There’s no doubt about it anymore, this year has grown old. We’ve gone through the frigid days of winter and the balm of summer and spring. Then we sailed through the most colorful parts of fall and now the world’s turned cold again. It’s hard not to look at the shortening days and the denuded tree branches without feeling a little regret over the closing of the year. A holiday season is great but there’s nothing like a change of season to make you think about opportunities missed.
I think that’s one reason why Ray Bradbury set his haunting fantasy, “Something Wicked This way Comes” during the later part of the year. Of course, it’s tied to Halloween – show me a good scary story that isn’t – but this tale is bound less to the ghouls and goblins and more to the real demons that bedevil our lives: fear, regret, isolation, and sorrow.
Longing and Age are the obsessions running through this dark fantasy: Jim Nightshade, just shy of fourteen wants to grow up and leave childhood, and his friend Will, behind. What adults do behind window shades intrigues him. Will’s father, Charles Halloway, has the opposite problem. He suffers the nightmares of middle-age, seeing the windows of his life beginning to close and aware he’s too old to relate to an adolescent son. Between these two stands Will Halloway, who has pain and longings of his own that can’t be shared. These three are the only souls to recognize the latent evil in the Autumn carnival that’s come to town.
Carnivals are perfect for a small-town’s thrills. They’re gaudy, gauzy, visitors that arrive and entertain, then leave before they wear out their welcome. But the rewards they promise customers are usually more than they deliver. This carnival, the Autumn Carnival, promises whatever anyone’s longed for or lost and the townspeople are eager to pay the initial price of admission. But the rides in the Autumn Carnival take more than the coins traded for a ticket. And finally, only Jim Nightshade, William, and Charles Halloway stand between the town and damnation.
Why read this?
Bradbury delivers, in lyrical lush prose, this story of temptation and accepting the changing seasons of life. It’s been praised and adapted for film, radio, and stage but the book (as usual) beats all adaptations. Reading it’s a good way to remember the past and move forward into the present. And that’s a good thing to do, even at the near of a year. Better to enjoy each short day of December than suffer through a long Autumn of Regrets,