I am re-posting the text of this review today, although I wrote it many years ago, because today Ray Bradbury is dead.
It would probably take years to measure and to articulate all of the things that Bradbury’s work has meant to me over the course of my life, the way his words shaped my mind and my soul, and the impact that he had on my own writing.
This review of Something Wicked This Way Comes was really nothing more than a cursory attempt to sum up the power of a single book. Please keep in mind that he wrote many books as good as this one.
And many short stories that were as rich in invention and impact as entire novels.
And that he told many stories which were not written down, but which he recounted to a camera years ago–stories that I have listened to, learned from, like a child at her grandfather’s knee.
Goodbye, Mr. Electrico. Always, always, I will run toward the Lightning and away from the Dark.
June 6, 2012
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Every few years, I begin to feel it: the irresistible draw of the October Country. Somewhere inside me, where I keep the things that matter most, the wind and the leaves turn. The harvest moon rises, I smell the sweet perfume of bonfires at the Homecoming game, and I realize that the time is now; I need to go back to the place that sustains my soul.
That’s when I go to the bookshelf and take down my copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
I imagine it’s some pale shadow of what the salmon feels in the deep ocean, on the morning that she turns on the tide to go back to the tiny stream where she was born…or a dim echo of the silent, unanimous decision that the starlings make, when hundreds of them turn in the evening sky and wing their way South. This book is a part of me; I need it to live. For me, reading it is part of being alive.
Of course, I’ve read and loved a great many books in my time; if I didn’t love all books for their own sake, at least at some level, it would have made no sense to become a writer. But very few writers affect me the way Ray Bradbury does, and even Bradbury seldom affects me as he does with this novel. In a sense, Something Wicked is the apotheosis of Bradbury, for me, the apex of my experience with his work.
It almost seems a shame to tell you anything about the characters in this book. I want you to meet them yourself, to make your own introductions: to that best of boys-about-to-become men, Will Halloway, and his best friend Jim Nightshade; to that best of fathers, Charles Halloway, capable of sacrifices both superhuman and mundane; to Mr. Dark, who is nothing less than the danger of all our own selfish desires made flesh; to Mr. Dark’s traveling menagerie of deadly specters and abominations, each of them hungering for human life; even to the lightning-rod salesman, a nameless hero traveling through the October Country for all eternity to warn the innocent of the coming of Dark.
I feel the same way about the small American town in which this story is set. Bradbury has given the town another name, but I will always think of it as Childhood in the Depression, Illinois. Rarely has there been a book which so perfectly captured the essence of a place, not just as geographical location but as a moment in history; and rarely has a writer picked a location and a moment in history which is so perfectly metaphorical of a certain time in our lives – that delicate year when we are no longer children, but have not yet become adults. In Bradbury’s October Country, Will and Jim are eternally on the brink of lost innocence, just as many Americans were in the early 1930’s.
I could tell you about the old cigar store Indian and the barber shop, the softly glowing window of the ice cream parlor and the clean fragrance of good books in the town library, but I don’t want to. I want you to run through the town pell-mell with Jim and Will, just as I did, without knowing it beforehand. I want you to be surprised by the glory of the moon, and the big Midwestern wind sweeping over the rolling hills in the silver light. I want you to hear the whistle of lonely trains and to be dashed in the face by the sharp smoke of burning leaves.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a book about Good: not the sanctimonious, excluding-and-condemning virtue of organized religion, but the authentic good that we find within ourselves when we hold our children, laugh without malice, and love life. And it’s also about Evil: not the bombastic evils that inhabit our imaginary hells, but the real evil that crawls inside us when we cherish a selfish dream, or deny the truth, or allow ourselves to be weak when we should be strong. This story is about the inevitability of death and the terror of growing old, the end of innocence and the value of friendship, the longing for what we cannot have, or have back again once it’s lost.
I may have to read it again soon.