Something Wicked This Way Comes: Depiction of the Horrific Carnival
Something Wicked This Way Comes, is about to enduring kids named Will and JIm, who were born minutes apart and happen to be best friends. They come upon an evil spirit from another world in which they have to get themselves out from. They also came upon a carnival which wasn’t an ordinary carnival it was different. The novel had many things but the themes that caught my attention and were most brought up by the novel were evil versus good, age, time, and acceptance, and fear, supernatural, and the unknown.
When Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town, Illinois, one week before Halloween, local boys Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade can hardly believe their good fortune. But as thirteen-year-old Will and Jim watch the carnival train clamor into town at 3:00 a.m., pulling a singing calliope that has no one at the keyboard, the boys quickly realize that this is no ordinary carnival. Instead of cotton candy and innocent childhood fun, the carnival sells temptation and eternal damnation, and the cost of admission is the human soul. Will and Jim soon find themselves locked in a battle between good and evil, and after enlisting the help of Will’s father, Charles, they set out to destroy their enemy. However, it is not only Mr. Dark and his freaks who pose a threat to Will and Jim; the boys must also fight against the temptation of the carnival’s sinister carousel, and their own inner desire to escape the confines of childhood and instantly become men. Through the exploration of good and evil in Something Wicked This Way Comes, author Ray Bradbury argues that there is good and evil in everybody, it is up to each individual to know the difference and act accordingly.
In the novel, Bradbury establishes a dichotomy between the evil of the carnival and the goodness of Will. When Charles explains the carnival to Will and Jim, he likens Mr. Dark and his freaks to “the autumn people,” the evil characters of an old religious story he heard as a child. According to Charles, the autumn people “sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, [and] fill tombs with sinners.” Like the autumn people, the carnival is full of evil. “The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread,” Charles says. “They butter it with pain.” Mr. Dark and his freaks exist only to hurt people, and they subsist on that pain. Will, on the other hand, is good. Bradbury describes him as a boy with “hair as blond-white as milk thistle” and eyes as “open, bright and clear as a drop of summer rain.” Whereas Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show is described in terms of darkness, Will’s description entails lightness and white, which is symbolic of his purity and goodness. The color white is further employed in Charles’s explanation of “white-hat books” and “black-hat books.” Black-hat books involve darker themes and characters like Fu Manchu, Machiavelli, and Dr. Faustus, but Will wears a white-hat and reads Gandhi, St. Thomas, and Buddha. Even Will’s reading habits reflect his inherent goodness. Will is also a loyal friend and son; he risks his own life and soul to help Jim escape Cooger and Dark’s carousel, and constantly reminds Charles that he is a good father. From his physical appearance to his personal preferences and actions, Will is the living embodiment of morals and decency, and he serves as a powerful foil to the depravity of Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.
However, Bradbury complicates the distinction between good and evil, as the carnival relies on individuals choosing to partake in its sinful activities. After Mis Foley, Will and Jim’s seventh-grade teacher, becomes trapped in the carnival’s evil house of mirrors and sees herself reflected as a young girl, she wishes for youth and willingly rides the carousel. Mr. Fury, the traveling lightning-rod salesman, likewise falls to temptation. When he tries to catch a glimpse of the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, he disappears and later resurfaces as the Dwarf in Mr. Dark’s side show with his memory wiped clean. Even after Will and Jim discover the carnival’s evil intent, Jim still struggles with his desire to ride the carousel. “I don’t think I want any more of that,” Jim says, referring to the carousel. “You don’t think!?” Will exclaims. “After all this!? Good grief, let me tell you!” Jim knows that riding the merry-go-round has dangerous consequences—if he rides, he will become part of Cooger and Dark’s carnival—but because his desire to become a man is so strong, he still considers it. The carnival is thus more than just simply evil; it latches onto certain desires that already exist within those who come across it. This, in turn, reflects the fact that human beings are not entirely good or evil. Rather, individuals have the capacity to be either; if human beings did not have the potential for sin, then the carnival would have nothing to prey on.
Good and evil are ultimately a matter of choice within Something Wicked This Way Comes, and this choice must be constantly negotiated. Charles claims that Will’s goodness will “help when things get really tough,” but this may not necessarily be enough. “And men do love sin,” Charles tells Will, “oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells.” It is precisely this love for sin that Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show seeks to exploit. Still, Bradbury argues, the fight between good and evil is not entirely hopeless. “You don’t have to stay foolish and you don’t have to be wrong, evil, sinful, whatever you want to call it,” Charles tells Will and Jim. “There’s more than three or four choices.” In this vein, Bradbury implies that there is danger beyond that represented by Mr. Dark and his wicked carnival, and even after Charles destroys Mr. Dark, he warns Will that “the fight’s just begun.” The carnival won’t be coming back, but new threats of evil will surface. “What will they look like? How will we know them?” Will asks his father. “Why,” Charles responds, “maybe they’re already here.” Everyone, even the purest of souls, has the capacity for evil in the form of temptation, and it is a constant battle to remain good.
