Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Something Wicked This Way Comes Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

When Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962, Ray Bradbury already had a solid reputation as an author of supernatural stories. In the mid-1940’s, he published many such tales, some of which were included in his first book, Dark Carnival (1947); another collection, The October Country (containing many...

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When Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962, Ray Bradbury already had a solid reputation as an author of supernatural stories. In the mid-1940’s, he published many such tales, some of which were included in his first book, Dark Carnival (1947); another collection, The October Country (containing many of the same stories, some with revisions), followed in 1955.

Many reviewers saw the book as an undistinguished allegory about the battle between good and evil. Some also noted its dreamlike quality. Indeed, it is less an allegory than a dream landscape steeped with self-reflective psychological implications. Although the title is taken from a witch’s speech in Macbeth, and although an obvious inspiration is Charles Finney’s The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935), Something Wicked This Way Comes has more in common with Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925), including the conflict between father and son, the attempted reconciliation of opposites, and a young man’s search for individual wholeness within the dreamlike projection of his own psyche.

Bradbury began writing the book in 1957, when his father was dying of cancer. It is his last-ditch attempt to both honor and reconcile with a father from whom he had often felt alienated. Growing up, Bradbury had established his own individual ego by distancing himself from his father’s expectations. As he shifted more toward a world of imagination—fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural—increasingly he felt himself an outsider, the family freak. This led him to identify emotionally with magicians (such as Blackstone), carnival freaks (especially dwarfs), and misunderstood film monsters (King Kong and the Phantom of the Opera, for example). Indeed, on a self-reflective psychological level, Bradbury’s four most important integrated works, published between 1950 and 1962, form a cyclical tetralogy of escape (The Martian Chronicles, 1950), denial (Fahrenheit 451, 1953), return (Dandelion Wine, 1957), and reconciliation Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Because Something Wicked This Way Comes is also concerned with Bradbury’s search for psychological wholeness, many of the major characters represent diverse parts of Bradbury’s own psyche, seeking and achieving unification. Will represents the conscious ego—the will—whereas his mirror image, Jim Nightshade, represents the more positive aspects of what Carl Jung called the shadow archetype. Mr. Dark represents the most negative parts of the Shadow, aspects that must be admitted and controlled. He finally is subsumed by Will’s father, thereby becoming part of the unified ring.

Bradbury believes that Something Wicked This Way Comes is his best work. Few readers agree. Bradbury’s creative strength always has been in terms of short units—quick emotional bursts of energy. Full-length novels are not his forte. The characters seem too mechan-ically manipulated toward an intensely desired end. Still, the book yields unexpected riches when mined archetypally.

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