Bradbury has long occupied an odd literary position: one of the few widely respected genre writers (up there with Asimov and Clarke), but in many ways, still dismissed as being largely for young adults. My last exposure to him was in high school. Because I moved around a lot, my reading list was an odd Frankenstein of books. I missed a lot of the one's everyone read, and caught a lot that no one else did. So I actually read Fahrenheit 451 on my own, but had to read The Martian Chronicles for class. Fahrenheit is probably the third best known and often cited science fiction explorations after 1984 and Brave New World, while Chronicles is probably the second best known book about Martians after War of the Worlds. And though I recall enjoying them both, other than a few short stories from various collections, that largely ended my exposure to Bradbury.
It's sort of fitting that as my age has more or less doubled since I last read him, that I should return to him on this darkly-tone exploration of age and maturity. Something Wicked opens on one of those nostalgic buddy stories that began, in may ways in America, with Tom and Huck. Will Halloway and his buddy Jim Nightshade are inseparable, living the adventures of young boys in rural America. One day, a strange lightning rod salesman warns them of a storm coming, and come it does, in the middle of the night, in the form of a strange carnival: Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show. Soon, strange things begin to happen among the locals, and Will and Jim discover some of the carnival's strange secrets which largely revolve around a magic carousel. The boys quickly end up way in over their heads in confronting the demonic Mr. Dark whose skin crawls with living tattoos, and must enlist the help of Will's father, Charles, the town librarian, in ridding the town of the magical chaos.
The film, from 1983, with a script by Bradbury, is a fun and fairly faithful adaptation of the novel. And, oddly enough, this is one of those few times, where I wouldn't fall back on that old cliché that the book was wildly better than the movie. The book was quite good, and had multiple passage of poetic beauty that were stunning and surprising. The movie had a good cast, some very fun thrills, and has aged far better than much of its 80's brethren that were aimed at younger audiences. But, I actually would've preferred something that fell between the two.
By the end, the movie institutes a more active and satisfying conclusion as compared to the more "love conquers all" plot device of the book. I'm not sure if that's just because I've become so accustomed to movie endings that anything more abstract feels like I've been robbed, or if I've just become to jaded to believe in a "love conquers all" finale. In some way, I'm thinking it's the jaded one because, funny enough, the very ending of both book and movie are yet another one where you can't help but wonder what's gonna happen once the "feel good" moment has passed and the townspeople start asking where the carnival vanished to so suddenly and the authorities have to start asking where all the vanished townspeople are.