Protagonist Will Halloway and his best friend, Jim Nightshade, are both one week shy of their fourteenth birthdays, and while they may be on the cusp of manhood, they are not quite adults. Both enjoy typical children’s things, like books about dinosaurs and traveling carnivals, but Jim yearns for the freedom to live outside the restraints of childhood. When Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to town with its mysterious carousel, it is the answer to Jim’s problems of juvenile angst. Mr. Cooger, the proprietor of the carnival, steps onto the carousel a middle-aged man, and after riding the magical contraption backward, steps off a twelve-year-old boy. If Jim rides the carousel in the opposite direction, he realizes, he can fast forward and instantly become a man. Conversely, Will’s father, Charles, is feeling his own fifty-four years, but these feelings are nothing a couple of turns backward on the carousel couldn’t cure. However, Jim and Charles quickly learn that riding the carousel comes at a considerable cost: doing so means that they will become part of Mr. Dark’s side show, and their new physical age will be at odds with their actual life experience. With the juxtaposition of old and young in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the sinister carousel that stands between the two, Bradbury ultimately warns against rushing into adulthood or looking wistfully back upon childhood. Instead, Bradbury argues the value of embracing age and the slow, cumulative nature of experience.
Jim and Charles represent the desire to grow up and turn back the clock, respectively. When Jim and Will walk home from the library, Jim wants to linger near a house at the corner of Hickory and Main, where, over the summer, the boys witnessed a couple having sex. Will is embarrassed and doesn’t understand what the couple was doing exactly, but Jim longs to again catch them in the act. “Just one last time,” Jim begs Will. “You know it won’t be the last!” Will responds, suggesting that Jim frequently lingers near the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the forbidden adult act, which underscores Jim’s eagerness to grow up. Charles likewise resents his age, but unlike Jim, Charles wishes he could again be a young man. As Will eavesdrops on his parents’ conversation, he hears his father’s broken voice. “Will…makes me feel so old…a man should play baseball with his son…” Charles longs to be a bigger part of his young son’s life, but feels that his advance age prohibits this. Furthermore, it is not only Will’s age that makes Charles feel old. Will’s mother is also ten years younger than Charles. “And you. Who’s your daughter? people say,” Charles complains to her. Because Charles’s wife is so much younger, people assume that she must be his daughter. Each of these examples emphasize Charles and Jim’s desire to respectively rewind or fast-forward time.
While Cooger and Dark’s carousel can magically make Jim and Charles their desired ages, this instant gratification is not all it’s cracked up to be. As Mr. Cooger steps on the carousel to return to his true age, Will and Jim accidentally knock the controls of the ride and send Mr. Cooger flying forward many, many times. By the time the carousel strops, Mr. Cooger has aged over a hundred years and is a frail old man. He later turns to dust and blows away after the sideshow freaks drop him en route to the carousel. Furthermore, after Miss Foely, Jim and Will’s fifty-year-old teacher, rides the carousel, it is implied that she is transformed into a frightened little girl. Miss Foley is now young, but she can’t possibly go back to her life—no one would ever believe her outrageous story. By riding the carousel, Miss Foley sacrifices her autonomy and her ability to care for herself, despite her fifty years of wisdom and experience. Miss Foley now belongs to Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, and her future is uncertain. As Jim struggles with the temptation of riding the carousel, Charles warns him, “Changing size doesn’t change the brain. If I made you twenty-five tomorrow, Jim, your thoughts would still be boy thoughts, and it’d show! Or if they turned me into a boy of ten this instant, my brain would still be fifty and that boy would act funnier and older and weirder than any boy ever.” Here, Bradbury argues the value of experience, which cannot be gained (or lost) simply by jumping on a magical carousel. These examples highlight the cost of admission for riding Cooger and Dark’s carousel, and Jim and Charles must be prepared to pay dearly for their desired age. In this way, Bradbury implies that neither Charles nor Jim will ever be happy until they accept the circumstances of their age.
For Charles to successfully make it out of the carnival, destroy Mr. Dark, and save Jim, he must first accept his age and the inevitable mortality that it implies. Bradbury writes, “All because Charles accepted everything at last, accepted the carnival, the hills beyond, the people in the hills, Jim, Will, and above all himself and all of life,” he is finally able to live happily, free from the resentment of his age. Jim must likewise find acceptance in the fact that he can’t rush into adulthood, and this acceptance is implied as Will, Jim, and Charles run side-by-side away from the carnival grounds laughing happily at the end of the novel. Ultimately, Something Wicked This Way Comes warns against the dangers of wishing away time or excessively mourning its loss, and Charles and Jim are not truly happy until they accept this reality.
