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Literature / Something Wicked This Way Comes

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"By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
Mr. Halloway

Thirteen-year-olds Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are the best of friends, despite their contrasting personalities. A week before their fourteenth birthdays around Halloween, a carnival comes rolling into town. Even though carnivals aren't uncommon in their time, October is a very late month for them to be still running in. That isn't the only odd thing about this carnival, as Will and Jim soon find out that its freaks are offering townspeople more than cotton candy and amusement rides - offers that turn out to be more than their receivers bargained for.

Things become a lot more dangerous for the boys when the circus folk, led by the tattooed Mr. Dark, get wind of them knowing too much and plan to make sure that their secrets remain secret by bribery or trickery. Fortunately for Will and Jim, Will's father Charles Halloway proves the exception to the Adults Are Useless rule and becomes a valuable ally. Even so, the carnival has more up its sleeve than the regular parlor tricks, and the lure of its offers may be too great for one of the boys to resist...

A novel by Ray Bradbury, somewhat of an expansion of "The Black Ferris", one of his earlier short stories. The story is more fantasy/horror than science fiction but still has his Signature Style all over it. Disney produced a film adaptation from a script written by Bradbury himself starring Jason Robards as Charles Halloway and Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark.

"Something Wicked This Way Tropes":

  • Adaptation Deviation: A few plot points have been changed, but since the screenplay was written by Bradbury himself, the changes were pragmatic (For example, the idea of putting a smile on a bullet would have been too goofy for a film)
  • Adults Are Useless: Thoroughly averted; Mr. Halloway, once he's made aware of what's going on, rescues the boys and singlehandedly brings down the carnival.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • The Dust Witch "sews up" (it's actually invisible magic) Jim Nightshade's and Will Halloway's eyes, mouth, and ears. They're still aware of their surroundings, but they can't see, hear, speak, blink, or swallow.
    • The victims of the carnival also share the same fate, as well as the lightning rod salesman.
  • Animated Tattoo: Mr. Dark has tattoos that moved and mesmerized Jim and Will, which was depicted perfectly in the film. It might be an example of Author Appeal considering Bradbury's more famous work, The Illustrated Man.
  • Attack of the Town Festival: Mr. Dark uses his town carnival both as a cover and as a means for drawing in his victims.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Jim Moriarty Nightshade, as Lampshaded by Mr. Dark, who suggests a We Can Rule Together of "Dark and Nightshade, or Nightshade and Dark".
  • Badass Bookworm: Charles Halloway, who could also be called a Badass Grandfatherly-Looking Father.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Both in the book and in the film. Don't listen to the carnival's promises of youth or freedom. Just don't.
  • Be Yourself: The entire film comes down to whether Jim, Will and his father can accept who they are.
  • Big Bad: Mr. Dark.
  • Birthday Buddies: Will and Jim were born on two different dates two minutes apart (immediately before and after midnight, October 30th and 31st, respectively).
    By their voices, the boys had told the tale all their lives, proud of their mothers, living house next to house, running for the hospital together, bringing sons into the world seconds apart; one light, one dark. There was a history of mutual celebration behind them. Each year Will lit the candles on a single cake at one minute to midnight. Jim, at one minute after, with the last day of the month begun, blew them out.
  • Came Back Wrong: Happens to Cooger/Mr. Electrico; as in, his corpse is simply reanimated and controlled like some animatronic robot.
  • Care-Bear Stare: The mere threat of a smile is enough to kill the Dust Witch, and The Power of Love is what takes down the Big Bad Mr. Dark in the end.
  • Cassandra Truth: The carnival people deliberately set out to ensure that no one will believe Will and Jim if they try to warn other people about them.
  • Character Filibuster: Charles goes on for at least two chapters on his theories about the carnival's nature and intents. Lampshaded when he realizes how long he's talked and that the boys don't understand most of what he's just said.
  • Circus of Fear: A very influential version of this trope; most modern versions owe something to this story.
  • Circus of Magic: The book is about 13-year-old best friends, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, and their nightmarish experience with a traveling carnival that comes to their Midwestern town one October, and how the boys learn about combatting fear. The carnival's leader is the mysterious "Mr. Dark," who seemingly wields the power to grant the citizenry's secret desires. In reality, Dark is a malevolent being who, like the carnival, lives off the life force of those they enslave.
  • Cool Old Guy: The minute Charles realizes that his son loves him and accepts him, warts and all, he decides to Take a Level in Badass and becomes this trope.
  • The Corruptible: Jim's recklessness, rebelliousness, disregard for the rules and desperation to grow up make him far more vulnerable than Will.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Mr. Dark takes an interest in Jim, thinking he'd be the perfect partner.
