The Horn Book Magazine asked Christine Taylor-Butler, “What’s the strangest children’s book you’ve ever enjoyed?”
A freak tent, a dust witch, a quote from Macbeth, and a villain named Mr. Dark. Such was the stuff of Something Wicked This Way Comes. I’d always been fascinated by carnivals. They seemed to spring out of vacant parking lots overnight. So it made sense that I’d be drawn to Ray Bradbury’s novel as a young girl.
In this tale of good versus evil, the mood is bleak. Danger is foreshadowed by the arrival of a man selling lightning rods covered in strange symbols. The bustle of the small town ends abruptly once the clock strikes nine. Posters announcing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show appear, hung by a creepy man whistling Christmas carols in October. And when the carnival finally arrives, the descriptions are ominous. The slithering train’s grieving sounds, a wailing calliope, and the skeletal poles of the tent drew me into the weird landscape and held me captive.
The young protagonists, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, are relentlessly pursued by Mr. Dark after witnessing the devastating consequences faced by townspeople whose deepest desires are fulfilled by carnival attractions: a carousel that makes someone younger or older, a hall of mirrors that reveals an inner truth, and a block of ice containing a beautiful woman. Jim falls victim to temptation but in the end is saved by William and his father, Charles. Evil is conquered by a smile. The carnival is destroyed by a warm embrace and laughter.
The book was odd, and not what my friends were reading, but I was hooked. Every now and then, when the wind is particularly fierce and the forecast predicts an impending storm, I still wonder what it would be like to sit astride a painted carousel horse and turn back the clock for one last glimpse of youth.
From the March/April 2013 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine.