So after talking about some blood-soaked horror, I thought I would tone things down a bit and talk about something more...family friendly, lets say. A bit of chaser for that whiskey, you might say.
I love myself some Ray Bradbury, and while it would be difficult to pin down his BEST work (most argue Dandelion Wine), I have two that are my personal favorite: Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Today, I will be discussing Something Wicked, a book which captures the pure wonder of childhood and contrasts it with the pure terror of adult tyranny. As someone who grew up with Calvin and Hobbes and the joy of cartoons like Courage the Cowardly Dog and Rugrats, I find that Something Wicked is one of the finest examples of the pure power of imagination and the fear of the implied. Bradbury is one of those people who died without ever forgetting the pure wonder of being young and the endless possibility of unfettered imagination. He grew old, but he never grew up, and he shared his love of books and fantasy with millions.
Something Wicked is the story of two friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade (how is THAT for a last name?). Their personalities match their names, with Will being a conservative "good boy" type who seeks love and acceptance from his parents, and Jim a wild child who longs for what he perceives to be the freedom of adulthood. The two have a kind of companionship with Will's father, Charles, a janitor at the library, who is an old man that broods about life and philosophizes to the two about the past and hopelessness of change. They are a bizarre three Musketeers trio, who spend their days doing whatever amuses them.
And then, of course, as is destined, everything changes. A mysterious circus comes to town, aptly named Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, a carnival themed around the strange and unusual which has come very late in the year, with the owners setting up shop in October. The boys are at first delighted by the carnival, which is strange and bizarre, and is run by the brooding and hulking Cooger and the tattoo-encrusted showman, Mr. Dark. However, by sneaking about after closing one night, the boys discover that the carnival has a variety of mystical objet d'art, including a merry-go-round that can make the rider older or younger, depending on which way it spins. Jim wants to ride it to adulthood, but Will wants nothing to do with Mr. Dark, who is gradually revealed to be a soul-stealing sorcerer with malicious intentions. Soon, Jim, Will, and Will's dad find themselves in a conflict with Mr. Dark, who pulls out all the stops and uses his evil cunning and army of circus freaks to try to take the boys down, all the while attempting to recruit Jim into his foul ranks.
Something Wicked is a morality play, a modern fable of childhood and imagination, as well as the discovery of goodness and what it means to come to maturity. It is full of those typical, kitsche morals we all have to deal with as kids, but it tells them in a way that is rather refreshing and creative. There is a lot of philosophizing that the more nihlistic or entertainment-hungry reader will probably find dull, but Bradbury does a pretty dang good job of weaving his ethical quandaries into the story itself. The book is less like Herbert's Dune, in which plots stop so we can talk about transplanetary politics, but more like a strip from the aforementioned Calvin and Hobbes comic, in which characters casually discuss ideas in a short, quip-filled manner that, while simple, hits the reader with the overall point in an effective manner. It is a tale of morality, but it never feels preachy: the sins of the characters are natural things, things that are simple in their composition, but which lead to desperation and fear. Even Mr. Dark has a motivation that is hinted to be just, in his own muddled mind.
This is a fantastic novel for someone of any age, as either the amplification of childhood imagination or a reminder of it. While anyone of any sex can find joy in this novel, I will say the overall energy is very masculine, in line with orthodox concepts of boyhood. Despite this, its message and overall themes are for anyone who is imaginative, who enjoys the power of creativity and the triumph of good and joy over the temptation of evil. It is not religious, but in a sense religiously themed, with the moral messages being general, but having a foundation in something deeply spiritual. What really drives the book is the love between Jim and Will, and it is the power of their friendship that ultimately wins out. I THOROUGHLY recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, and wants to be reminded of the nostalgia of their youth.
Thank you all for reading, as always!