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Something Wicked This Way Comes (thoughts)

September 4, 2007

I started off the R.I.P. II challenge with Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Thus, the first words to greet my eyes were

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.

Very appropriate! And the book just kept getting better.

I’ve never read anything by Ray Bradbury before; I haven’t actively avoided him, but he wasn’t on my TBR shortlist. I have a friend who’s in (platonic) love with Bradbury, and who has corresponded with him for several years. Somehow, his enthusiasm never wore off on me. Now, I’m going to have to eat crow. Because Ray Bradbury can write. Man, can he write.

Wait, maybe I should back up a little. A quick, no-spoilers, no-details plot review is in order. A carnival comes to a sleepy, Midwestern town. But this is no ordinary carnival: it’s supernatural, and very evil. Best friends Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway (born a minute after and a minute before Halloween, respectively) get on the wrong side of the carnival and find themselves locked in a battle of good and evil.

The book has an interesting feel to it; as you’re reading, you almost feel as if you’re hallucinating in parts. The point of view shifts between characters, and each character seems to go off on his (usually his) own thought tangents; the reader gets carried along for the ride. For example,

Boy, it’s the same old thing. I talk. Jim runs. I tilt stones, Jim grabs the cold junk under the stones and-lickety split! I clumb hills. Jim yells off church steeples. I got a bank account. Jim’s got the hair on his head, the yell in his mouth, the shirt on his back, and the tennis shoes on his feet. How come I think he’s richer? Because, Will thought, I sit on the rock in the sun and old Jim, he prickles his arm-hairs by moonlight and dances with hoptoads. I tend cows. Jim tames Gila monsters. Fool! I yell at Jim. Coward! he yells back. And here we-go!

I very much enjoyed these digressions, since Bradbury is such an awesome writer. I think he can pull of stream-of-consciousness. :)

However, for those readers who prefer action to thought, there is a definite plot line to follow, and Bradbury provides a very satisfactory, concrete ending. As the book progresses, the plot picks up, and the dreamy sequences are cut to a minimum. The book also gets creepier and creepier, as the boys progress from feeling in danger generally, to being terrified of very specific people. Reading the book rather feels like following a triangle; from a very broad beginning, everything begins to narrow to a sharp point. This style increases the tension, and by about two-thirds of the way through it, there was no way I wanted to put it down.

**Note: the next two parts have very general spoilers, i.e.-they discuss events that happen pretty far along in the book. It doesn’t give away the ending, but I thought I’d let you know nonetheless, in case you’re planning on reading the book soon and want a complete surprise. The spoiler section ends at the photo.**

While I love both the boys, my favourite character was Will’s father. He goes on an incredible journey through the book. When we first meet him, we’re in the library…

Way down the third book corridor, an oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen spices…Will stared. It was always a surprise-the old man, his work, his name. That’s Charles William Halloway, thought Will, not grandfather, not far-wandering, anciet uncle, as some might think, but…my father.

From these inauspicious beginnings, Charles becomes a kickass, evil-fighting, son-protecting super hero. Best of all, his main plan of attack: researching in the library! Charles is at home in the library, and Bradbury gives him his best soliloquays in those musty corridors. A short sample:

The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clockes by deathwatch beetles, and thrive the centuries. They were the men with the leather-ribbon whips who sweated up the Pyramids seasoning it with other people’s salt and other people’s cracked hearts. They coursed Europe on the White Horses of the Plague. They whispered to Caesar that he was mortal, then sold daggers half-price in the grand March sale.

Speaking of the library, I loved how important it was to the book. The creepiest scene, by far, takes place there: Jim and Will are hiding from the Mr. Dark, aka The Illuminated Man, who runs the carnival, and who isn’t happy with them. It’s a five-page chapter of simple incredible writing. Unfortunately, I can’t share it all. But here’s a taste (no spoilers, I promise):

Somewhere in the recumbent solitudes, the motionless but teeming millions of books, lost in two dozen turns right, three dozen turns left, down aisles, through corridors, toward dead ends, locked doors, half-empty shelves, somewhere in the literary soot of Dickens’ London, or Dostoevsky’s Moscow or the steppes beyond, somewhere in the vellumed dust of atlas or Geographica, sneezes pent but set like traps, the boys crouched, stood, lay sweating a cool and constant brine.
Somewhere hidden, Jim thought: He’s coming!
Somewhere hidden, Will though: He’s near!

If that doesn’t make you want to read the whole book, check out the best chapter ever:
To sum up: this was the perfect start to R.I.P. II. I love Ray Bradbury. Go read Something Wicked This Way Comes.

More Favourite Passages
They opened the door and stepped in.
They stopped.
The library deeps lay waiting for them.
Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts sulmbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss Watriss, purple-stamped your books, but down off away were Tibet and Antarctica, the Congo. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, though Outer Mongolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes. (13)
It was the silence that made Will pull back, even as Jim leaned forward, eyes moon-bright.
A carnival should be all growls, roars like timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men abalze 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 the 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. (51-2)
Will slung off lim-falling clothes with tipsy arms and delightfully aching legs, and like a fall of timber chopped himself to bed… (140)

“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where Octoboer follows Septmeber and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever 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 frenxy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles-breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.” (192-3)

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Nymeth permalink
    September 4, 2007 8:54 am

    Wonderful review, Eva. You reminded me of everything I love about this book. You’re absolutely right, he writes beautifully. My favourite part was also the one when they are hiding in the library. I remember that the description of the witch around then gave me shivers.

