Revisiting”Something Wicked This Way Comes” as a Grown-up

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I’ve loved Ray Bradbury’s fiction since my early teens, when I first read “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” from The Martian Chronicles in English class. I was floored by Farhenheit 451, delighted by Dandelion Wine, and mesmerized by Bradbury’s myriad short stories. His Zen and the Art of Writing is still in my top-five writing books of all time. However, I contend that his most underappreciated work is his “Halloween novel,” Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I was 15 or 16 when I first encountered this novel, recommended by a classmate of mine. The imagery was indelible, and even if the exact details of the plot escaped me in the intervening years, the mental images of the midnight train and the dark carnival arriving at 3 a.m. have been forever lodged in my imagination.

A few weeks back, I listened to an episode of The Great Books Podcast (highly recommended podcast, by the way), covering this novel and its themes. The discussion was so intriguing, I decided it was time to revisit this story, about 25 years after my initial reading.

Boy, am I glad I did.

Spinning the Carousel

The set-up of the book is spooky and enchanting: a few days before Halloween, childhood best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade encounter a lightning-rod salesman who warns them that a big storm is coming and that they should get prepared. Soon, they see a flyer for “Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show,” a mysterious carnival on a train that chugs its way to the outskirts of town at 3 a.m., the “witching hour.” It becomes clear that this carnival has a sinister and perhaps even demonic pull on the hearts of some of the residents of Green Town, Illinois, and soon Jim and Will start to see and feel the effects of the carnival themselves.

One of the biggest dangers of Cooger and Dark’s carnival are the rides and attractions that seem to grip people’s hearts and souls: the carousel that can make people older or younger, depending on which direction it spins; the hall of mirrors that can magnify the pain and isolation one feels; the Dust Witch who sees the future and reads the mind; the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, encased in a tomb of ice. These sideshow attractions take on a shadow of foreboding as they seem to embody the things that tempt the main characters the most (recalling to mind an idea that Stephen King would later take up in Needful Things, though I’m not sure that the one directly influenced the other). Bradbury explores the nature of temptation, the hunger of discontentment, and the danger of giving up almost anything to satisfy your deepest desires.

Without giving too much away, the plot of the story involves Will and Jim recognizing that something’s unsettling and wrong about the carnival and its inhabitants, trying to stop their plans themselves, and, when that becomes impossible, eventually enlisting the help of Will’s father, Charles Halloway. Halloway is described as a prematurely “old man” of 54 (!) who works as a janitor at the library, is a lover and reader of books, and becomes the only hope the boys have to stand up against the forces of Mr. Dark (the “Illustrated Man”) and his carnival troupe.

The book is a showcase of fantasy-horror, with lyrical prose that evokes startling and beautiful imagery. Bradbury is sometimes pigeon-holed as just being a “sci-fi guy” or a “dystopian writer.” His ability to paint a picture of sublime small-town Americana that suddenly veers into gothic horror is breath-taking.

Staring Into the Mirrors

Over the last few years, I’ve revisited works of art and media that I remembered loving in my youth and young adulthood. As I’ve done so, I’ve noticed how certain ideas or characters hit me in an entirely different way as a middle-aged, married man than they did two decades prior. This book was another one of those instances.

For one thing, there were subtle suggestions or references to sexuality in a few chapters that totally sailed over my head as a young and blessedly naive teenager. This is not at all to say that the book is crass or crude; Bradbury is able to trace the faintest outline of an idea so that the reader understands his implication, without needing to be explicit or base. As a sheltered teenaged boy eager to move along the creepy plot, I flew right past certain dialogue exchanges and paragraphs without realizing what was really being talked about or its implications (for example, Jim peeping through a window and seeing something he shouldn’t have, planting seeds of lust in his heart). While one could suggest that such references are unnecessary (and I don’t disagree totally), it could also be argued that those moments show us another picture of the enticement of sin, without debasing the reader with lurid description. At any rate, I was a bit shocked, reading these scenes with adult eyes.

