This entry marks step one in my search for books that would fit my students request for “stuff with more DRAMA” (emphasis theirs)
At first I thought that DRAMA meant intense danger, especially when a grand, unwieldy spectacle threatened the heroes way of life (I figured the longevity of I am Legend and Armageddon among my students would relate here). The more that things were out of control, the more things were likely to blow up in the protagonist’s face, the better. Which is why I brought home a candidate for my curriculum by Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked this Way Comes.
Few people can master the art of rising tension and imperiled heroes like Bradbury can. The packs of students who are annually assigned Fahrenheit 451 can attest to that. And Something Wicked this Way Comes delivers a similar sense of danger as the boyish heroes Will and Jim confront evil amid the creepy calliope sounds of Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, a carnival that comes to their sleepy little town just before Halloween. The carnies promise to fulfill anyone’s deepest desire…for a price.
That’s where the moral drama comes into play in Bradbury’s work. While he revels in the details of sideshow illusion made real: living corpses, ice maidens, ant-sized adults, his real passion shines in the life or death, salvation or damnation questions that percolate behind the eyes of both the boys and the lost souls around their town.
Though the themes are captivating, the language is a special Bradbury blend of philosophy and his own 1930’s childhood slang. As such, it does not quite communicate the themes to a modern audience, and even I found my attention wandering. Dark and grim, with a smattering of spectacle it’s an intriguing book and certainly set the standard for copycats from Steven King to RL Stine, a standard unmet by anyone I’ve read. After all, there are few who can match Bradbury in the sheer audacity of his scenarios and dramatic terror in his climaxes.
As much as I can admire Bradbury’s work, I don’t think it’s actually the kind of book my students are asking for. Intense danger and life threatening situations are exciting no matter how old you are, but they aren’t dramatic with a capital DRAMA for my teenage students.