Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel
I've been slowly making my way through a long list of books recommended by a librarian friend of mine. Next on the list was a book that can be filed under "famous story I've heard about, but never read". Many literary buffs consider this to be a classic, and with Halloween around the corner, I felt it was high time to read it for myself. The verdict? Well....I can see how this story was influential to many future writers and the horror/fantasy genre in general, and I respect it for that....but I also won't lie; if you're not used to an "old timey" writing style, this book can be a bit of a chore to get through.
Taking place at some point in the 1930's (or 40s I'm guessing), the book tells the tale of two young teenagers named Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway; two boys born on the cusp of Halloween, who also happen to live next door to each other, and are best friends to the point of being like brothers to one another. But one fateful October, a mysterious carnival rolls into town....a circus that only truly comes alive at night, with enchanted magic acts and rides, including a mirror maze one can literally get lost in, and a carousel that can make someone grow older or younger depending on if they ride it forwards or backwards. Fearless and adventurous Jim is instantly enamored with this funhouse of horrors, while the more quiet and reserved Will remains cautious.....especially when it soon becomes clear that there's a sinister, evil force using the carnival as a way to harvest souls. But with the help of Will's father, Charles, these two friends might find a way to face their fears and save their souls....and learn what it truly means to live life to the fullest.
I can definitely see this story's influence on modern urban fantasy and horror. Many tropes that permeate throughout current horror movies all happen in this book. From a mysterious horrific force plaguing a small town community, to a group of teenagers trying to tell people about the monster(s) but no one will believe them, to the heroes doing some sort of historical research to figure out the mythology behind the urban legend, to figuring out some sort of clever loophole or trick to defeat the monster. Anyone who's a fan of slasher/monster/horror movies will probably be surprised to find that this book was one of the earliest examples of so many tropes we take for granted today.
Equally strong are the characters and the respective lessons they learn. I find it interesting how Jim and Will are polar opposites of each other, but get along so well to the point of being like brothers. Jim is headstrong and adventurous, but as such, he's the one most easily tempted by the carnival's false promises of making him an adult faster (via the age-changing carousel). But he eventually learns the hard way that even if he changed his age, he wouldn't be changed on the inside, and in real life, there are no shortcuts. And though Will is the far more well-behaved and cautious of the two, he very nearly gives in to his fears, and must learn how to be brave to save his friend. Even Will's father, Charles, goes through an arc---wishing that he were young again and to better connect to his son. But upon seeing how the evil carnival takes advantage of its victims' self-centered desires and ensnares them into becoming the circus' new freak show acts, Charles realizes that age doesn't matter if one focuses instead on the knowledge and affections gained with it.
Though, I'd argue that once Will's father gets more involved in the plot, he basically takes over the action and becomes the real main character. The book can be very slow moving at first; building in atmosphere and tension, but for me, the plot FINALLY kicked into high gear at the literal halfway mark once Mr. Halloway got swept up into the adventure and the trio finally buckled down to try and figure out the mystery behind the carnival and how to stop it. His speech to the boys about all the research he did, his theories about who Mr. Dark really is, and how to fight back against evil lasts a good three or four chapters and is easily my favorite part of the whole book.
My only real major problem is that the prose is TOO flowery. Make no mistake, Bradbury can sew together a scene like a tailor with clothes, and can describe emotions like no other--putting indescribable feelings into words.....but there comes a point where the descriptions become SO flowery and SO poetic that I had a hard time understanding what was even going on in a scene. (And I'm glad I'm not the only reviewer here who thinks so.) Oddly enough, I've read "The Martian Chronicles" and got through that just fine, so maybe Bradbury's writing style changed slightly over time? This probably just comes down to a matter of personal taste, but either way, if you're used to a more modern "to the point/workman style" way of reading and writing, be prepared to re-read some paragraphs two or three times.
In the end, this is a book that I respect more than I like. I recognize its status as a classic piece of literature, and any fan of the horror genre should give this a read through at least once. Just make sure you have a thesaurus and some patience.