Written in 1962., “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a dark fantasy by the brilliant Ray Bradbury. It is a story of the battle between Good and Evil. Two thirteen-year-old boys are best friends, even though they are not that much alike. Will is sturdy and loyal. He thinks before he acts. Jim is adventurous. He often leaps before he leaps and wants to try things without regard to the consequences.
When the carnival comes to town, the boys are the first ones to see the truth of the evil it brings. Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger are the owners of the carnival. They promise excitement and offer to give only pleasure. But, they are using curses and taking parts of the souls of the people in the towns they pass through. Dark is covered with tattoos that control the people who offer their souls to him. Their evil feeds on the despair and sadness in the towns they pass through.
Will’s father, Charles is a janitor at the town’s library and feels that he is older than he is. When the carnival tempts him, he almost gives in, but Dark makes the mistake of threatening his son. Charles uses the library to research the carnival and learns its secrets. He also learns how to defeat the evil with love and laughter.
Charles finds the youth he thought he had lost and helps Will and Jim battle Mr. Dark. He manages to defeat him with forgiveness and a caring hug.
In the Prolog we meet James Nightshade at thirteen years old and William Halloway who is also thirteen years old, and one day older than James. It is October and Halloween will be coming early. It is a “rare month for boys, ” and they are excited for Halloween to start. At three in the morning on October, 24th Halloween comes and the next week will change their lives. “They grew up overnight, and were never so young any more…”
Tom Fury, the lightning rod salesman, walks along the streets of Green Town, Illinois. His lightning rods are covered with strange symbols that are designed to ward off lightning. He tries to tell James (Jim) that his house will be hit by lightning. After the man moves on, Will tries to convince Jim that protecting his house would be better than letting lightning hit his house, but Jim doesn’t completely agree.
Later after supper, Jim and Will go to the library. At the steps, im hears music, but it fades away. When they enter the library the boys meet Will’s dad, Charles William Halloway. He is the janitor. Charles recommends dinosaur books for Jim and Will picks out some adventure novels. On the way home they talk about the coming storm. Jim really wants to see the lightning.
Charles watches the boys run down the road and thinks about the differences in people. He thinks that Jim is the type of person who would see a blow coming and dodge, where as Will would just get hit and then wonder why someone would want to hit him. Then Charles goes to the bar for a drink.
When the boys run past the United Cigar Store, they see Mr. Tetely. He is listening to far off music and thinks he smells cotton candy. When Mr. Crosetti tries to turn off his barber’s pole, Will stops him. Meanwhile, Charles walks out of the bar and sees a man hanging posters in an empty store and humming a Christmas song. After the man leaves Charles sees the posters say “Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.” Inside the shop Charles sees a huge block of ice, which the poster says is the most beautiful woman in the world. It does vaguely resemble a woman. Finally he leaves.
On Hickory Street there is a house the boys call the Theater because it has a big window that they have seen people undressing and doing things they didn’t understand. Will doesn’t like the Theater, but Jim is drawn to check it out often. This time he asks Will to hold his books while he checks it out. Will starts walking home, and Jim catches up with him after determining there is nothing happening in the Theater. A piece of paper floats down to them on the wind. It’s an advertisement for the Cooger and Dark’s show. The shows are to start the next day with Montgolfier, a monster Will explains is a balloon. Then there is an illustrated man, Jim explains he has tattoos. The boys go home and say goodnight while heading into their own homes.
Will slams the door. After his mother reprimands him he goes back to close the door quietly, which makes her happy. He notices his father and mother are quiet. His father seems sad even though his mother seems happy. His father is holding the advertisement for the show, but hides it behind his back when Will steps in the room. The upcoming show makes Charles feel old and sad. When Will goes to bed he hears his father burning the paper without telling his wife what it is. Then as Will realizes he grabbed one of Jim’s dinosaur books to read in his bed, and hears his father leave to go back to the library.