  • Dark Is Evil: Literally with Mr. Dark, owner of the Carnival.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: In a contrasting example, though, Jim is described as the "dark" child to Will's "light" from the beginning, but he's consistently portrayed as "good" — he's just more proactive in his fascination with the strange and unknown than Will is.
  • Dark Reprise: Miss Foley calls Jim and Will her "two whisperers". When Mr. Dark catches them:
    Mr. Dark: Time to quiet these two chatterers. Time to still these two whisperers.
  • Dedication: The book is dedicated to the memory of Gene Kelly.
  • Disappeared Dad: The reason Jim's mother is so protective of him, which only makes Jim want to get away even more.
    • Plus, she had three children. Had.
  • The Dragon: The Dust Witch seems to fill this role. It seems Cooger may have either been this or Co Big Bad with Mr. Dark.
  • Emotion Eater: Mr. Halloway identifies Dark's carnival as "the Autumn people".
    Mr. Dark: Yes. We are the hungry ones. Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well.
    Mr. Halloway: To stuff yourselves on other people's nightmares.
    Mr. Dark: And butter our plain bread with delicious pain. So, you do understand a little.
  • Epigraph: Includes a quote from The Bible and another one from Moby-Dick.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: How Mr. Dark is destroyed in the book.
    • It also applies in the film. While Mr. Dark is certainly enjoying torturing Mr. Halloway with the idea of giving him back his youth, he also is angry and cannot understand why Halloway won't sacrifice his own son for the chance to be twenty years younger.
  • Evil Is Cool: Invoked - Jim certainly thinks so, and Mr. Dark plays it up as much as possible. The cool factor is just another lure.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mr. Dark. It makes him absolutely terrifying.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Mr. Dark knows everything about you and will make laser-precise cutting remarks — gleefully.
  • Fountain of Youth / Overnight Age-Up: One revolution forward on the carnival's merry-go-round will age the rider one year; one revolution backward will de-age him/her a year. Naturally, the merry-go-round is the main source of attraction for the dissatisfied townspeople.
  • Good Hurts Evil: Subverted in that holy objects can't hurt the freaks and Mr. Dark openly mocks the possibility. Played straight in that good emotions can. A smile actively hurts and finally kills the Dust Witch and The Power of Love kills Mr. Dark in the end.
  • Hall of Mirrors: A school teacher gets lost in a Hall of Mirrors at the carnival while chasing a girl who looks like her at a young age.
  • He Knows Too Much: Who'd have thought that two boys would be such a threat to a carnival full of magical folks?
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Will and Jim. Although it's averted by the bittersweet hint that it won't be this way when they grow up.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mr. Dark in his adult form is physically powerful enough to crush Charles' hand with one hand. It's only because he ages himself down for his final attempt to kill the heroes that Charles can overpower and kill him with The Power of Love.
    • It applies in the film as well: Mr. Dark is taking Jim onto the carousel to age Jim to adulthood. Halloway comes and pulls Jim off, and before Mr. Dark can do anything, lightning strikes the carousel, and Mr. Dark is both electrocuted and aged beyond comprehension by his own device.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Downplayed with the three protagonists. Jim can't wait to grow up and enjoy the sense of freedom he's convinced it will bring. Will wants Jim's single-minded and Stoic drive. Charles had wasted a large portion of his life trying to be what he considered "special"; now, he just wants to be young again like Will and Jim. Will and Charles get over this and accept themselves well before the climax. Jim... doesn't.
  • I Know Your True Name: Mr. Halloway's confrontation with Mr. Dark has him identifying him as one of the "Autumn People" who prey on human emotions. Mr. Dark gleefully confirms this.
  • Indy Ploy: Charles thinks to himself on at least one occasion that he's just taking whatever opportunities come along and he really has no idea what kind of plan he's carrying out. Turns out to be fortunate, as it means that Mr. Dark can't read what he's up to either.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Jim and Will's schoolteacher pines for being young again. Mr. Dark grants her her wish — but makes her blind so she can't enjoy it.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From Macbeth:
    "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!"
  • Load-Bearing Boss: After Mr. Dark is defeated, and the freaks freed from his control, the tents fold up, fall, or collapse in on themeselves.
  • Marked Bullet: Part of a magic trick held by the circus, but Charles uses it to his advantage by carving a smile instead of his initials on the bullet and using it to shock the Witch into death.
    • Calling Your Attacks: He mentally tells the Witch "This is my smile on this bullet", which makes sense, so that the Witch can't confuse it for anything but a positive emotion.
  • Meaningful Name:
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: J. C. Cooger and G. M. Dark.
  • The Nothing After Death: Theorized by Charles.
  • Odd Couple: Will and Jim couldn't be more different, yet their friendship is unshakeable. Borders on Ho Yay at times.
