The receipt stuck in my copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes tells me that
I first read the book almost exactly fourteen years ago. I’d forgotten the plot
entirely, so I figured it was a good way to get into the mood of the season.
I remembered the wistful prose that characterizes much of Bradbury’s work, and
that’s definitely there . As I recalled, though, this novel was somewhat
darker than Dandelion Wine or Farewell Summer. In my memory, it was too
gentle to qualify as horror, less scary and more spooky, like traditional
American Halloween lore.
I remembered one specific moment–an absolutely enchanting rooftop battle
between protagonist Will Halloway and a witch piloting a hot air balloon.
Otherwise, I was drawing blanks about what actually happened.
For my second reading, I found Wicked way more substantial than my shoddy
memory let on.
For one, it really IS scary. Bradbury writes to frighten you on a bunch of
levels. There are grotesque passages , more psychological creepy parts
, and some outright menacing encounters . It all makes for a far more
rich horror experience than I remembered.
Secondly, the book explores aging with more depth than your typical YA
Bildungsroman novel. That’s partly thanks to the involvement of Will’s father,
Charles. Although the carnival hides its dark nature from the general public,
the familiar tension around “convincing the adults” is dispelled early on when
the boys enlist Charles’ help.
It’s not just about legitimizing the kids’ experience, though. Relating
Charles’ struggle with aging elevates the reflection, allowing Bradbury to come
at the idea from an angle that’d be foreign to kids. Interestingly, all three
(Will, Charles, and Will’s best friend Jim) find the same truth: that they are
bound to their age by the people they love. It’s much more common for kids in
stories like this to grudgingly accept the virtues of patience, but that
clearly doesn’t help Charles. Rather than “coming of age,” all three learn the
value of “staying of age.”
Bradbury’s most impressive achievement may be sustaining the dreamlike aura on
top of these more nuanced themes. Whether describing the macabre or reminding
you of your own parents’ fragility, he’s not trying to comfort you, but
Wicked somehow never feels unsafe. The word “charming” has never felt more
I definitely enjoyed my first reading of the novel, but judging by how much I
forgot, I don’t think I truly appreciated it. This reading feels way more
durable to me. I doubt I’ll need to re-read fourteen years from now, but I’ll
probably revisit it it sooner, anyway.