Meanwhile Jim is lying in his bed at home. The author explains that Jim has an older soul than his thirteen years. He thinks he has lived twenty years in his thirteen while Will has lived six in the same thirteen years. When his mother comes in, he tells her that he doesn’t want to have children. He doesn’t want anything to hurt him. His mother reminds him that he looks like his father, the man who used to beat her before he left them. Then she asks him to say goodbye to her before he leaves her as she knows he will someday. After she leaves Jim resolves to knock the lightning rod down so he can see what happens.
At the door of the shop Charles had stopped at earlier, the lightning rod salesman looks in at the woman in ice. To him, the woman represents all the beautiful women he has seen. Then he begins to wonder what will happen when the ice melts. He steps inside.
It’s 3 a. m., Will and Jim are both woken by calliope music. They both look outside at the same time and realize the music is coming from the carnival. Jim rushes out to see them set up and Will follows. The boys hear a train whistle and follow it to the meadow. There they see someone in the basket of a balloon. They watch a tall man getting off the train. The man signals to the people setting up the tents. Will notices there is no sound. Suddenly clouds cover the moon. When the clouds move the tents are all up but the people are all gone. With that, Will and Jim run home frightened.
When the boys run past the library Charles sees them. He sees the light reflecting off the carnival in the distance and wonders whether he will visit it. He closes the doors of the library and passes the store he had looked in earlier. When he peeks inside he sees a small pool of water and a little bit of hair. He walks on home choosing not to think about it. While Will listens to his father’s muttering, the author gives information on Charles’ thoughts about men, women, time and three in the morning. The train goes by at three so men can think how time is passing by, women don’t worry about it because they are immortal through their children.
At the carnival the boys see Miss Foley who is their seventh grade teacher. She is trying to find her nephew who went into the mirror maze. She goes in to find him even though Will warns her not to. When she begins to panic the boys pull her out, but she begs them to find the little girl lost inside. But after she leaves the boys avoid the maze. The boys get separated and Will finds Jim in the mirror maze transfixed. While Will pulls him out, Jim keeps muttering about how amazing it was. He wants to go back but Will doesn’t want to. While leaving they trip over a leather bag. The bag belongs to the lightning rod salesman. They decide to stay at the carnival to find out what happened to him.
While trying to ride a merry go round the boys are pulled off by a man with red hair who they learn is Cooger. Mr. Dark arrives to tell him to put the boys down. Dark shows the boys his tattoos and tells them he is the illustrated man. Jim tells them his name is Simon. They know he is lying about his name, but tells the boys to go home and come back the next day.
The boys head home, but hide in a tree so they can watch Mr. Dark. He starts the carousel but it runs backward and the music plays backward, too. Cooger jumps on and the boys watch him get younger. When he is about twelve years old he jumps off and runs away. Jim and Will jump down from the tree and follow the boy. When the boys catch up with him they find the little boy in Miss Foley’s house. She thinks he is her nephew, Robert. Although Will doesn’t want to, Jim agrees to meet up with them the next day at the carnival. As they are leaving Will tells Jim that the music played backwards on the carousel was Chopin’s “Funeral March.” As the boy watches them from the window, Will and Jim walk away trying to appear casual.
At home, they get yelled at by their respective parents and sent to bed. When Will throws marbles at Jim’s window to get his attention, Jim doesn’t respond.
Soon, Will sees Jim leave out his window and follows him. He doesn’t want his friend to go alone. Jim goes to Miss Foley’s house, and Will hides in the bushes. Jim gets Mr. Cooger’s attention, but Will tries to get him to leave. The boys start to fight, and Cooger throws Miss Foley’s jewelry down at them and calls the police. Cooger runs away with Jim following him. Even though he knows they will be called thieves, Will runs after the other boys.
When Will reaches the other boys at the carousel he knows that Cooger is going to get on and get older. He sees that Jim is not trying to stop him but may be planning to getting on, too. But, before Jim can get on Will attacks him. Will then tries to stop the machine for fear that Cooger will kill them if he becomes bigger than they are. When he slams the control switch it has an electrical surge and begins to spin wildly. Cooger tries to get off, but bumps his head and can’t. Will holds Jim down as he begins to cry. When the merry go round stops Cooger is an old man and seems to be over a hundred years old, but is still living. The two boys run away in fear.
