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Something Wicked This Way Comes
Ray Bradbury
Narrated by Kevin Foley, unabridged
Tantor Media, 8 hours, 30 minutes

Something Wicked This Way Comes
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of our time. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, he authored such classics of the genre as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Farenheit 451 (1953) by his early 30s, and continues to produce important work today.
In 1990, while at a summit meeting in New York, Mikhail Gorbachov made a special trip to visit Bradbury, his "favourite author," whose works he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Where Everything Ends
SF Site Review: The Martian Chronicles
SF Site Review: Masks
SF Site Review:Summer Morning, Summer Night
SF Site Review: Moby Dick: A Screenplay
SF Site Review: Fahrenheit 451
SF Site Review: Dinosaur Tales
SF Site Review: From the Dust Returned
SF Site Review: Dandelion Wine
SF Site Review: Green Shadows, White Whale
SF Site Review: Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines
SF Site Review: Driving Blind
SF Site Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes
SF Site Review: The Illustrated Man

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ivy Reisner

At the midnight edge of 13, two boys -- Bill Halloway and Jim Nightshade -- discover that the carnival which has just rolled into town has dark designs on the residence of Green Town, Illinois. The freaks have supernatural powers, and the carousel can travel a person through time, making them older or younger depending on how it runs.

This is a rare book that reads even better now than when it was first published. The small Illinois town seems so far past, so innocent, so distant, that it is just shy of alien, just shy of fantastic even before the evil carnival rolls in. It's shown in the open fields, the rings that let the kids sneak out and race around at night. It's heard in the children's speech, in the colloquialisms of way back then. This is, incidentally, the same setting as Dandelion Wine, though the characters are different and Dandelion Wine takes place in the summer.

The characters, major and minor, are delightful to visit with, making this story work as horror and as cozy. It really is cozy, even though it's a horror story. Something Wicked This Way Comes was first published in 1962, so it doesn't have the gallons of blood and cut-off body parts that litter much of modern horror. There is little violence and little visceral horror, but rather a slithering creepiness that gets into the reader and sits, a subtle dread in the gut.

The language is beautiful, not purple prose, but thoughtful insights that show Ray Bradbury to be a careful, clever observer of the world, of nature, and of people. He can paint the moon on the grass and give us the precise hue of its sparkle. He gives the meaning of each hour of the night. He can show the deeper, subconscious intentions of two boys running together.

The symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed. Jim, the boy more prone to temptation and mischief, is dark-haired and born on Halloween. Bill, the more innocent, purer child is blond and born on October 30. There are only two minutes between them, one born one minute before midnight, the other born a minute after. Both boys face this coming of age story at 13, the age of reason, the age Judaism and Christianity both claim a child is old enough to take responsibility for his own soul. And it's the very edge of their 13th year. The story takes place in late October, days before they would turn 14. It's as if that final test is delayed as long as possible, to make them as ready as possible.

There is mercy in that. The story would mean something different if it were set a year prior, featuring boys almost but not quite at the age of reason. There is a subtle religious thread in this story, and not just in the moments we see the characters in church or the talk of how the freaks embody their sins. The moon, at one point, shines as an act of divine mercy and Bill recognizes it as such. The story suggests we must accept the intended time for things. Time to be children. Time to be old. Time to die. It's all part of the divine plan and the evil comes from not trusting in that. The soul is seen to act, to shift, through emotions -- the dust witch can find the boys by tracking their fear, and then Bill's joy -- and at the last the battle is very much over the souls of the characters.

Time is the big player in this book. The boys want to ride the carousel clockwise, to get older. Mr. Halloway wants to ride it counter-clockwise to roll back the years. The carnival rolls in during October, after the end of carnival season. Mr. Holloway calls the carnival people "autumn people," a term that has two suggestions. It suggests a sort of evil, and that's how the boys see it, but it also suggests the autumn of a person's life, when they're shedding the excess baggage, settling, quieting, preparing for winter, the final season. The carnival people live at the edge of death, constantly dodging the final step, but still so close that they are steeped in it. The mirror maze reflects the changes of the years.

Kevin Foley delivers an outstanding performance. Every character has a distinctive voice, perfect for his or her personality, and the voices change as the story changes. Jim's voice is always Jim's. It's distinctive, as they all are, and it's consistent. But it softens in tone and raises in pitch just a tiny bit as he moves for centered and assured to frightened. Mr. Halloway's voice deepens and is more supported, not so much louder but more powerful, as he gains a foothold on the situation. In a story where that is such a critical element, it's important to have a narrator who has such skill in depicting those subtle differences.

Overall, this is a brilliant story brilliantly executed. A must read for fans of dark fantasy or horror, especially horror.

Copyright © 2010 Ivy Reisner

Ivy Reisner is a writer, an obsessive knitter, and a podcaster. Find her at

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