“Beware the autumn people...For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life, where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.”
Somehow, I missed Something Wicked This Way Comes while I was scouring the children’s section of the library, and it’s probably a good thing. It’s hard to imagine how an avid Goosebumps reader would have dealt with a scary book that’s actually scary and substantial, not just for the grotesque images or the shocking twists, but for the themes it carries. There are spoilers in this review, mostly from the first third of the book.
The book opens on its dual protagonists, Jim Nightshade and Will Holloway. Both thirteen years old, they are inseparable sides of the same coin. Jim is rash and impetuous, always on the lookout for a thrill or an adventure; Will is more careful, although, as he says in the book, is often dragged into adventure by Jim whether he wants to be or not. The books opens in Autumn with the arrival of a mysterious carnival, populated by a diverse array of freaks and run by the Illustrated Man, Mr. Dark, a mysterious entity who exercises control over his freaks with his vast array of tattoos. The centerpiece of the carnival is broken down Carousel that nevertheless comes alive at night. It can spin either way, making its riders either older or younger. Soon after the carnival opens, Jim and Will see the carousel in action and make an enemy of Mr. Dark who, of course, spends the rest of the book trying to turn them into a couple of his freaks.
In addition to the boys, there’s a third, equally important character: Charles Holloway, Will’s 54 year old father. Married to a beautiful woman 20 years his junior, he struggles with feeling too old for her and too old to properly relate to his son.
Something Wicked is surprisingly dense, and there are a lot of things I could talk about, but I’d like to focus on what seemed like the overriding themes: the elders’ fear of aging and death and the youth’s desire to speed the process along. The Carousel stands at the center of the novel, towering over even Mr. Dark in its sway over the protagonists. So let’s start with a laundry list: Will fears that, with time, he and Jim will grow apart. Jim fears that he will never grow up at all, and Charles fears that he’s already too old to relate to the people he cares most about. The thing is aging or de-aging on the carousel is no good. It rushes things, so young men end up with old men’s minds and old men are still children inside. It is the ultimate relationship breaker, because it makes relation with other people of your own age impossible—who wants to hang out with the 30 year old who still wants to play marbles, or the 16 year old who has all the worries in the world?
I don’t want to talk much more about the plot, but I will say that there are some very disturbing images, not so much because they’re graphic, but because being turned into a wax dummy is kind of terrifying. Anyway, this review is all over the place, but if you missed this as a child, it’s well worth reading. And I hear the film is pretty scary.