In Green Town, Illinois, best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, both thirteen years old, find advertisements posted for Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. While they are excited to have a carnival come so late into October, a lot of the townsfolk sense something strange in the air, and its not the literal approaching storm (which is forecast by a lightning rod salesman). They feel a menacing presence ready to descend upon their town.
The train hauling the carnival pulls into town in roiling clouds of smoke at three in the morning. Will and Jim are awake to see it, and they marvel at how the carnival seems to materialize before their eyes as the smoke clears. When the boys attend the carnival in the light of day, they inspect each attraction, except the out of order carousel. Outside the Mirror Maze, they run into a local teacher dazed and disoriented. Also, during their innocent explorations, they find the lightning rod salesman’s bag, but no salesman.
It is only later, suspicious of the Pandemonium Shadow Show, that Will and Jim witness something equally miraculous and frightening. Having stayed behind after the Show closed for the night, the boys watch, from a hiding spot, as Mr. Dark runs the carousel backwards with Mr. Cooger riding on it. When it stops, Cooger is a child.
The boys learn soon enough that Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show is filled with more temptations and dangers than those of the owners. From the Dust Witch to the creature known simply as The Skeleton, the carnival seems to have secrets around its every sinister corner, and it’s always on the hunt for new victims and acquisitions (for example, the Dwarf is the former lightning rod salesman).
If it is possible for a book, or story, to feel like October, to feel full of autumn’s mysteries and wonders and reflections, its apprehensions and hopes, it is Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. With its characters torn between wanting to grow up, wanting to grow younger, and those discovering that, sometimes, actually getting what you want is not what you need, it is a book that still reverberates strongly with me.
There’s a kid in all of us, no matter how old we get, and there’s an adult in us, too, no matter how young we are. As kids we want to be adults, we dream of what it will be like, all the things we will do. In maturity, we want youth, we remember what it was like, and some of us think of how we squandered it. Youth may be wasted on the young, but I think it can be argued that maturity is wasted on the old, too.
No matter your age, Something Wicked This Way Comes is an essential read. It speaks to the kid and adult in us all. Ultimately, I think it supports the idea that we are whatever age we feel. Don’t grow up too fast, but old folks should also be explorers.