Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town #2), Ray Bradbury. New York: Bantam Books, 1963 (Link is to a currently in print edition).
Summary: A carnival comes to Green Town out of season and two boys, Jim and Will fight to escape the clutches of the sinister carnival master Mr. Dark.
An odd lightning rod salesman cues us that this will be a dark story. It is October 23, but the storm he predicted never came and the lightning rod atop Jim Nightshade’s house wasn’t needed. Or was it. Something darker came to town that night–a mysterious carnival with proprietors Cooger and Dark. It’s an odd time of year for a carnival. The boys, Jim and and his friend Will Halloway, spy it out as it arrives at 3 am, taking shape out of the dark clouds of the night. Will’s father, a janitor at the library, who revels in spending his life among its books, senses something dark as well. Carnivals don’t come in October. Or do they?
They come back the next morning, spot Mrs. Foley, their teacher who emerges from a mirror maze not quite right. That’s all that’s not right. The carousel seems to be out of order. They explore only to be dragged off by Mr. Dark. Hiding, they see Mr. Cooger ride the carousel backward and become a boy, who wheedles his way into Mrs. Foley’s house, pretending to be her nephew.
The boys follow. Mrs. Foley is nowhere to be seen but as Cooger rides to return to his age, the boys jam the controls aging him past a hundred. And they are now on Mr. Dark’s radar. Dark lures people with their desires–and feeds upon them. A parade comes the next day through town while a little girl, the former Mrs. Foley, weeps in the bushes. Dark and his Witch search everywhere for Jim and Will but encounter only Will’s father, who becomes their enemy by laughing at them. All this sets up the climactic confrontation as Dark captures the boys and Halloway must confront the evil that has invaded Green Town.
Bradbury gives us a truly gripping and insightful portrayal of evil. It is more than transgressions. It is the darkness, the nothingness that consumes, that plays on and distorts human desire, shriveling lives. The story depicts the webs of illusion that hold those who give way to it. Yet Charles Halloway discovers that this dark nothingness may be defeated, that all its pretensions may be punctured by a little act, if only he can endure evil’s onslaught.
I missed this Bradbury as a kid, or don’t remember it. I may not have understood or liked it at the time. It is the darkest of his books, starkly in contrast to the first Green Town book, Dandelion Wine. Having seen more of the power of evil, its lures and the way it distorts and destroys, I appreciate Bradbury’s imaginative portrayal. We need those like Charles Halloway, who can discern evil, resist it, and recognize how it may be defeated.