Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

As was the case with his first novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Something Wicked This Way Comes is a greatly expanded and much more sophisticated version of one of Ray Bradbury’s earlier short stories. “The Black Ferris,” published in Weird Tales (1948) and never reprinted in any of Bradbury’s story collections, tells of two boys who visit a carnival and witness the owner, Mr. Cooger, ride the Ferris wheel backwards and emerge from it a twelve-year-old boy. That story, greatly expanded, becomes the foundation for chapters 18 through 23 of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Charles G. Finney’s novel The Circus of Dr. Lao (1936), which Bradbury championed and helped raise to cultlike status, also greatly influenced this work. In Finney’s novel, a mysteriously advertised circus appears in a small Arizona town. The very vagueness of the group’s identity enables the townspeople to identify with it, each on his or her own primal level. In a series of vignettes, various visitors to the circus find there curious reflections of their own vanities and fears. Bradbury’s sinister carnival and the individual temptations that it offers each of its visitors is a clear offspring of Finney’s circus, as is the small town setting and its cast of vain and troubled citizens. Curiously, the parallels between the two stories are even more clearly drawn in the film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), from the screenplay that Bradbury adapted himself.