Home » Something Wicked This Way Comes (Folio Society Edition) – Appreciation by Carolyn Percy

ARTICLE (May 2019)



A Folio Society edition of a RAY BRADBURY classic is welcomed by CAROLYN PERCY

IT is certain that in the firmament of speculative fiction Ray Bradbury is a star that shines brightly; the author who produced classics such as Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.

My first encounter with Bradbury was Hanna Barbara’s 1993 animated adaptation of his 1972 novel The Halloween Tree, about a group of children who, with the help of the mysterious Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (evidence of Bradbury’s brilliance with portent and atmosphere: a character who’s just as creepy as his name and who you’re never quite sure is on your side), end up going on journey across time and space through the history of Halloween in order to save their friend’s soul. Cartoon Network used to show it every Halloween and it was always one of my highlights.

Not only did the late, great Leonard Nimoy lend his deep, otherworldly tones to Moundshroud, but Bradbury himself wrote the Emmy-winning screenplay and played the narrator.

The rich warmth of his voice was a perfect complement to his prose style. Take this introduction to Pip, the catalyst for the adventure, for example: “Ah yes, Joe Pipkin. Some say that on the day he was born, all the soda pop bottles in the world fizzed over. Pipkin who could yell louder, sing better, and eat more popcorn. Pip, the greatest boy who ever lived.” Doesn’t that conjure up wonderfully nostalgic images of that special friend who was always a little bit extra? Long  days spent in the lands of make-believe?

Ray Bradbury

The titles I mentioned previously – Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles – have already been published in beautiful illustrated hardback editions by the Folio Society  and in 2019 they have  released another: Something Wicked This Way Comes, probably one of Bradbury’s best-known works and the one Bradbury himself loved “best of all the things I have written.”

Taking its title from Macbeth (that most macabre of Shakespeare’s plays), it’s the story of best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. One October evening, a strange, demonic train pulls into their home of Green Town, Illinois, bringing with it an even stranger carnival. This is ‘Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Show’, where, beneath the smells of popcorn and cotton candy and the music of calliope, sinister secrets lurk. Secrets that may cost Will and Jim their souls.

Thematically, Something Wicked is similar to The Halloween Tree, in that it’s about friendship; Will and Jim are almost inseparable, they are born within minutes of each other – Will one minute before midnight on October 30th and Jim one minute after midnight on October 31st – they’re neighbours, their bedroom windows facing each other, and they do everything together. “It was in their friendship they just wanted to run forever, shadow and shadow.” 

The novel is  also about growing up; like Blake’s Innocence and Experience, the lures of the mysteries of adulthood prove too tempting for Jim, and this is what leaves him vulnerable to the carnival’s temptations, putting his friendship with Will in jeopardy. “Here comes the carnival, Death like a rattle in one hand, Life like candy in the other.”

Bradbury nurtured a love of fantasy and horror as a child through the circuses, freaks and monsters of early cinema, specifically the grotesques played by Lon Chaney. When he was twelve, a visit to a carnival introduced him to Mr Electrico (a much more benevolent figure than the character he inspired in Something Wicked) who, in turn, introduced him to the other sideshow performers.

Bradbury makes the carnival an inviting place and, at the same time – capitalising on the strangeness inherent to all carnivals and fairgrounds – a threatening one, where the atmosphere can change from joyful to ominous on a dime – with a mirror maze that shows more than you might want to see, a sinister merry-go-round that can control the ageing process, and, of course, the ‘carnies’ themselves, a troupe of grotesques led by Mister Dark, an illustrated man whose tattoos are  not only disturbing but disturbingly alive, all told in prose practically stewed in dark poetry like late autumn apples:

“The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by deathwatch beetles, and thrive the centuries. They wre the men with the leather-ribbon whips who sweated up the Pyramids seasoning it with other people’s salt and other people’s cracked hearts. They coursed Europe on the White Horses of the Plague…their populations grew as the world grew, spread, and there was more delicious variety of pain to thrive on. The train put wheels under them and here they run dowwnthe log road out of the Gothic and baroque; look at their wagons and coaches, the carving like medieval shrines…”

The physical book itself is a thing of lurid, almost ghoulish beauty. Brighton-based Tim McDonagh’s illustrations are hideously detailed (and I mean that in a good way) but so vibrant that they almost leap off the page to grab you by the throat, with a limited colour palette of yellow, red and black.

Comedian Frank Skinner (author of the perhaps surprisingly insightful and, of course, entertaining introduction) sums it up best: “The illustrations combine the garish colours of the carnival with the disturbing images of nightmare and, thus, exactly mirror the unsettling mood of the book.”

A Fantasy/Horror classic, as well as a timeless story of good versus evil, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a worthy addition to Folio’s list of Bradbury titles, as well as a worthy addition to anyone’s book collection in general.

“Beware the Autumn People” indeed.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury with an introductio by Frank Skinner and illustrations by Tim McDonagh has been published by the Folio Society as a hardback, price £36.95.

(Photograph reproduced here of Ray Bradbury by Alan Light.)

CAROLYN PERCY is a librarian. She contributes reviews to Horla and other publications. Among other qualifications she has a master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Swansea, Wales.