Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“By the pricking of my thumbs,! something wicked this way comes.” In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (c. 1605), the witches speak these lines as Macbeth approaches for his second meeting with them. He has come because he has found his ill-gotten power empty and insecure. The witches speak out of sympathy for the evil they have cultivated in him. When Charles Holloway quotes these lines in Something Wicked This Way Comes, he is also speaking of the sympathy of the evil that lurks always in the hearts of the good for the greater evil in the hearts of those who have given in—who have agreed to trade something for nothing, thus converting themselves into grotesques who feed on the pain and fear of others.
Quasi-allegorical in form, this novel, like Dandelion Wine, is set in Green Town and seems aimed at young readers. Two boys deal with the temptations of evil presented by Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade are best friends and neighbors. Will, son of Charles, was born just before midnight, Jim, just after midnight on Halloween Day. Will seems the natural child of reason and goodness, but fatherless Jim finds in himself an attraction to danger, to power, and to evil. Their friendship binds them together in mutual dependence and defense.
The novel is divided into three parts. In the first, “Arrivals,” the Cooger and Dark carnival comes to Green Town at 3 a.m. on a Friday, the week before Halloween. No sooner does it arrive than impossible things begin to occur. Miss Foley, a teacher, is terrified upon seeing her treasured little-girl identity eaten away by age in the maze of mirrors. The boys meet a boy who is revealed to be Cooger, having somehow returned to the age of 12, and through their accidental interference with the magical carousel that changes people’s ages, they age him to 120.
The mirror maze and the carousel are the main instruments that the carnival uses to capture those lonely people who dream of gaining power by transforming themselves. The mirror maze shows them what they want to be and makes them fear old age and death. The carousel, by carrying them backward or forward, makes them the age they believe they wish to be. However, Dark, the show’s proprietor, a version of the illustrated man from Bradbury’s second story collection, always cheats, never giving...
(The entire section is 989 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story of good versus evil, with love and laughter overcoming fear and illusion, somewhat in the manner of a medieval morality play. Yet Bradbury puts life into this ancient literary tradition to produce an entertaining and interesting work that falls just short of being a fantasy masterpiece. The setting is Green Town, Illinois, an idyllic Midwestern small town which is also the locale of his partly autobiographical Dandelion Wine (1957).
The prologue contains the enigmatic sentence, “One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight.” The subject of time and its distortion by evil forces becomes a crucial element in the novel. The sentence refers to the arrival of Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show in Green Town. The show is heralded by Tom Fury, a mysterious lightning-rod peddler, who appears to the protagonists Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade and sells Jim a lightning rod in anticipation of an approaching storm. It is significant that Fury sells the rod to Jim, a dark-haired, intent boy born one minute after midnight on October 31, in contrast with his best friend and next-door neighbor, Will, a blond, good-natured boy born one minute before midnight on October 30. While Will participates joyously in uncomplicated, boyish activities, Jim has a desire for strange, often forbidden experiences, a desire which attracts him to the Cooger and Dark carnival and nearly causes...
(The entire section is 563 words.)