By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. – Shakespeare
While this book may not appear as a book about books, the eventual redemption of the main characters is predicated upon the knowledge that they gained while ‘researching’ about the nature of evil in the library. And since we are also celebrating the ‘river of words’ for our bimonthly theme, then Ray Bradbury’s poetic darkness and haunting voice would fit right into our theme quite nicely. It would have been a perfect book as well for our Haunting Tales theme in 2010 and our Circus, Carnivale and Paranormal Twists early this year (as this book was also recommended by our Featured Academic, Mitch Ong).
Down in the “Library Deeps.” As this ‘something wicked’ slowly approaches in the middle of the night, 3 am to be precise, its tattered tents filled with tears billowing into the night skies, Bradbury went beyond the casual cheap horror tricks and introduced a darkness that grabs the soul with a viselike grip through a ‘river of words’ perfectly shaped and formed, poetry in black lace, as he also offered salvation through books – a safe haven, not in a church, but in the library of all places. Quite apt, truly. Bradbury described this affinity of young Jim Nightshade and William Halloway with books in this manner:
Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. (p. 12)
A Touch of Bradbury’s Darknesses. I have heard so much about this book from bibliophile friends who are deeply into dark and gothic literature, and I knew that it would come to me at the perfect moment – and it did. It is a book that should be read aloud, late into the evening until three am, a cup of hot chocolate in hand, the winds raging outside, leafy branches knocking against the unsuspecting windows, and shadows listening from the woodworks, stealthily finding their way into the words leaping from the page, breathing life into Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.
While the premise of the novel may sound trite (I’ve read Stephen King’s Needful Things and am quite familiar with the sinister charm of carnivals, hence our theme January-February of this year), Bradbury managed to create a world that wakes deeply-buried anxieties, shaking off regrets and lies with a mocking smile as they shed off one’s skin like autumn leaves – and all through the power of his narrative. I have to confess that I read parts of this book aloud to my husband, waking him up in the middle of the night wondering – how could one man write like this, as if the forces of otherworldly creatures (The Illustrated Man, the Dust Witch, harlequin gypsies) are driving him to write write write until the words drip off his fingers like blood.
I alternate between Walter Moers and Ray Bradbury these past weeks. While the former creates fantastical worlds peopled with literary dinosaurs and bluebears (who have 27 lives), Bradbury remains firmly rooted in this universe – gathering cobwebs, stormclouds, dustmotes – stitching them together with anguished dreams, secret-bitter longings, and unfulfilled desires fueling a carousel of nightmare that goes backwards in time, lost in a maze of mirrors of one’s darkest shades multiplied to an infinity of horrors and travesties.
For the Dwarf as suddenly appeared, waddling along, a fringe of bells on his dirty shirt jingling softly, his toad-shadow tucked under him, his eyes like broken splinters of brown marble now bright-on-the-surface mad, now deeply mournfully forever-lost-and-gone-buried-away mad, looking for something could not be found, a lost self somewhere, lost boys for an instant, then the lost self again, two parts of the little squashed man fought to jerk his flashing eyes here, there, around, up, down, one seeking the past, one the immediate present. (p. 151).
The Nature of Evil and other Philosophical Meanderings about Freaks of Nature and Life’s Miseries. With my heart in my throat, I flip the pages greedily, savoring every distilled word from Bradbury’s fingers. Yet beyond the pacing, the pulse of the narrative, and the dizzying circumnavigations inherent in a boy’s coming-of-age, I was especially drawn to how Bradbury talked about the nature of evil and what provides it with energy in the absence of soul and heart:
Maybe a man walked around in a monkey skin a million years ago, stuffing himself with other people’s unhappiness, chewed their pain all day like spearmint gum, for the sweet savor, and trotted faster, revivified by personal disaster. Maybe his son after him refined his father’s deadfalls, mantraps, bone-crunchers, head-achers, flesh-twitchers, soul-skinners. These laid the scum on lonely ponds from which came vinegar gnats to snuff up noses, mosquitoes to ride summer-night flesh and sting forth those bumps that carnival phrenologists dearly love to fondle and prophesy upon. So from one man here, one man there, walking as swift as his oily glances, it became scuttles of dogmen begging gifts of trouble, pandering misery, seeking under carpets for centipede treads, watchful of night sweats, harkening by all bedroom doors to hear men twist basting themselves with remorse and warm-water dreams. The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by death-watch beetles, and thrive the centuries. – pp. 178-179
The Autumn People. Right now I am nearly finished with Bradbury’s The October Country and I could see his fascination with fall and what he calls the ‘autumn people.’ There must be something in the red and orange leaves that inspired him so during this lifetime. He described these beings as such:
For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In guts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles – breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them. – p. 172
Of Love, Laughter, and Salvation. Bradbury, while touched by darkness, is not without deliverance, blinding radiance, and bursts of sunshine. Rather than leave you with pockets of darknesses handed out by the fistful, I shall leave you Bradbury’s thoughts on love:
Why love the woman who is your wife? Her nose breathes in the air of a world that I know; therefore I love that nose. Her ears hear music I might sing half the night through; therefore I love her ears. Her eyes delight in seasons of the land; and so I love those eyes. Her tongue knows quince, peach, chokeberry, mint and lime; I love to hear it speaking. Because her flesh knows heat, cold, affliction, I know fire, snow, and pain. Shared and once again shared experience. Billions of prickling textures. Cut one sense away, cut part of life away. Cut two senses; life halves itself on the instant. We love what we know, we love what we are. – pp. 176-177.
How can I not love the man? What can I say, I am smitten.
Resource for Teachers. For teachers who may wish to make use of the book in the classroom for secondary level students. Here is an Instructor Guide created by HarperCollins that might prove to be useful.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This edition published in Great Britain in 2008 by Gollancz, an Imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, London. Book borrowed from the public library.
Ray Bradbury has received the National Book Award for distinguished contribution to American Letters
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 112 (35)