45 pages 1 hour read

Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1962

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Summary and Study Guide


Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) is a horror novel by American science fiction author Ray Bradbury. It tells the story of Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, two small-town boys whose lives are threatened when a mysterious carnival arrives the week before Halloween. Bradbury, from a small Midwestern town himself, examines The Nature of Good and Evil, the human fear of mortality, and the sometimes-frightening experience of coming of age in the American Midwest. The novel is the second book in the “Green Town” trilogy, although it does not contain any of the same characters as the first book, Dandelion Wine (1957). It can be read as a standalone novel, as it only takes place in the same fictional town as its predecessor. This guide uses the 2017 paperback edition.

Content Warning: This guide places in quotations the story’s terminology surrounding the carnival and those trapped and corrupted by the story’s antagonist.

Plot Summary

The story begins on October 24, when a lightning rod salesman approaches the 13-year-old protagonists Will and Jim. He gives them a free lightning rod because according to him, a frightful storm is coming, and Jim’s house is the target. Jim reluctantly puts up the rod, even though the danger excites him. The boys head to the library where Will’s father Charles, a janitor nostalgic for his youth, works. On the way home, the boys encounter townspeople who are anxious about the coming storm. The boys also learn that a carnival, Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, is coming to town the next day. Jim is delighted, while Will and Charles are suspicious.

The carnival train pulls into town at three in the morning, and the boys sneak out to watch. Seemingly out of nowhere, the carnival mysteriously solidifies before them. The next day the boys explore the carnival and encounter their teacher, Miss Foley. She goes into the Mirror Maze and is visibly dazed when the boys pull her out. As the boys investigate the carnival later that night, one of the owners, Mr. Cooger, suddenly grabs Will and Jim. He tells them the merry-go-round is broken. Another man, Mr. Dark, tells Mr. Cooger to put the boys down. Mr. Dark’s skin is covered with tattoos, and Jim is fascinated by him. Mr. Dark tells the boys to come back the next day, and they hide nearby instead. They witness Mr. Cooger on the carousel, while the ride and its music run backward. He steps off, and the boys are shocked to see he has become a 12-year-old boy.

Young Mr. Cooger leads them to Miss Foley’s house, where he pretends to be her nephew. Will and Jim try to warn Miss Foley, but Mr. Cooger frames them for robbery before leading them on a chase back to the carnival. Mr. Cooger rides the carousel again, and Jim, who wishes to be older, wants to join him. In Will’s hurry to shut the machine off, he damages the controls, and Mr. Cooger emerges as an extremely old man. When the boys flee and later return with the police, they cannot find Mr. Cooger. They eventually find him in the “Freak” tent where he has become a new act, Mr. Electrico. Again, Mr. Dark tells the boys to come back the next day and gives them free ride tickets.

The “Dust Witch,” one of the carnival’s “members” flies by night in a balloon, looking for Jim and Will. She marks their house, but Will and Jim wash away the mark. Will lures her to an abandoned house and destroys her balloon. The next day, the boys find a new child-aged Miss Foley crying under a tree. She begs the boys for help then disappears.

The carnival marches into town to search for Will and Jim, who hide under a sewer grate. Charles spots the boys hiding; he is worried and confused. Will warns his father about the man with tattoos. When Mr. Dark arrives and asks Charles if he knows where Will and Jim are, Charles pretends to know nothing. He notices Mr. Dark has tattoos of Will and Jim on each palm. The “Dust Witch” also arrives and senses the boys’ presence. Charles blows cigar smoke to confuse her, and both she and Mr. Dark leave.

That night, the boys meet Charles at the library after he has done some research; they try to form a plan. Mr. Dark arrives, and the boys hide. Mr. Dark offers Charles the use of the age-reversing carousel, but he refuses. Mr. Dark crushes Charles’s hand and finds the boys. The witch arrives and hypnotizes Will and Jim. She tries to kill Charles, but just before he dies, he begins to laugh hysterically. His laughter pains her, wounding her enough to drive her away. Mr. Dark marches the boys back to the carnival, while Charles follows, intending to rescue them.

At the carnival, Mr. Dark hides Will and Jim behind the Mirror Maze. He puts on an “act” and Charles volunteers to shoot the witch, who is supposed to walk away alive. Charles etches a smile into the bullet, which makes it powerful enough to kill the witch. Charles rescues Will and destroys the Mirror Maze using the power of laughter.

Father and son search for Jim. Jim runs to the merry-go-round, riding it forward in time briefly. Will tries to stop him, and both boys end up on the time-traveling ride. Will jumps off, pulling Jim along with him. Jim crashes into the ground dead. A child-aged Mr. Dark arrives, begging for help and pretending to be a boy named Jed. Charles kills him by hugging him and showing him affection, as Mr. Dark cannot tolerate mercy. The carnival crumbles as Will and Charles save Jim by singing and dancing and laughing; their happiness brings him back from the dead.