The author moves over into the voice of Miss Foley. She is alone in her house wondering about Will, Jim and her nephew. She understands that something is weird about her nephew, but focuses on the upcoming ride on the carousel. She calls Charles at the library and asks him to meet her at the police station. She knows Cooger threw her jewels down to make sure the boys don’t stop her.
The author shifts back to Will and Jim. They are in the back of the police car and arguing about Cooger and the carousal. Will tries to convince Jim not to ride it to grow older. The argument stops when they hear Miss Foley talking to Will’s father about the break in. Will climbs out of the window to prove their innocence. After Charles walks them home he asks Will why he admitted to stealing even though he knows he is innocent. Will tells him Miss Foley wanted them to be guilty, but he can’t explain to his father why, yet. Charles climbs Will’s make shift ladder to his room. Then goes on to his own bed.
Will and Jim are woken from their sleeps about an hour later. They see the Dust Witch searching for them. She is made of wax, but is alive. She is blind but can sense souls and is in the basket of a balloon. She paints a huge silver line on the roof of Jim’s house and the flies on. Will and Jim wash it off. The boys talk about stopping the witch so the bad guys at the carnival can’t find them. Jim is feeling remorse for taking the lightning rod down, but Will is hopeful.
Will tries to catch the Witch. He lures her to him and tries to shoot her with an arrow. When he misses, he grabs the basket and makes a hole in the balloon. Then as it shoots away with the witch, he falls and is saved by a tree.
The next day Miss Foley hears the music and goes to the carnival. Later, Will and Jim hear a little girl crying and realize she is Miss Foley. They hear the music playing backwards and know the carousel is fixed. They try to take the little girl with them and hide when they hear the parade of the carnival going through town.
The freaks from the carnival are looking for prey. Charles almost gives the boys away in their hiding place, but when Mr. Dark tells him he is looking for two boys and shows him the pictures of Will and Jim tattooed on his hands he lies about their names. Dark starts to leave, but then the Witch comes around the corner. Charles blows smoke from his cigar in her face to confuse her senses. Then he tells Dark his name and where he works. Before he leaves, Mr. Dark says he will visit him. Charles tells the boys to hide at the library at seven o’clock. Suddenly the dwarf notices that Charles was talking to the boys and tells Dark who runs back only to find the boys gone.
Later when the boys arrive at the library, they tell Charles the whole story. He tells them he believes them and tells them that the carnival has been coming every twenty or thirty years since 1846. The same people have been running it. He tells them he will help them.
Charles explains that the carnival goes from town to town and feed on the despair they find. But, Dark seemed to be afraid of him at the Cigar Store, so he thinks they can defeat him. He tells them that love is the weapon they can use. If they take the time to know people then they will be willing to help them. That battles the suffering and loneliness that feeds the carnival.
Before they can come up with a battle plan, the front door opens. Will and Jim have to hide. Mr. Dark wants Charles to tell him where the boys are. Charles tries to protect himself with a Bible when Dark tells him he will send the Witch to stop his heart. Then he offers him a ride on the carousal to make him younger. Dark walks down the halls looking for the boys and leaving Charles gasping for breath. He tells him he will send someone to repair his heart. As he is searching for the boys Dark offers a ride on the carousal to Jim and tells Will that his mother took a ride and is old now, screaming at the Mirror Maze. Charles manages to stay quiet, but Will begins to cry and alerts Dark to their position.
Dark grabs the boys and when Charles tries to fight him, he crushes Charles’ hand. Then he shows the boys their mothers coming from the church. They are well. As he carries the boys through the door he has the witch cast a spell that makes them unable to see, hear or speak. Then he sends her in to stop Charles’ heart.
