BOOK REVIEW: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – The Folio Society Edition

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The circus is something that has been drawing people to it since 1782 when the first recorded circus performed at the Amphithéâtre Anglois in Paris.

People seem to be drawn to the circus like puss from a boil, ensnared within its tendril like fingers that creep and crawl through neighbourhoods, latching on and enticing people with the promise of the spectacular, offering an escapism to the trappings of their lives and all the fun of the fair. Where the bright lights dazzle, the entertainment is breathtaking and with the introduction of the freak shows the oddities are arestingly peculiar .

I find the whole premise of the circus alluring but also haunting, there is something about the way it rolls into town, a caravan of the perverse and strange. It may have something to do with a harrowing event I had as a child.

I was about seven and was lost within a dimly lit mirror maze. Claustrophobic and terrified, alone, in a dimly lit upright coffin, where only my scared petrified face stared back at me. That was until the clown came to save me, or should I say thirty or forty of them, each one reflected, each one searching me out with white face, red nose, green hair and white gloves. Needless to say I was rescued, needless to say I had nightmares for a time – and I’ve never stepped foot inside a circus, or a mirror maze again.

All the fear, anxieties, dread, terror, ambiguity and freakishly whimsical delights the circus conjures are expertly and masterfully woven into the delightfully creepy and fiendishly brilliant ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes‘ written by Ray Bradbury.

The story focuses on the lives of two boys, Will Halloway and his best friend Jim Nightshade. Two boys on the cusp of adulthood, longing to be older, longing for the freedom to do what they desire, when they desire it. The boys lives are suddenly turned upside down when a mysterious carnival rolls into town sometime after midnight, on a cold October evening, and with it birthing the horrors of Halloween a week before its scheduled time.

The town are enraptured by the sudden and magical appearance of the circus, drawn to it like moths to a flame. But under all the sweet smells of candyfloss, secluded within the billowing candy striped canopies of tents, hidden within the seductive promises of dreams and youth regained – the deep and sinister magic of ‘Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show’ presides over their souls!

The young boys soon learn that wishes do come true, but so do nightmares!

Illustration ©2019 Tim McDonagh from The Folio Society edition of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

I’ve read a lot of Bradbury but for some reason Something Wicked This Way Comes has evaded my roving eye and my thirst for books, that is until now! And what a way to pop my cherry than with the delightful edition produced in breathtaking design by The Folio Society.

The book itself is a work of art, let alone the words and illustrations that are held within. Slipping the book from the delightfully crafted slip case, with an iconic image of a fairground horse, speared through its middle, flipping the intricately designed and illustrated cover over (resembling a flyer from a circus), you open a Pandora’s Box of mouthwatering goodness.

Tim McDonagh has produced some of the best haunting artwork I’ve seen in a long while, borrowing from the quite brilliant source material of Bradbury, and deftly crafted artwork that is both horrifying and beautiful in equal measure. The colours used seem to blend with the autumnal feel of the book (reds, oranges and yellows), and perfectly accentuate the story in the most appropriate of places, with each illustration carefully considered and constructed.

The book is Bradbury at his very best, its terrific wordsmithery and shows a more poetic side to Bradbury’s work bringing to mind some of his shorter fiction (his delightful collection October Country for example). His use of vocabulary is remarkable (of what you would expect) – but the whole book has a different feel to it so fans of his Fahrenheit 451 can expect to see this master storyteller in a different light.

“For somehow instead, they both knew, the wires high-flung on the poles were catching swift clouds, ripping them free from the wind in streamers which, stitched and sewn by some great monster shadow, made canvas and more canvas as the tent took shape. At last there was the clear-water sound of vast flags blowing.”

Bradbury’s words are alluring and enchanting, it’s as if he has bottled a little bit of the circus within the pages – metaphors seem to tumble from Bradbury’s pen for fun, each one a fabulous observation which Bradbury twists into a macabre offering and delightful discovery. It’s Bradbury at his poetic best and I feel that the poetic side of Bradbury’s writing aids in the storytelling angle of this delightful tale.

Illustration ©2019 Tim McDonagh from The Folio Society edition of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

The story also benefits from the way Bradbury has captured the innocence of children. Both Will and Jim are delightful characters – Bradbury seems to capture them in the way we normally associate with Stephen King, the deftness in which he has created so many memorable child protagonists. It’s delectable and a delight to read and believe what is being put before you, believing what they children are thinking and saying, they worry about childlike things, approach things in a childlike way and most importantly they view things with a childlike innocence and dread.

‘They peered in at the merry-go-round which lay under a dry rattle and roar of wind-tumbled oak trees. Its horses, goats, antelopes, zebras, speared through their spines with brass javelins, hung contorted as in a death rictus, asking mercy with their fright-colored eyes, seeking revenge with their panic-colored teeth.’

Something Wicked This Way Comes is also perfectly balanced and beautiful storytelling which builds to a quite frantic conclusion. I feel that the book up’s the tempo, filling the reader with dread, just after the boys flee from the circus and are hiding in a drain whilst the circus parade through the town – in their quest to discover the boys and bring them back to the big top. The tension in this scene and the following chapters (the library) is palpable and made quite difficult reading, as the tension, fear and the intrepidation that I felt was dialed all the way up to ten!

The Folio Society have done it again and produced not only another wonderful edition of a classic, but in doing so have produced a work or art that will stand the tests of time.

If you are a fan of Bradbury this needs to find its way into your collection.

If you are a fan of horror, this needs to nestle on your bookshelves.

If you are a fan of fabulous writing then look no further!

The Folio Society edition of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, introduced by Frank Skinner and illustrated by Tim McDonagh, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com

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You can also read our review of The Folio Society Edition of Fahrenheit 451 here.

Ray Bradbury

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Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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