A little over a month ago I found myself spending the night in Meridian, Mississippi. I got to Meridian early on a Saturday evening and after being refused service at the local Waffle House (don't ask) I wandered over to a department store parking lot where a carnival was set up. When I left the carnival, it was with a chill down my spine --- the setting, the clientele and the proprietors reminded me of a book I had first read almost 40 years ago with a title borrowed from Shakespeare. The book, of course, was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and I could not get it out of my mind. Like it ever left to begin with.
Not that SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES is a pure horror novel. If there was ever a book that cuts across the genres, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES is it. By turns a fable, a dark fantasy, a coming-of-age tale, it is also incidentally one of the best works of literature produced by an American writer.
A strong statement? Yes. But the chops are there to back it up. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES was first published 37 years ago, and has been in print ever since. It is been analyzed, studied in high schools and universities, read for pleasure, dissected, disrespected, and defended. It has influenced everyone from Stephen King to Stan Lee to Alice Cooper and a couple dozen other creative minds I could name in different artistic genres. And this deceptively simple little tale about the year that Halloween came a week early to a small town has never been forgotten by anyone who has ever read it.
Bradbury, no matter what he has written, has never forgotten that a story needs to have a beginning, middle, and an ending. And he doesn't make his reader work for it. Bradbury figures that the working part is his job. And he is a craftsman. Svengali-like, Bradbury draws you into this story of the dark day that the circus --- Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show --- came to the little town of Green Town, Illinois, and cast its cold shadow on the town, particularly on James Nightshade and William Holloway, two boys on the restless edge of adolescence. Straining against the boundaries of childhood, yet not yet ready for the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, they grow up literally overnight, but find that the price of their rite of passage is far more than the cost of the ticket to Cooger & Dark's chamber of cold shadows. And wait until you meet some of the carnies, especially one who you may have met elsewhere. He is a fellow who goes by the title of The Illustrated Man.
But, again, this book cuts across genre classifications. There are no explosions, no splatter, no karate . . . but it will still scare the hell out of you while charming you at the same time. And it also cuts across generations. This book has much to offer, whether you are a teenager encountering Bradbury for the first time, taking your own firm but unsteady steps toward adulthood, or are a seasoned citizen who first read this cautionary tale almost 40 years ago. It is a book to be savored and reread, for all the years and seasons of a life.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011