Wednesday 10 February 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes

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To accompany ferocious knitting I went to the audiobook library, opened up 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' by Ray Bradbury and have listened to it for the last two days. It is a very dark and fantastical mystery featuring an old fashioned carnival, with all its attendant curiosities, including (as pictured) a calliope, which plays to attract customers to the show. But two young boys, Will and Jim, find something much more sinister going on as they witness a magical carousel that can add to or remove years from a person's life. It is a wonderful example of atmospheric writing as we follow their desperate attempts to thwart the plans of the mysterious Mr Dark, the Illustrated Man, who recruits unsuspecting, wretched people to his troupe by offering them a chance to extend their lives and then trapping them forever in the carnival. 

Here Will's father, (while the boys are in hiding), drawing on his in depth knowledge of the town library, tries to find out about the carnival and its origins:

"to the library and to most important books which he arranged in a great literary clock on a table like someone learning to tell a new time. So he paced round and round the huge clock, squinting at the yellow pages as if they were moth wings pinned dead to the wood. Here lay a portrait of the Prince of Darkness Next a series of fantastic sketches of the temptation of St. Anthony. Next some etchings from the Bizaria by Giovan Battista Barchelli depicting a set of curious toys human-like robots engaged in various alchemical rights. At five minutes to twelve stood a copy of Dr Faustus. At two lay an occult iconography. At six, under Mr Halloway's trailed fingers, a history of circuses, carnivals, shadow shows, puppet menageries inhabited by mountebanks, minstrels, stilt-walking sorcerers and their fantacinni. More, a Manual of the Air Kingdoms, Things that Fly Down History. At nine sharp By Demons Possessed, lying atop Egyptian Filters, lying atop The Torments of the Damned, which in turn crushed flat The Spell of Mirrors. Very late, up in the literary clock one named Locomotives and Trains, The Mystery of Sleep, Between Midnight and Dawn, Witches Sabbath and Pacts with Demons. It was all laid out, he could see the face, but there were no hands on this clock, he could not tell what hour of the night of life it was, for himself, the boys or the unknowing town. For in sum, what had he to go by: a three-o'clock-in-the-morning arrival, a grotesque-looking glass maze, a Sunday parade, a tall man with a swarm of electric blue pictures itching on his sweaty hide, a few drops of blood falling down through a pavement grill, two frightened boys staring up out of the earth, and himself, alone in a mausoleum quiet nudging the puzzle together. 
There was only one thing sure, two lines of Shakespeare said it, he should write them in the middle of the clock of books to fix the heart of his apprehension: By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes." (Chapter 37)

The moms get to stay home and bake apple pies and go to church, and would only make a fuss if they knew what their sons were up to, so it's dad who believes their tall tale and comes to the rescue and works out how to defeat these soul-sucking freaks. Toward the end we have Will, Jim and Mr Halloway going back to the carnival to confront and challenge Mr Dark:

"The calliope played sweet to pull Jim, to draw him in, and when the parade arrive with Electrico back the music would spin, back the carousel run, to shard away his skin, to freshen forth his years. Will stumbled, fell, dad picked him up, and then there arose a human barking, yapping, baying, whining, as if all had fallen, in a long drawn moan, a gasp, a shuddering sigh, an entire crowd of people with crippled throats made chorus together. 
'Jim! They've got Jim.'
'No,' murmured Charles Halloway strangely, 'maybe Jim, or us, got them.'
They stepped around the last tent, wind blew dust in their faces. Will clapped his hand up, squinched his nose. The dust was antique spice, burnt maple leaves, a prickling blue that teemed and sifted to earth. Swarming its own shadow the dust filtered over the tents. Charles Halloway sneezed. Figures jumped and scurried away from an upended, half-titled object, abandoned half way between one tent and the carousel. The object was the electric chair, capsized, with straps dangling from wooden arms and legs, and a metal head-cap hanging from its top.
'But,' said Will, 'where's Mr Electrico, I mean Mr Cougar?' " (Chapter 51)

What a fabulous tale, frightening in an old fashioned kind of way, with a real deep, dark atmosphere and slow ticking plot that grips you and won't let you go.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of ferocious knitting and this book sounds like a good listen for during a crafty session!


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