son who visited this separate 20,000-fathoms-deep world? Dad always seemed stunned when Will rose up before him, as if they had met a lifetime ago and one had grown old while the other stayed young, and this fact stood between. . . .
Into this situation arrives a traveling carnival called Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show and its arrival throws Green Town into tumult. Not only do the carnival's tents go up mysteriously but townsfolk begin behaving strangely, some of them even disappearing after a visit to the carnival. Its proprietors, especially the tattooed Mr Dark (evocatively called "the Illustrated Man"), have a decidedly sinister air about them, made all the more clear when they take a particular interest in Will and Jim. Needless to say, these oddities embolden the two boys to investigate the truth behind Cooger & Dark's and soon discover that there is more at work than they ever imagined.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a delightfully terrifying fantasy. Its characters are well drawn, its imagery memorable, and, most of all, it has something to say. I consider it one of Bradbury's best novels, which is saying something, as I'm not sure that Bradbury ever wrote anything that wasn't excellent. Like Lovecraft, he is quite adept at using words to conjure up not only sights and sounds but also emotions. Unlike Lovecraft, Bradbury typically does this with fairly ordinary words and colloquial language. It's a remarkable gift and is used to great effect in Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you've never read it (or Bradbury), it's well worth the time and effort. Even if, for some reason, you don't find the story to your taste, you might enjoy it for its artistry alone, which is considerable.