  • The Power of Love: The only effective weapon against Mr. Dark and his followers, who run on negative emotions.
  • Power Tattoo: Mr. Dark has tattoos of the other circus folk all over his body, signifying his control over them. He can hurt anyone tattooed on his body just by harming their tattoo. After he's killed, the tattoos all vanish and return the freaks' free will.
  • Purple Prose: Mr. Dark indulges in this.
    Mr. Dark: Funerals, bad marriages, lost loves, lonely beds. That is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet. We search for more always. We can smell young boys ulcerating to be men a thousand miles off. And hear a middle-aged fool like yourself groaning with midnight despairs from halfway around the world.
  • Rapid Aging: Happens to Mr. Cooger when he tries to use the merry-go-round to quickly turn himself back into an adult so he can take on Jim and Will, and the boys accidentally cause the merry-go-round to go haywire when fighting over the controls.
  • Repulsive Ringmaster: Mr. Dark is the creepy, Deal with the Devil-making ringmaster of the Circus of Fear.
  • Right Under Their Noses: At one point, Will and Jim hide under a grate in full view of the carnival because no one will think of looking for them in such an obvious place.
  • Satanic Archetype: Mr. Dark, who preys on people's insecurities and offers them their greatest desire, only to take control of them.
  • Shout-Out: In-universe, Jim's parents named him James Moriarty Nightshade.
  • Sibling Seniority Squabble: Despite not being related at all, Jim is still jealous Will was born one minute before he was.
  • Sneaking Out at Night: Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway often sneak out on summer nights to ramble around Green Town, Illinois. Surprisingly, they not only have hidden improvised ladders from their bedroom windows, but Will does it with the tacit approval of his own father, who thinks boys need to have a walk on the dangerous side to grow into good men.
  • Southern Gothic Satan: Mr. Dark, the tattooed ringmaster, is one of the modern-day Trope Codifiers, and an acknowledged inspiration for Stephen King's Leland Gaunt. Mr. Dark rolls into town with his circus to offer people their heart's desire, but just ask the other circus folk how that turned out.
    Mr. Dark: Yes. We are the hungry ones. Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well.
    Mr. Halloway: To stuff yourselves on other people's nightmares.
    Mr. Dark: And butter our plain bread with delicious pain. So, you do understand a little.
  • Spooky Silent Library: Charles Halloway is the custodian of the town library. The boys seek out his knowledge and help, and wind up hiding from the carnival there.
  • A Storm Is Coming: The novel opens with a lightning rod salesman warning of the coming storm.
  • Taken for Granite: One of the Dust Witch's powers.
  • Title Drop: "By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes"
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mr. Dark has several, but the big one comes when Charles Halloway sees straight through his final attempt to win, being rendered near speechless with rage.
  • We Can Rule Together: Mr. Dark offers this to Jim, though it's never revealed whether he was serious about his offer.
    Mr. Dark: You’ll travel with us, Jim, and if Mr. Cooger doesn’t survive (it’s a near thing for him, we haven’t saved him yet, we’ll try again now) but if he doesn’t make it, Jim, how would you like to be partners? I’ll grow you to a fine strong age, eh? Twenty-two? twenty-five?. Dark and Nightshade, Nightshade and Dark, sweet lovely names for such as we with such as the side shows to run around the world! What say, Jim?
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: A variation, as Dark mocks the boys that Jim's mother rode the merry-go-round forwards and backwards until she went crazy.

Tropes that are specific to the Movie Adaptation include the following:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Pam Grier was cast as the Dust Witch, so they made the character into a beautiful and glamorous Hot Witch instead of the stranger, creepier looking character of the novel.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the film, Tom Fury, the lightning rod salesman, escapes from Mr. Dark and kills the Dust Witch with a lightning rod. In the novel, he's turned into a dwarf enslaved to Mr. Dark and the Carnival and remains a passive victim for the rest of the story.
  • Ascended Extra: Tom Fury, the Lightning Rod Salesman.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tom Fury's lightning rods come in handy late in the film.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Mr. Dark's corpse is removed from the carousel in such a way as it might be resurrected.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Carousel ends up being Mr. Dark's undoing.
  • Mook–Face Turn/Shock and Awe: In the film, Mr. Electro kills the Witch with an electrified lightning rod.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Mr. Dark taunts Will by claiming Will's mother rode back and forth on the carousel "until she was quite, quite mad". It's a lie, but he certainly sells it with the line, "You should have heard the one single sound she made".
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mr. Cooger
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: The tarantulas handled by the Dust Witch and set loose on Jim and Will are red-legged tarantulas: a docile and quite harmless species often sold in pet stores because they can be safely handled.