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Something strange and wonderful

Walt Disney Productions
Lightning-rod salesman Tom Fury (Royal Dano) sells a scarab beetle rod to Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) in 1983's "Something Wicked This Way Comes."
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The late author Ray Bradbury loved to recount a story about meeting a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico in 1932.

This fact was noted in Bradbury’s obituary in June 2012, 80 years after his encounter with Mr. Electrico, a carnival performer who, when the 12-year-old Bradbury saw his act, touched the lad on the nose with his electrified sword, making young Bradbury’s hair stand on end, and commanded, “Live forever!”

Bradbury would later state that Mr. Electrico’s statement was “the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.”

Added Bradbury: “I felt that something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electrico … he gave me a future.”

Nineteen thirty-two.

As I was writing those words, I had the new album from Elvis Costello & The Roots playing, it’s called Wise Up Ghost.

The lyric Costello sang at the moment was from the spooky title track and the line was: “Old woman living in a cardboard shoe / Lost so many souls, she don’t know what to do / So, say your prayers ‘cos down the stairs its 1932 / Wise up ghost.

I was thinking  about Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes and the 1983 supernatural thriller film of the same name, starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. I saw it on Friday the 13th of May 1983 with my dad. I found it compelling and ever since I got a VHS copy and later a DVD, I have watched it each October, right before Halloween.

And here we are, 30 years later, and Something Wicked This Way Comes still draws me in, with the events presumably taking place around 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. Green Town, Illinois (taking place of Bradbury’s hometown of Waukegan) is still doing all right, but the Depression is starting to sink in and a certain desperation and longing among the townsfolk. This is when Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival comes to town, seeking to thrive on their pain in damnable ways.

Two boys – Will Halloway (Vidal Peterson) and Shawn Carson’s Jim Nightshade (excellent names, by the way) are drawn to the spooky carnival appearing off season in late October.  

And just as I had written a DDD piece incorporating The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the idea of a traveling carnival and/or troupe, we get more details on the time and place as a lightning-rod salesman named Tom Fury (played by Royal Dano, who later played Judge Clinton Sternwood on Twin Peaks - a world where things, according to Agent Cooper, are often "wonderful and strange") meets the boys, trying to warn them of a coming storm and their need to have a lightning rod on the roof of their house. Jim fancies a rod with an Egyptian scarab (dung beetle) on it, interestingly enough.

The carnival, though is, as expected, a collection of oddities and freaks, including Mr. Electro and blind Dust Witch. The 12-year-old boys are captivated and yet a little spooked by the encounters they have, particularly after seeing the carousel which goes backwards and also makes people get younger (or forwards, where they get older).

Will and Jim, along with Will’s aging father, are forced to face the devilish Mr. Dark and his carnival as the storm rolls in every closer.

The film effectively captures that time period, fifty years after the fact.

Again, it was 1932 that Bradbury was introduced to the works of Edgar Allen Poe via the Carnegie library in Waukegan, amidst the Depression, when his family had no money and libraries offered an escape. And in Something Wicked This Way Comes there is a harrowing encounter between Mr. Dark and Mr.Halloway, the librarian. And it is in the library where Will and Jim escape …

Months after Something Wicked This Way Comes hit theaters, Bradbury wrote a science-fiction story for Playboy called The Toynbee Convector. Essentially, an alleged time traveler who claims that humankind has built an advanced, utopian society, even though it is not true. He tells people, like the futurist Arnold Toynbee, that civilization would flourish in the future if humans had a challenge to respond to. Perhaps the mysterious character or characters behind the Toynbee Tiles are familiar with that story? After all, the creator of the Toynbee Tiles began his mysterious mission around the time of both Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Toynbee Convector.

And the year I was born, 1972, 40 years after the events that took place in Something Wicked This Way Comes, Bradbury released The Halloween Tree, a story about eight trick-or-treating boys out on Halloween trying to save a friend via the help of a mysterious character named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, who takes the boys on an adventure through space and time and learn about man’s fear of spooks and death and how Celtic Druids and those who celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico, among many others around the world, countered their fears with celebrations. A great story.

Happy Halloween.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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