The Characters

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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...

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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 Illustrated Man (1951), while Cooger and his carousel transformations had previously appeared in “The Dark Ferris” (1948). They and their followers are the “autumn people,” according to Mr. Halloway, those who fear the approach of winter and death so much that they enter an immortal half-existence and stay outside the cycle of life. To maintain this state, they must periodically feed on human souls, their victims eventually becoming members of the carnival. They prey upon human fears and vanities, especially those connected with time, such as the fear of growing old or the desire to grow up rapidly, so that their victims come willingly. Halloway suggests that everyone is at times an autumn person, and this revelation is the center of the carnival’s horror.

Charles Halloway is the most fully realized figure in the book and one of Bradbury’s most interesting characters. Halloway, a middle-aged janitor, hardly seems to be a heroic figure, yet it is he who ultimately defeats the carnival. For years a rootless wanderer with intellectual yearnings, he settled down and had a son fairly late in life. His age weighs heavily on him: He envies the boys’ vitality and believes that he is too old to be a proper father for Will. If anyone would be vulnerable to the carnival’s seductions, so it seems, it would be Halloway, but in fact his painfully acquired self-knowledge and his strong love for his family allow him to see through Cooger and Dark’s show. Like Will and Jim, Halloway is in an in-between time, with vigorous adulthood on one side and old age on the other. He uses wisdom and compassion, the weapons of age, against the carnival, yet he also discovers that he possesses a vitality which he thought he had lost. Halloway is a hero, but he is a human, fallible one, who feels temptation and can overcome it. Hence, he is a more engaging hero for his fallibility.

Miss Foley, an example of the pathetic victims of the freaks, is “a little woman lost somewhere in her gray fifties.” She is a friendly, affectionate woman, but, being a spinster, she has no close familial ties. Even her nephew Robert is, in reality, the transformed Mr. Cooger. Fearing the onset of old age and death, she welcomes the carnival’s offer of restored youth, even going so far as to betray Will and Jim to the police and to Mr. Dark to prevent them from interfering. When her wish is granted, she finds that as an adult woman in a little girl’s body she is isolated from natural life, as she had already isolated herself morally. The only place for her is with the physically and spiritually deformed inhabitants of the Cooger and Dark show.

Characters Discussed

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Will Halloway

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

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.

Charles Halloway

Charles Halloway, Will’s father. He married late in life and considers himself an unworthy man. He works as a janitor in the Green Town library and is a man of tremendous intellectual curiosity and learning. Despite his negative self-image, he loves his family and wants to protect his son from the dangers he perceives in Cooger and Dark’s carnival. Halloway discovers that the carnival is as old as time and that it has kept itself alive by feeding on others’ dissatisfactions, hopes, and foolish wishes. It is Halloway who discovers how to defeat the dark forces of the carnival: by means of laughter and love.

G. M. Dark

G. M. Dark, a man covered in sinister tattoos and one of the owners of Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. Dark is intent on capturing as many gullible persons as he can because the people of the carnival feed on human suffering. Dark and Cooger depend on people’s fear of death and suffering to bring them willing victims. He, like his followers, fears death; he exists in a perpetual limbo between living and dying. He manages to entice Miss Foley into meeting her demise on the carousel and nearly captures Jim.

J. C. Cooger

J. C. Cooger, the other carnival proprietor. He first rides the carousel in reverse to become Robert, the phony nephew of Miss Foley. Eventually he rides the carousel forward and is trapped in the body of a dying old man because Will prevents him from getting off the machine. He becomes a grisly parody of old age, kept alive by G. M. Dark’s black electric chair. He serves as a horrible example of what results from falling prey to the carnival’s dark promise of eternal life.

Tom Fury

Tom Fury, the enigmatic lightning rod salesman. He sells Jim a lightning rod just before the carnival appears in town.

Miss Foley

Miss Foley, Will and Jim’s unhappy, unmarried seventh grade teacher, in her fifties. She is a well-intentioned woman who is kind to the local children. Because she has no family, she is empty and dissatisfied with her life. Cooger and Dark’s carnival holds out to her the promise of recapturing her lost youth and another chance to lead a fulfilled life. Because she is so intent on attaining her goal, she betrays Jim and Will to the carnival owners and to the police. She becomes lost in the carnival’s mirror maze and is trapped as a member of the carnival, an adult woman in the body of a young child.

Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640

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 Charles seems simply too good. It's hard to see him as being as thoroughly at risk as the boys are, and this robs the novel's climax of some of its force.

For Bradbury, the great danger of growing up is the loss of one's imagination. When the Pandemonium Shadow Show begins to spread its evil spell through Green Town, only three people appear to be able to come to grips with it. Two of them, of course, are Jim and Will, whose birthdays, one minute before midnight and one minute after midnight on Halloween, clearly symbolize their fitness to deal with a supernatural menace. The third person, and the only adult able to recognize the evil, is the aptly named Charles Halloway, Will's father and the janitor at the town library. Charles is an intelligent man who has chosen, in the opinion of Green Town's more somber citizens, to read and daydream his life away. He is a man who has in some ways never grown up. By carefully contrasting Charles Halloway, the apparent failure who can see the truth, with the other adults in Green Town, Bradbury seems to be making the point that much of what the world thinks of as maturity is, in fact, nothing of the sort. Rather it is a kind of half-life, a form of arrested development.

"Oh, God," cried Will. "Is he dead?"
Cooger and Dark entrap people by offering them their fondest dreams, by promising to fulfill all the petty desires, and end all the frustrations they've built up over the years. Those whom the town considers mature, the humorless people who work hard and have no time for fun and whimsy, are among the first to fall victim to the Shadow Show's lure because, by giving up the ability to dream, they've given up the ability to change. Thus they are stuck in their own pasts, unable to come to terms with or outgrow their frustrations. Their souls are stunted and it is only fit that the Pandemonium Shadow Show should turn them visibly into the twisted freaks and dwarfs they already are on the inside. Charles Halloway, still flexible and possessing a sense of humor, has the imagination to deal with the evil that Mr. Dark represents and, by laughing at that evil, robs it of its power. True maturity is thus redefined by Bradbury as the ability to combine the experience of adulthood with the open-minded imagination of youth.

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Critical Essays