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Something Wicked This Way Comes | Context

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Dandelion Wine

In 1957 Bradbury published his first novel about Green Town, Illinois—the setting of Something Wicked This Way Comes—titled Dandelion Wine. These two novels are considered by many readers to be a pair. Not only do they share a setting, but they also share many of the same themes and imagery. Dandelion Wine is the story of one summer in the life of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding. As summer begins, Douglas experiences a heightened sensory awareness, giving him a growing sense of joy in living. Just as in Something Wicked This Way Comes, summer represents youth. Douglas wants a new pair of shoes so he can run with his friends. The boys in both novels run everywhere, and running is represented as an important part of youth and vitality.

Themes of growing up, growing old, and dissatisfaction and acceptance are the driving forces of Dandelion Wine, as they are in Something Wicked This Way Comes. In Dandelion Wine, Douglas and his younger brother Tom hold various beliefs about children and adults, and these beliefs change over the course of the novel. They begin with the belief that adults are a separate kind of being from children—not that adults were once children. Through one old man's stories, they come to understand adults have a wealth of experiences. Toward the end of summer, Douglas develops a growing realization of death and mortality. He must come to terms with his own mortality, and his acceptance of it allows him to enjoy the remaining days of summer.

Bradbury and Mr. Electrico

According to Bradbury, part of the inspiration for the carnival in Something Wicked This Way Comes was a childhood visit to a real-life carnival. In 1932 Bradbury attended the funeral of his uncle during Labor Day weekend. A carnival visited Waukegan that same weekend and featured a magician called Mr. Electrico. Young Bradbury was so taken with Mr. Electrico that he sought out the magician. Mr. Electrico took him to see the carnival folk in the sideshow tent—including an Illustrated Man and a Skeleton Man. He also suggested young Bradbury reminded him of his best friend, who had died in his arms in battle during the Great War (the First World War, 1914–18): "I see his soul shining out of your eyes. Here you are, with a new face, a new name, but the soul shining from your face is the soul of my dear dead friend." Bradbury returned to see Mr. Electrico's act that night. As part of the act, the magician charged himself with electricity and then "knighted," or raised to the title of knighthood, the children in the front row. He approximated traditional rituals of accolade (dubbing by touching them with a sword) that, as Bradbury said, "sizzled" with electricity. When he performed this ritual on the young Bradbury, Mr. Electrico whispered, "Live forever!"

This encounter was a turning point for Bradbury, who began writing a short time later. The encounter provided him with some of the concrete details he used later in Something Wicked This Way Comes, including the Illustrated Man, Mr. Electrico, and the Skeleton Man. It also sparked ideas about time and experience that he used in the novel. He felt tied to a past through the story of Mr. Electrico's war experience and to eternity through the words, "Live forever!"

"The Black Ferris" and Gene Kelly

Both the author's dedication and the afterword note the influence of American film actor and dancer Gene Kelly on the development of the novel. Ray Bradbury first met Gene Kelly in 1950, and they developed a friendship over the next several years. In 1955 Kelly invited Bradbury to a screening of his new movie, Invitation to the Dance, and afterward Bradbury commented that he wished he and Kelly could someday work on a movie together. Bradbury's wife suggested he go through his older stories and see if one could provide the kernel of a screenplay. Bradbury did so, and he came upon the story "The Black Ferris." Over the next several weeks he worked it into screenplay, which he titled Dark Carnival. Although Gene Kelly was unsuccessful in finding someone willing to make the film, Bradbury eventually adapted the screenplay into novel form, resulting in the publication of Something Wicked This Way Comes. A film version would not be made until 1983.

The Genre of Something Wicked This Way Comes

Bradbury's works are not confined to one genre—they range from realism to science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction, often all in the same book. As English author Neil Gaiman wrote after Bradbury's death, "He was a genre on his own, and on his own terms." Something Wicked This Way Comes is often considered fantasy because of its inclusion of magical or supernatural elements such as the carousel, the Mirror Maze, and Mr. Dark's living illustrations. Yet its use of suspense, its nightmarish qualities, and the inclusion of occult and demonic characters give it elements of a horror novel. This combination of fantasy and horror elements is often called dark fantasy.

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