Something Wicked This Way Comes Analysis

Ray Bradbury

The Plot

Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade have been psychologically complementary pals since they were born, within minutes of each other, almost fourteen years ago. Light-haired Will is a good boy who avoids risks and possible hurts; he fears growing up. Dark-haired Jim is more instinctive and daring; he wants desperately to be adult. Will feels alienated from his father, Charles Halloway, an intelligent but dissatisfied man in his fifties who is a janitor at the town library and who desperately fears growing old. Jim’s father is dead.

One fine October day, an itinerant lightning rod salesman warns the boys that a “beast” of a storm is coming, one especially threatening to Jim. At 3:00 a.m. on October 24, the beast arrives in the form of Cooger and Dark’s Carnival. Secretly watching the carnival set up, the boys sense that something ominous and important is happening. A feature attraction is the Mirror Maze, a place of temptation for dissatisfied dreamers like Charles Halloway; the mirrors exaggerate discontents and promise the possibility of being young again. There is also a carousel; riding it makes one older or younger, depending on its direction. Will feels threatened by these discoveries, but Jim is tempted by the carousel. Increasingly, the boys grow apart. The first of the book’s three parts, “Arrivals,” ends when the boys accidentally age Cooger to death on the carousel.

Part 2, “Pursuits,”...

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Form and Content

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a richly imaginative story of good overcoming evil. Will Halloway and his next-door neighbor, Jim Nightshade, see themselves almost as twins. Born only minutes apart in the same hospital on Halloween, they have grown up like brothers, but now, at the age of thirteen, personality differences have begun to emerge. Will is naïve and almost reluctant to let go of each moment. Jim, whose father is dead, is much more streetwise and curious; he is anxious to become the man he never knew in his father. Will’s aloof and world-weary father, Charles Halloway, at fifty-four, feels too old to be a suitable father for a teenage boy. He senses that he has failed as a father and fears death and the effects of age.

Late one October night, a mysterious carnival, Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, sets up on the edge of town. The carnival is peopled by menacing freaks and is run by G. M. Dark, a heavily tattooed ringmaster, and J. C. Cooger, a huge, red-haired man. With a mirror maze, a carousel, and sinister sideshows, the carnival seduces the weak-willed and vain by catering to their human cravings and frailties.

Will and Jim watch secretly as Mr. Cooger rides the carnival carousel backward. With each revolution, Cooger becomes a year younger. When the carousel finally stops, he emerges as a twelve-year-old boy and enters the town, posing as the nephew of Miss Foley, one of the town’s teachers. Will...

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Something Wicked This Way Comes takes place in Green Town, Illinois, in October. Against the backdrop of a "normal" American small...

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Literary Qualities

Bradbury's use of ornate, elaborately metaphoric language reaches its extreme in Something Wicked This Way Comes and, as in many of...

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Social Sensitivity

Something Wicked This Way Comes is Gothic fantasy at an extreme. It may be frightening to some young adults; the novel takes place at...

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Topics for Discussion

1. What is the significance of the salesman who comes to sell Jim and Will a lightning rod at the beginning of the novel?

2. Jim...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Bradbury places three epigraphs in the front of his book—a line from the poet W. B. Yeats, a proverb, and a line from Herman Melville's...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

A film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes was made in 1983. Directed by Jack Clayton from Bradbury's own screenplay and...

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For Further Reference

Greenberg, Martin Harry, and Joseph D. Olander, eds. Ray Bradbury. New York: Taplinger, 1980. An anthology of critical essays; part of...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Greenberg, Martin Harry, and Joseph D. Olander. Ray Bradbury. New York: Taplinger, 1980. An insightful collection of critical essays that addresses various aspects of Bradbury’s writing, including his use of the frontier myth. Features a helpful index and bibliography.

Mogen, David. Ray Bradbury. Boston: Twayne, 1986. An excellent collection of critical essays on Bradbury’s novels, including Something Wicked This Way Comes. Includes a selected bibliography and index.

Nolan, William. The Ray Bradbury Companion. Detroit: Gale Research, 1975. A classic reference that includes critical...

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