  2. Carl V. permalink
    September 4, 2007 12:36 pm

    Great review, I can feel your enthusiasm. It brings back childhood memories of checking this book out from my local library and reading it after seeing the film version. I haven’t partaken of either since childhood and I really should pick both up again. Love the opening line and love that chapter…great stuff!

  3. Debi permalink
    September 4, 2007 12:54 pm

    Fantastic review. Well, what I read of it anyway…I didn’t want to spoil anything, as it’s on my RIP list as well. It will be my first Bradbury, too. And I’m very much looking forward to it!

  4. SuziQoregon permalink
    September 4, 2007 3:22 pm

    I only skimmed your review quickly because I wanted to avoid any spoilers. I’m on page 90 and can’t wait till lunchtime so I can read more of this! I know exactly what you mean about sometimes it’s almost like you’re hallucinating.

  5. Heather (errantdreams) permalink
    September 4, 2007 5:19 pm

    I love Ray Bradbury’s way with words. He wrote a book on writing (Zen in the Art of Writing) that’s absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend it; it’s very poetic and inspirational.

  6. Stephanie permalink
    September 4, 2007 6:22 pm

    I’ve never read the book, but remember seeing (and enjoying) the film when I was a kid.

  7. Andi permalink
    September 4, 2007 10:16 pm

    If you feel future inklings to read Bradbury, I would STRONGLY recommend Fahrenheit 451 (one of my favorite novels…a book lover’s dream) and the short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” (available to read online, I believe).

    I haven’t read Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I will! Great review.

  8. Sam Houston permalink
    September 5, 2007 1:43 am

    Great review. I may have to read this one again sometime because it’s been years since I read the thing.

    Chapter 31 is pretty cool, I agree. :-)

  9. Jen permalink
    September 5, 2007 2:40 am

    I’ve never read Bradbury, and you’ve made me feel like that’s a situation that should be remedied pretty darn quick!

  10. Eva permalink
    September 5, 2007 3:24 am

    Nymeth, the witch was sooo creepy. Ugh. But ugh in a good way. :)

    Carl V, I haven’t seen the film (although I read Bradbury’s afterword explaining that the novel emerged from the film script), but now I want to!

    Debi, I’ll look for your review!

    Suzi Q, glad you agree with me about the hallucinating. :) I don’t think I could’ve read it on a lunch break…it would have made it hard to get back into work!

    Heather, it’s now on the TBR list-thanks for the advice. :)

    Stephanie, well, if you and Carl both enjoyed it, I’m definitely going to have to read it!

    Andi, thanks for the recommendations-a new book for the TBR list, and I’ll go hunt down that short story.

    Sam, I had never even heard of it before the challenge; it seems everyone else read it years ago. Oh well-better late than never!

    Jen, I hear you! I’d never read Bradbury either, but after this, I feel obligated to start hunting his stuff down. :)

  11. Chris permalink
    September 5, 2007 5:19 am

    you have me so excited about this book now!! I have to admit that I didn’t read your whole review :p I read up to your spoiler warning since I have this on my RIP list as well. I’ve had this one for so long and it’s been sitting patiently on my shelf. I never knew much about it as I hadn’t even read the back cover! I just loved the title and bought it. After your review, I can’t wait! The only other Bradbury I’ve read is Fahrenheit 451. I have The Homecoming on my list as well and it’s illustrated by Dave McKean…looking forward to that one too!

  12. J.S. Peyton permalink
    September 5, 2007 3:21 pm

    I checked this book out of the library when I was in high school and never got to finish it for some reason. I’ve always regretted that. Now I regret it even more. Oh man! Where’s the time, where’s the time?

  13. tomb gnome permalink
    September 6, 2007 1:54 pm

    I’m glad that this was your entry into the world of Ray (I’ve been a Bradbury Booster for many years). If I can make a recommendation, the short story collection “The October Country” and the deceptively creepy “children’s” story “The Halloween Tree” (with the greatest villain name in history) would both be good apperetifs after “Something Wicked…”

    (Now I will have to re-read this…)

  14. Eva permalink
    September 6, 2007 5:53 pm

    Chris, I can’t wait for your review. :) I didn’t know anything about it going in either-I just loved the title so much!

    J.S. Peyton, wow-that would have driven my insane, lol. And time just keeps running away from us. We need an extra day of the week just for reading!

    Tomb Gnome, thanks for the recommendations! They’re on the TBR list now. :) And thanks for visiting!

  15. Marina permalink
    September 26, 2007 4:04 am

    I haven’t read Bradbury since high school… you’ve made him really tempting!

  16. Bookfool permalink
    October 2, 2007 3:46 am

    I meant to put this one on the RIP II list and completely overlooked it. Might have to sneak it in before next year. Chapter 31 was funny. I haven’t read much by Bradbury, but what little I’ve read I enjoyed.

  17. Eva permalink
    October 2, 2007 5:59 am

    Marina, I never read Bradbury in high school, but I always thought of him as ‘that kind of writer,’ so I was pleasantly surprised. :)

    Bookfool, sneak it in! Then I can read your thoughts. :)

  18. Melanie permalink
    October 21, 2007 10:20 pm

    I read this one for RIP also, I’ve just finished it along with another Bradbury and I loved it! I agree with your review completely; I’ve even copied out some of the same quotes. The scenes in the library were wonderful. I’ve been reading and rereading Bradbury this year and am glad you’ve discovered him too. I think he’s marvellous.


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