Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Dark Carnival comes to town...

The final recommendation in my Halloween themed posts this month is a classic novel by master fantasist Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes, originally published in 1962. I’ve always been a fan of the late Mr. Bradbury’s fantastic, evocative writing; this is my favorite among his many wonderful works. The novel is the story of two 13 year-old friends, Will Halloway & Jim Nightshade, who live in Green Town, Illinois. One fall evening, they meet a strange lightning rod salesman who says a storm is coming to town. Others in the area also say they feel something in the air.

The boys learn a carnival is arriving in Green Town and are excited, but Will’s father, Charles, who’s the town librarian, has some misgivings about it. The friends stay up late, and watch Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show being set up. As they & the townspeople explore the show, it becomes apparent that there is more going on than they thought at first. Residents are being tempted with visions of their deepest desires, and some people disappear, or show up changed by their experience. For instance, the boys’ teacher appears to have transformed from an older spinster into a young girl. Jim is especially fascinated by the carnival and it’s owner, the mysterious & devilish Mr. Dark, who wants Jim to ride the carousel....but why?

As the story progresses, Will’s Dad has to get past his own fears & desires, and rescue the boys from Mr. Dark and the carnival’s other eerie denizens, including the Dust Witch & The Skeleton. This is a wonderful novel, with beautiful prose, great characters & some truly creepy, scary passages. As he did in many of his other works, Bradbury manages to paint a masterful picture of a small town we’d all like to live in, which is threatened by supernatural forces. While temptation exists, good is stronger than evil, and love & light can triumph over the darkness in the end. Will & Jim are changed by their experience, but as they move closer to the adult world, they'll always remember the lessons Charles teaches them.

The novel actually started out as a 1948 short story called "The Black Ferris." It was originally planned as a movie to be directed by the author's friend, Gene Kelly. When financing for the project couldn't be obtained, Bradbury turned his screen treatment of the story into a novel. The book was later adapted into a film by Disney in 1983, starring Jason Robards as Will’s father and Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark. Directed by Jack Clayton (The Innocents), it’s a decent version of the story with some good performances, but the novel is far superior. The movie is currently available on DVD. Over the years, authors like Stephen King & Neil Gaiman have sung the praises of this excellent book. My brief review can’t do it justice; I’ve re-visited it many times since I first read it as a kid, and I enjoy it even more each time. This isn’t just a book for Halloween: you can read it anytime, and I’m sure you’ll be brought under its spell by the power of one of our greatest writers. Something Wicked This Way Comes is very highly recommended, as are any of Ray Bradbury’s other fine works.

“The father hesitated only a moment. He felt the vague pain in his chest. If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it.” – Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)

Here’s a link to the trailer for the film version of the novel:

Next: Gary Clark, Jr.'s rocking the blues, with a little soul...

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