Charles is in extreme pain and gives in to the witch. But, before she can stop his heart, he sees something that makes him laugh. His laughter physically wounds the witch, and she runs away. He knows he has won a battle but must prepare for the war. He runs into the night to help the boys.
As they pass people on the street Dark instructs the boys to smile and say hello. He tells Jim that he can take a ride on the carousal and will become his partner because he doesn’t expect Cooger to live. Then he says he will make Will into a baby so the dwarf can carry him in his arms.
At the carnival the wounded witch is following as is Charles. Dark puts the boys with the wax figures in the Mirror Maze. Then he announces the last act for the crowd. The witch will be the “bullet catcher” even though she doesn’t want to. When she tells him Charles is still alive, he punishes her by pinching a picture on his arm causing her extreme pain. He calls for a volunteer to shoot the gun. Charles volunteers. When Dark asks him how he will shoot with one hand and throws the rifle at him to catch with his uninjured hand the crowd boos Dark for his bullying. Then Charles says he needs a boy to help him and calls for Will. With the crowds prompting the witch is forced to call Will out of the maze. He is still under the witches spell.
Dark can’t figure out what Charles’ plan is because he is making it up as he goes along. Dark tries to change the real bullet with a wax one, but Charles thwarts that plan and puts a mark on the bullet to make sure it isn’t switched. Then Dark tries to bring pain to Will by pinching his tattoo, but the crowd and Charles calms Will. Before Charles fires the gun he sends a message to the witch that he marked the bullet.
The witch dies, Dark ends the show. Will and Charles run to free Jim from the Maze. When Jim tries to leave the Maze at their calls, he sees images of his father. Although the Maze tries to crush Charles, he and Will continue to search for Jim. Charles begins to laugh which fights the magic. His laughter shatters the Maze. But, they don’t see Jim. Then they hear the music on the carousal start and know where to find him.
The freaks try to bring Cooger back to the carousal but drop him, and he turns to dust. Will tries to grab Jim on the carousal, but his hand ages with Jim. The two fight for dominance at the carousal turns. Finally, Jim pulls Will on board. After half a circle Will pulls Jim with him as he jumps off.
Will and Charles look down at the unconscious Jim and Charles tells him to try CPR as he follows a boy that warns him Dark is looking for him. Charles asks the boy his name. When the boy refuses to give it, he grabs him and tears his shirt open to find the tattoos and knows he is Dark. The boy tells Charles he can’t hurt him, but he disagrees and starts to hug him affectionately. This is torment to Dark and as Charles tries to find out what is wrong with Jim, the boy loses consciousness.
The tattoos begin to disappear from the dead body of Dark. The freaks become conscious of their surroundings and run away. As they leave the tents, start to fall. The carnival has fallen apart, but Jim is still unconscious.
As Will begins to cry, Charles slaps him and tells him Jim is not dead. He must not be sad because that is what the evil wants. They must laugh and dance to bring Jim back. At first, they force the laughter but soon it comes real and easy. During that time Jim regains consciousness. He begins to dance and sing with the other two.
Will is very proud of his father. When he asks him if the evil will return he says they will. But they can keep fighting the evil. They all look at the carousal and realize they could take rides on it, to become older for the boys and younger for Charles. But they know they would not be able to stop using it. Soon they would offer other people rides, too. Charles tries to break the control box and disable it. The boys run home and Charles follows at a run, too. They walk back into town laughing.
William Halloway – Will is thirteen years old. He is a very loyal friend. He is cautious and thinks before he acts. Will has a strong moral center and knows the difference between right and wrong. He is the voice of reason and saves his friend and father. He takes great risks to save Jim, even when he doesn’t want to be saved.
James Nightshade – Jim is the rebel without a cause. He wants to surpass childhood and become an adult because he sees that as a way to escape his home life. Jim is thirteen, also. He is fearless and favors action above thought. He wants to try things regardless of the consequences. Luckily he has Will to keep him grounded. When it comes time to battle the inhabitants of the carnival he joins the fight, even though he still yearns to try the evil.