Something Wicked This Way Comes begins just one week before Halloween, and the novel is fittingly pervaded by a sense of fear and filled with references to the supernatural. Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade’s own names reflect this spooky holiday, which also happens to be Jim’s birthday (Will, for his part, was born just one minute before Halloween). When Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives, it is not long before a palpable dread blankets the entire town. Mr. Dark and the carnival rely on the town’s natural fear of the unknown, using seemingly unexplainable—and, the thinking goes, unstoppable—supernatural elements to terrorize the town. According to Will’s father, Charles, “the carnival wisely knows we’re more afraid of Nothing than we are of Something. You can fight Something. But…Nothing? Where do you hit it?…So the carnival just shakes a great croupier’s cupful of Nothing at us, and reaps us as we tumble back head-over-heels in fright.” It is only after Charles faces Mr. Dark head on and confronts his fears that he can finally defeat the evil of the traveling carnival, and it is in this way that Bradbury effectively argues that fear only has as much power as individuals grant it. The carnival itself further becomes an allegory for fear of the unknown, and it’s only by facing that fear—by effectively accepting that certain things cannot be explained or understood—that it can be defeated.
Mr. Dark and his sideshow freaks rely on the supernatural to threaten Green Town, and they actively terrorize the people. As the carnival pulls into town, a railcar hauls a mysterious calliope that appears to be playing by itself. Will and Jim stare in disbelief as the musical instrument “wails” with no one at the keyboard, chilled and entranced by what appears to be a supernatural event unfolding right before their eyes. Later, when Mr. Cooger, Mr. Dark’s business partner, rides on the carnival’s broken carousel, in reverse with Chopin’s “Funeral March” playing backwards, the middle-aged man transforms into a boy of twelve. Mr. Cooger stays this way until he again rides the merry-go-round, this time in the opposite direction, and transforms into an old man. The Dust Witch,, Mr. Dark’s most powerful freak, can stop the human heart using only her thoughts, and she can also “feel” the thoughts of others. Additionally, Mr. Dark too has the power to shift into a younger version of himself, and he even has strange tattoos of Will and Jim on the palms of his hands that inflict physical pain on the boys when he clenches his fists and wrings his hands. Mr. Dark and the freaks instill fear through their use of supernatural power. The supernatural nature of the carnival compounds it’s terror, which seems to be something inexplicable and uncontrollable.
Furthermore, while Jim, Will, and Charles are convinced that the carnival is responsible for the disappearance of several people in town, there is an air of mystery that surrounds these disappearances, which implies a fear of the unknown. As Will lays eyes on the Dwarf in Mr. Dark’s freakshow, Will is certain that he recognizes him. “I know him,” thinks Will. “Oh, God, what they’ve done to him! The lightning-rod salesman! That’s who it is. Squeezed tight, smashed small, convulsed by some terrible nature into a clenched fist of humanity…” Will doesn’t know how Mr. Dark has done it, but the Dwarf is clearly Mr. Fury. After Will and Jim find Miss Foley, their fifty-year-old schoolteacher, transformed into a terrified young girl after riding Cooger and Dark’s carousel, she quickly vanishes. Bradbury never reveals what happens to Miss Foley after Charles defeats Mr. Dark and the evil carnival and this too adds to the fear of the unknown within Something Wicked This Way Comes. Mr. Crosetti, the local barber, likewise goes missing when the carnival comes to town. Like Miss Foley, Mr. Crosetti’s fate is never revealed. The mystery surrounding all of these events further adds to the story’s sense of dread.
Above all, the carnival attempts to frighten its victims through its invocation of the ultimate unknown: death. The carnival notably taps into Charles’s own fear of growing old and the sense of mortality that inevitably entails. Charles appreciates the “simplicity” of the carnival’s efforts to scare him. “Hit an old man with mirrors,” he says, “watch his pieces fall in jigsaws of ice only the carnival can put together again. How? Waltz around back on the carousel to ‘Beautiful Ohio’ or ‘Merry Widow.’” Yet in the end, when Charles destroys Mr. Dark, he does so by denying the fear and power that the carnival has. “Evil has only the power that we give it,” Charles says. “I give you nothing. I take back. Starve. Starve. Starve.” When Charles finally refuses to believe in the evil of Mr. Dark and the death that he represents, and once he accepts his own advancing age and mortality, Charles is finally able to overcome his fears and defeat the sinister carnival.
In conclusion, Something Wicked This Way Comes, portrayed many themes such as good versus evil, the fear, supernatural, and the unknown, as well as age, time, and acceptance. It helped mature Jim and Will as well as making them more mature. All the experiences they experienced inside the carousel were life changing for them. These themes helped bring in the reader to the actual experience.
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