RAY BRADBURY Something Wicked This Way Comes. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1962. Bantam H2630, paperback, September 1963.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. Walt Disney Productions, 1983. Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, Royal Dano, Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson. Screenplay by Ray Bradbury and John Mortimer (uncredited.) Directed by Jack Clayton and Lee Dyer (uncredited.)

   I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes back in High School. Then again in College. Since then, I’ve come back to it every ten years or so, and each time found the story enchanting, the imagery compelling and Bradbury’s prose irresistible.

   Reading it this year, fifty-five years on and gray-bearded, puffing on a pipe I carved out of deer antler, reflecting that this is likely the last time I shall visit these pages, I was taken out of myself and transformed once again into the boy of wonder whose story this is.

   Or rather boys, not boy. Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. A dark circus come to their small town to trap the townsfolk’s souls and the boys fall into that childhood dream of forbidden knowledge, the evil only they comprehend, and only they can battle.

   As created by Bradbury, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival is a thing of splendid nightmare, promises of wonder paid with misery amid gaudy colors and laughing crowds. And once they learn its secret, the boys become the prey of brutal Mister Cooger and sinister Mister Dar k — along with a panoply of grotesques passing themselves off as freaks and entertainers.

   Bradbury conveys all of this in poetic prose that never slows down the action or becomes self-important. This is, in short, not so much a novel as a treasure to be taken out and enjoyed .

   A lot of folks in Hollywood took a lot of interest in Something Wicked, including Gene Kelly, Kirk Douglas and Sam Peckinpah, but it ended up with the folks at Disney, where it was filmed, then re-edited, re-shot, re-scored and partly rewritten, all at great expense. The result was a great white elephant of a movie that cost almost twenty million to make (back when that was a lot of money) and grossed less than half that. And along the way to failure, they insulted Bradbury and antagonized his fans, feeding Ill feelings all the way around — almost like the Pandemonium Carnival itself!

   Too bad, that, because the film actually borders on greatness at times. It stays mostly faithful to the novel, casts the boys (Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson as Halloway and Nightshade respectively) effectively, and embodies Mister Dark chillingly in Jonathan Pryce.

   The makers also get a thoughtful and well-judged performance from Jason Robards as Will’s father Charles — here promoted from janitor to librarian in the opulent small-town library. If Will and Jim are the motivators of the story, Charles is its firm anchor, and Robards rises to the occasion wonderfully. The confrontation between him and Jonathan Pryce is masterfully written, fluidly directed, and played to the hilt by two actors who seem to know they’re on to a good thing — pure movie magic!

   If none of the rest of the film quite lives up to this moment, well it supports it quite nicely indeed, and Something Wicked This Way Comes – book and movie – are literary/cinematic friends I’m glad I’ve known.