The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
As is appropriate, given Bradbury’s intentions, the protagonists, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, are essentially allegorical figures rather than realistic, fully developed characters. In the novel, they function as Bradbury’s picture of boyhood split in two, portraying the dual nature of boys, innocence and mischief, nostalgia and the passionate desire to gain the status of an adult. The story’s events take place just before their fourteenth year, so they are in a time between carefree childhood and adolescence, which brings the beginnings of responsibility. The carnival is their first direct contact with the malevolent yet attractive outer world. Will, content to remain a child, is repulsed by the Shadow Show. His danger is that he will be paralyzed by fear, as at one point he is paralyzed by a fortune-teller’s magic, yet Will does acquire the courage to strike back at the freaks in order to save Jim, indicating that he is growing up. By contrast, Jim is eager to enter the adult world by any means and nearly joins the carnival to accomplish this. Jim’s interest in life’s dark side is not in itself evil, but it could easily lead to perversity. By the novel’s end, his restless spirit has been chastened by his contact with Cooger and Dark, and he is ready to develop at a natural pace.
Cooger and Dark, the carnival’s proprietors, are living embodiments of evil. Dark, with his tattoo-covered body, is obviously taken from Bradbury’s...
(The entire section is 712 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Will Halloway, a boy of almost fourteen, born one minute before midnight on October 30. He is the best friend of Jim Nightshade. The less adventuresome of the two, he is frightened by the hypnotically attractive carnival that appears in Green Town, Illinois, just before Halloween. He is still very much a young boy, in contrast to Jim. His experience with the evil Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show helps to teach him about the value of friendship, the importance of his father, and the nature of evil. He brings down the wrath of Cooger and Dark by jamming the carousel’s controls in the forward position while Cooger is riding the machine, thus turning the man into an ancient, dying being. Will eventually acquires the courage necessary to fight off the sideshow freaks and help his father save Jim Nightshade.
Jim Nightshade, Will Halloway’s best friend, born one minute after midnight on October 31. His father has died. In contrast to Will, Jim is the dark side of youth and is very much attracted to the carnival and its mysterious and threatening sideshow and rides. Jim is eager to grow up and falls under the spell of the promise of adulthood held out to him by the carousel, which ages a person one year for every one of its forward revolutions. By the novel’s conclusion, he has learned that growing up takes time, and he is content to let time run its course naturally....
(The entire section is 684 words.)
Themes and Characters
Based on the short story "Nightmare Carousel" (1962), Something Wicked This Way Comes has been enormously popular, but has been widely criticized for the self-indulgence of its language and the weakness of its plot structure. The novel focuses in part on the nostalgia for midwestern small-town childhood that Bradbury treated in his earlier non-fantasy novel Dandelion Wine. It adds, however, a strong focus on the theme of maturation and explores some of the darkest fantasies of childhood.
More than any other writer of fantasy and science fiction, Bradbury has remained in close touch with his own childhood. The children who appear in "Homecoming," "The Veldt" (both appear in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, 1980), Dandelion Wine, and innumerable other Bradbury stories are invariably well drawn, and Jim and Will of Something Wicked This Way Comes are no exception. Though imbued with some of the nostalgia that is characteristic of much of Bradbury's work, they are complex and interesting characters, who are basically good, despite their imperfections. The very fact that both boys seem susceptible to the evil that Cooger and Dark's represents gives the novel its tension. Jim and Will are at risk, not just physically but spiritually.
Will's father, Charles, Bradbury's secular version of the holy fool, is easy to like as a person. But his very innocence makes him less successful as a character than the two boys. At times...
(The entire section is 640 words.)