Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Title:  Something Wicked This Way Comes
Author:  Ray Bradbury
Genre:  Fantasy/Horror
Pages:  215

Rating:  A

Synopsis from goodreads.com:  A masterpiece of modern Gothic literature, Something Wicked This Way Comes is the memorable story of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the evil that grips their small Midwestern town with the arrival of a “dark carnival” one Autumn midnight. How these two innocents, both age 13, save the souls of the town (as well as their own), makes for compelling reading on timeless themes. What would you do if your secret wishes could be granted by the mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark? Bradbury excels in revealing the dark side that exists in us all, teaching us ultimately to celebrate the shadows rather than fear them. In many ways, this is a companion piece to his joyful, nostalgia-drenched Dandelion Wine, in which Bradbury presented us with one perfect summer as seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, he deftly explores the fearsome delights of one perfectly terrifying, unforgettable autumn.

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Opening Line:  "First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys."

That opening line had me hooked.  From the moment I picked it up, Something Wicked This Way Comes kept me glued to its pages.  It's both a coming-of-age horror story and a poetic & philosophical allegory about life and love.  With beautiful writing, some good characters, and a suspenseful story, this book was definitely worth losing sleep over.

The main characters of the story are Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade, and even though the story's mostly about them, Will's father Charlie plays a very central role too.  Each has an interesting and unique personality, and each represents a different type of person.  Will is essentially the good guy and the representation of contented youth.  When the "carnival" comes to town, he feels a slight temptation towards it and what it offers, but for the most part, he recognizes its evil and tries to avoid it.  His friend Jim is severely tempted by it though.  He represents the youth who wants to grow up, who wants to experience life and take risks.  It's his actions that essentially get the boys into the mess they're in.  And Charlie is the old man longing for his youth back.  He's the voice of reason and wisdom.

The three of them get caught up in an exciting plot that kept me on the edge of my seat.  Lots of suspense and "monsters" and magic.  The narrative was for the most part fast-paced and full of action.  There were moments, however, where the story dragged a little because Charlie talks a lot and what he says is deep and philosophical.  Some people could get bogged down with all of his talk (even Jim and Will comment on it), but I enjoyed it... most of the time.  There was one chapter towards the end, when the suspense was killing me, that Charlie talked a bit too much, and I just wanted him to shut up.  But that's my only complaint.

But I think the one thing that really won me over was Bradbury's writing.  His style is so descriptive and poetic; it's easy to forget you're reading a scary story since the writing is beautiful.  I just wanted to get lost in this little town of Will and Jim's and smell the cotton candy and hear the calliope and run through the streets with them.  Bradbury just made everything come to life through his writing.  My favorite passage in the whole book is when he talks about the town library.
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 slumbered.  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, through Outer Mongolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is my kind of scary story.  Suspenseful, interesting, beautifully written, and containing a deeper meaning.  Now I just want to pick up more of Bradbury's books and bury myself in them.  A


  1. Ash: Could you define for me what is and what is not modern Gothic and then compare that to Modern Horror and how it is different? So Christians today know what is Modern Horror and what is Modern Gothic.

    1. Gothic literature in general tends to take place in specific settings (castles, old mansions, abandoned homes or spaces), often deals with the supernatural or unexplained, focuses more on suspense rather than gore, and often has a woman in distress (usually due to a tyrannical male). Jane Eyre is a great example of classic Gothic literature.

      Modern Gothic is harder to define, especially since some people would say it doesn't exist. It simply evolved into the horror genre. But I think books like Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Woman in Black, and Rebecca are all great examples of modern Gothic. They still have most of the elements of classic Gothic novels, but they've evolved to match the times in which they take place.

      It's very hard to separate the two genres of Gothic and horror because the horror genre originated in Gothic fiction. It changed drastically throughout the years, but it originally resembled Gothic literature very closely. I think the best way to define the horror genre, especially contemporary horror, is as a genre that focuses on eliciting a response of terror from its readers, not only through the building of suspense but also through the addition of blood, gore, and violence. In modern horror, there's no requirement that the setting be specific or that there's anything supernatural involved. And there are no set gender roles for the victim and perpetrator. Slasher films, Stephen King's novels, and even the zombie craze fall under the category of contemporary or modern horror.

      Perhaps I shouldn't have called Something Wicked This Way Comes a horror story mostly because it has almost all the elements of a Gothic novel without any of the gore of the horror genre. I think in this case I was simply using the word "horror" as a synonym for "scary".

    2. I think you should try this novel: The haunting of The Hill house By Shirley Jackson next.


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