William Morrow, 1962, 293 pages
Few American novels written this century have endured in the heart and mind as has this one - Ray Bradbury's incomparable masterwork of the dark fantastic.
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show's smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes - and the stuff of nightmare.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a classic dark fantasy novel by Ray Bradbury, in which a sinister carnival comes to town, far too late in the year, and proceeds to grant its residents' secret desires. "Mr. Dark," aka "The Illustrated Man," is the Mephistopheles of this dark fantasy, offering eternal youth and other promises. Like all Devil's deals, those who take him up on it find themselves enslaved or worse.
For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth....Such are the autumn people.”
The heroes of the story, a pair of 13-year-old boys, have to defeat Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show with the power of heart, and a little help from Will Halloway's father, who knows something about these "Autumn People," as he calls them, who have haunted communities since time immemorial with their whispered promises and dark pacts and feasting on suffering. There is a little bit of rumination about good and evil and the cost of desiring things you shouldn't, but while this book is a good read, it's not particularly deep or novel.
Bradbury puts a classically American spin on the Faustian trope. Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show is genuinely creepy, even a little scary at times. The key to defeating them is a typically American Sunday School optimistic view of the universe.
I have found that all of Bradbury's stories, whether dark fantasy or science fiction like The Martian Chronicles, seem to be set in Green Town, even if supposedly on Mars. Bradbury was a writer locked into a particular time and place and milieu. His stories were great, his ideas often brilliant, and I love his prose, but he really didn't have much range in terms of characterization.
I enjoyed listening to this classic story, but it's really aimed at a slightly younger audience, and perhaps the more naive, less jaded audience that Bradbury wrote it for 50 years ago.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
The 1983 Disney film was scripted by Bradbury himself, but it had a troubled production. It received generally good reviews, but was a box office bomb.
A lot of analysis can be found online for why it failed in theaters, but after watching the DVD, I would fault the acting - most of the actors were unknowns, and the child actors in particular were stiff and delivered Bradbury's dialog in a stilted fashion that kept taking me right out of the scene.
The special effects, decent for the time, look cheesy and might provoke laughs today. Overall, it's a moderately faithful adaptation that preserves some of Bradbury's tone, but it's dated and will probably only entertain children.
Also by Ray Bradbury: My reviews of The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.
My complete list of book reviews.