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,” begins with Mr. Dark pursuing the boys. Will and his father grow closer as they discuss the nature of goodness, happiness, and evil, and each person’s free will to choose among them. After foiling various attempts by Mr. Dark to locate them, the boys join Charles Halloway one night in the library. His research has revealed that the carnival people are embodiments of evil—“autumn people”—drawn to and energized by people’s pain, meanness, and dissatisfactions. Mr. Dark enters the library, wounds Charles Halloway, and abducts the boys. He leaves a minion, the Dust Witch, to stop Halloway’s heart. Expecting death, Halloway laughs at the meaningless joke his life has been. Surprisingly, his laughter drives the witch away. Part 2 ends with Halloway heading for the carnival; the pursued is becoming the pursuer.
In part 3, “Departures,” Mr. Dark temporarily places the entranced boys in his wax museum, accessed only through the Mirror Maze. Preparing to perform a “Bullet Trick,” he asks for a volunteer from the small, late-night audience. Charles Halloway steps forward and calls out to Will for assistance. Will’s appearance indicates that in this battle of wills, Will’s father is winning. After routing Mr. Dark, Halloway and his son search for Jim. On entering the Mirror Maze, Halloway is sorely tempted, but Will’s cry of love enables him to reject the temptation to be young again; his joyful laughter shatters the mirrors. Mr. Dark’s remaining influence is undone, and Jim is saved from the carousel by the combined love and laughter of father and son.
Tempted one last time to ride the sinister carousel, Charles Halloway and the boys control the “autumn” within themselves. They head home with happy hearts and a feeling of oneness—aware, however, that some future day, another dark carnival might appear.
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...
(The entire section is 1,677 words.)