The Dark Circus – “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury
In fact, there was a 1983 film adaptation (produced by Disney!) of the story that had terrified me when I saw it as a child. Terrified, alright. (Now I look back and realize that Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards starred in the film, and it makes me want to watch it again.)
It’s October in a decade long past, and two boys – Jim and Will – are getting back into the swing of school after a nice long summer spent doing typical boy things. After they meet a strange mans selling lightning rods who tells them a storm is coming, their small town gets weird. Namely, a circus appears practically out of nowhere, and bewitched a great deal of the town. Fortunately, Will’s father, Charles, has a bad feeling about things.
The circus is ruled over by a man named Mr. Dark, who is covered with tattoos. Quickly,Kim and Will realize that these festivities are bad news. The circus lures people in and steals their souls, turning them into slaves. One of the boy’s teachers, Mrs. Foley, is turned into a young girl again by the promise of youth Mr. Dark offers. Soon Jim and Will are the targets of the evil people behind the circus, and realize the only way to fight back is with happiness and love. (Especially for Jim, who is bewitched by the circus.)
So the happiness and love part is a little cheesy, but this is a parable we’re talking about. Things will be alright if you remain young and happy in your heart. Isn’t that a nicer message than “Circuses will kill you?”
The book is eerie, and Bradbury truly is a master of his craft. I’d keep this book from the little ones, though, as it may forever ruin their feelings about circuses and carousels. As a grown-up, though, it’s a heck of a good read. Jim and Will are likable, understandable heroes of the Dennis the Menace variety, and you root for them to win the whole way through.
“”If rational beings had created the 100 best books of the century list, this one would surely have been on it.”
– Denver Rocky Mountain News, 1999.