Charles Halloway – Charles is the character that has the most change. At the beginning of the novel he is old and not involved in his family’s lives. Everything makes him tired and depressed, especially his son’s vivaciousness. But, at the story progresses he becomes aware there is action still left in him. He is a janitor in the town’s library and spends most of his nights reading books. This makes him able to see the reality of the carnival. When Will starts to give him hints, Charles finds information in the library that supports Will and Jim’s claims about the evil in the carnival. Charles discovers the evil feeds on the despair of people in the town. Charles battles it with love, caring and laughter.
Mr. Dark – the owner of the carnival. He is covered with tattoos and is billed as the Illustrated Man. Each tattoo depicts a person that he can control by pinching it. He is very strong and manipulates people, especially the freaks in his carnival. He has a witch at his beck and call to use magic to punish and kill by stopping hearts. The only thing he fears is the power of laughter and love that Charles wields. It finally destroys him, even though he tries to hide in the body of a child.
Mr. Cooger – he becomes a young boy so as to tempt Miss Foley and Jim to ride the carousal. He is evil and cunning. Will foil his plans to pull Jim on to the carousal. After Will damages the control panel, Cooger spends so much time on the carousal that he becomes very old and finally turns to dust.
Miss Foley – the boy’s teacher at the school. She is an unhappy spinster who thinks she will find happiness on the carousal. She thinks the boy Cooger becomes is her nephew, Robert. Then she agrees with him in accusing Jim and Will of trying to steal her jewelry so they can’t stop her from going on the carousal. But, when she does ride it, she loses everything, becomes a frightened little girl.
Ray Bradbury Biography
Born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, Ray Douglas Bradbury developed a love of stories very young. His family relocated to Los Angeles, California when he was fourteen, and his future was set. He was in love with Hollywood and spent many afternoons trying to meet celebrities. His first paying job was as a writer for an episode of the “Burns and Allen” show when he was fourteen.
He began writing when he was just eleven years old. He wrote on any kind of paper he could find, including butcher paper. As a prolific writer, Bradbury wrote every day from the time he learned how to hold a pencil. He spent as much time as possible in the library and contributed his education to the libraries: “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for ten years.”
He went on to tell The Paris Review, “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do – and they don’t.”
Bradbury was an avid reader and a strong supporter of libraries. He participated in a lot of programs to raise money and prevent the closure of libraries, especially in California. Although he was a firm supporter of computers, he didn’t want to have his books added to e-books. Finally agreeing when his publisher, Simon & Schuster agreed to make the book, “Fahrenheit 451” available to libraries free. It is still the only book that the publisher provides to libraries free in e-book form.
Until the age of eighteen, Bradbury wrote horror stories, trying to imitate the form of Edgar Allan Poe. He was such a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which he wrote a sequel to Burroughs’ novel, “The Warlord of Mars,” at age twelve. He also was a good illustrator and made his comic panels of Tarzan.
Citing H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as his favorite science fiction writers and biggest influences, he said that he identified with Jules Verne, “He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally.”
In 1947, Bradbury married the only woman he ever dated, Marguerite McClure, or Maggie, and they were married until her death in 2003. They had four daughters. He never had a driver’s license, and either rode his bicycle or relied on public transportation. He lived at home until he was twenty-seven when he was married.
He had varied friendships, from writers to directors to actors, etc. He and Gene Roddenberry were close friends for thirty years after Gene asked him to write for Star Trek. He turned him down, but, they remained friends. He was also close friends with the creator of the Addams Family. Writing a series of stories that were closely related to the TV show.
In 1999 he suffered a stroke, and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but continued to write. He wrote an essay for The New Yorker. It was about his inspiration for writing and was published one week before his death.
Ray Bradbury passed away after a prolonged illness in 2012, at the age of 91. He was eulogized in writing by a wide variety of people including President Obama. Author, Stephen King, wrote on his website, “Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called “A Sound of Thunder.” The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all the resonance and strange beauty.”
On his tombstone, he asked to have printed, “The Author of Fahrenheit 451.”