“There was only one thing sure.
Two lines of Shakespeare said it. He should write them in the middle of the clock of books, to fix the heart of his apprehension:
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
So vague, yet so immense.
He did not want to live with it.
Yet he knew that, during this night, unless he lived with it very well, he might have to live with it all the rest of his life.
At the window he looked out and thought, Jim, Will, are you coming? will you get here?
Waiting, his flesh took paleness from his bones.” (page 187)
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury has absolutely climbed the list of my all-time favorite novels. Reading it at the beginning of fall, this week when the weather is just turning cool, was a spell-binding experience that I’m not likely to forget. Closing the back cover made me want to flip back to the front and start right over. It’s a haunting novel, yes, but there is also something beautiful and poetic about it. Bradbury’s use of words is unbelievable and the only good way to review this book is to quote it extensively.
It is about two boys, Will and Jim, who live in Green Town, a small town in the Midwest. One evening, a few nights before Halloween, they hear a carnival come into town. It’s late in the season for carnivals, but they are excited until they realize that there is something truly sinister about the carnival. When it is discovered that the boys’ know their secret, those who run Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show are out to get Will and Jim for discovering their dark secrets.
It is not necessarily the plot that makes this book, it is the atmosphere. I feel as though every movie ever created about Halloween has taken from this book, from Bradbury’s beautiful imagery. In the afterward, Bradbury reveals that he originally wrote the novel as a short story, then as a screenplay, then finally as a novel, so the incredibly visual nature of the novel is not at all surprising. Everything was so visually vivid and the imagery was so realistic that I was sure I could smell the fall leaves, hear their crunching under Will and Jim’s feet and imagine the terror they felt as they watched the carnival turn. I loved Will and I loved Jim, but I loved no one as much as Charles Halloway, Will’s father.
Some passages that I found particularly wonderful:
Watching the boys vanish away, Charles Halloway suppressed a sudden urge to run with them, make the pack. He knew what the wind was doing to them, where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life. Somewhere in him, a shadow turned mournfully over. You had to run with a night like this, so the sadness could not hurt.
Look! he thought. Will runs because running is its own excuse. Jim runs because something’s up ahead of him.
Yet, strangely, they do run together.
What’s the answer, he wondered, walking through the library, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, is it all in the whorls on our thumbs and fingers? Why are some people all grasshopper fiddlings, scrapings, all antennae shivering, one big ganglion eternally knotting, slip-knotting, square-knotting themselves? They stoke a furnace all their lives, sweat their lips, shine their eyes and start it all in the crib. Caesar’s lean and hungry friends. They eat the dark, who only stand and breathe.
That’s Jim, all branblechair and itchweed.
And Will? Why, he’s the last peach, high on a summer tree. Some boys walk by and you cry, seeing them. They feel good, they look good, they are good. (pg 18)
A carnival should be all growls, roars like timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men ablaze with working anger, pop bottles jangling, horse buckles shivering, engines and elephants in full stampede through rains of sweat while zebras neighed and trembled like cage trapped in cage.
But this was like old movies, the silent theater haunted with black-and-white ghosts, silvery mouths opening to let moonlight smoke out, gestures made in silence so hushed you could hear the wind fizz the hair on your cheeks. (pg. 53)
The night was sweet with the dust of autumn leaves that smelled as if the fine sands of ancient Egypt were drifting to dunes beyond the town. How come, thought Will, at a time like this, I can even think of four thousand years of dust and ancient people sliding around the world, and me sad because no one notices except me and Dad here maybe, and even us not telling each other.
It was indeed a time between, one second their thoughts all brambled airedale, the next a silken slumbering cat. It was time to go to bed, yet still they lingered reluctant as boys to give over and wander in wide circles to pillow and night thoughts. It was a time to say much but not all. It as a time after first discoveries but not last ones. It was wanting to know everything and wanting to know nothing. It was the new sweetness of men starting to talk as they must talk. It was the possible bitterness of revelation. (pg. 133)
My favorite quote of all:
“Charlie?” his wife said in her sleep.
Slowly, he took off the other shoe.
His wife smiled in her sleep.
She’s immortal. She has a son.
Your son, too!
But what father ever really believes it? He carries no burden, he feels no pain. What man, like woman, lies down in darkness and gets up with child? The gentle smiling ones own the good secrets. Oh, what strange wonderful clocks women are. They nest in Time. They make the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity. They live inside the gift, know power, accept, and need not mention it. Why speak of Time when you are Time, and shape the universal moments, as they pass, into warmth and action? (page 58-9)
It’s a beautiful little book. It’s a scary book. It’s a book I want to read out loud to my future children every Halloween. It’s a book I’m at pains to return to the library and will probably be buying my own copy of as soon as I can.
98% – Haunting, beautiful. Perfect for this weather, this season and any time at all, really. Read it!
Did I miss yours?