However, the big shift in my reading experience was being able to understand Charles Halloway so much better. In my youthful mind, he was simply a wise mentor character, a heroic father, but little more; I was too busy putting myself in the shoes of young Will, scared by a wilder and weirder world than he was ready for. Now, I noticed different things about Charles. I related to his frustration with the passage of time, as his mind and body disagreed on how old he really was. I recognized with bitter familiarity the fleeting temptation of the carnival’s flyer advertising “the most beautiful woman in the world” and that split-second of hesitation, of imagining, before Charles dismissed the images and thoughts it conjured in his mind. I heard my own voice in his discussion with his wife about how he wishes he were a younger father, instead of there being a 40 year difference between himself and Will (a feeling that especially hit home as we’ve recently welcomed our third daughter, halfway-through my 40th year). I felt empathy as Charles seemed to wonder who he really was, what his life was good for, as he considered his work and his place in the world.

These are all questions and thoughts and emotions that may be most clearly felt and understood and written by a middle-aged man (Bradbury was 42 when the book was published). As such, it seems that it’s only now, in this second reading, that I have truly begun to understand this book.

“It is my own smile.”

In the end, love wins the day. Not in a cliched or bumper-sticker-style way. Love wins, because joy wins. Acceptance and contentment and gratitude wins. Sometimes, the best thing a middle-aged father can do to fight off the dark fog that creeps around his life is to smile, to laugh loudly, to embrace his wife and children, and to be grateful for what he’s been given.

And for the thirteen-year-old boy, looking out with trepidation at the big, bad world, perhaps his superpower, his totem against the darkness, is realizing that he would be blessed to become that kind of “old man” one day.

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If you’ve never read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, I would highly encourage it. It’s a creepy and beautifully-written “genre” novel that touches on deep ideas and themes about the human experience. It’s easy to miss because it’s one of Bradbury’s lesser-known works, but it surely deserves a place of honor alongside his more popular novels.

And if you *have* read it before, and it’s been a little while, maybe give it another shot and see what new things pop out. You never know what you might discover!

This experience has inspired me to go back and revisit other books I read years ago to see if my perspective has changed. I don’t know how often I’ll get to do so, but whenever I do, I’ll come back here to tell you all about it, deal?

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Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

My January 2021 Reading List!

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Hey y’all! Just a quick post to fill you in on the books that have been on my nightstand (and in my Kindle app) this past month!

I was able to finish 3 books during the month of January (though I actually started one of them several months ago):

  • The Words Between Us, by Erin Bartels – This is a novel about a woman who is fighting to keep her small bookstore afloat when her hidden and troubling past starts to catch up to her. I really enjoyed both the way Bartels weaves in an intriguing light mystery sub-plot along with her main story about the secrets we keep and the lies we tell to keep them, as well as how shared stories and poems can bind us together in unexpected ways. This is a fun, quick read that you should check out.
  • The Practice, by Seth Godin – It’s probably clear from my past posts that I dig Seth Godin’s work, even if he’s become the cliched “business/marketing guru.” I’ll admit, his writing can be a bit formulaic (each book chapter is like a series of his blog posts–a series of productivity or marketing koans about Doing The Work or Shipping The Work or something else with Important Capitalization), but it’s a formula that works. Godin has a way of provoking that creative itch that I tend to suppress with busyness and grown-up responsibilities, so that I start to wonder if maybe I could get back to that novel I half-started writing. If you’re interested in some light reading about the mindset of people who create and produce meaningful work, this may be right up your alley.
  • Conscience, by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley – Our elder team has been reading through this one slowly this year (ironically enough, chosen before C19 and the endless mask debate), but it has been helpful in informing some of our thinking about how to navigate divergences in conviction and conscience within our church body. While I would disagree with the authors’ approach in some places, on the whole, I found it to be a helpful supplement to thinking throuh how to navigate church member disagreements, lead with wisdom, and rightly assess some of the debatable issues that have come up this year.

In addition to these, there were a few more books that I started reading but didn’t finish, due to time restraints and/or loss of interest:

  • The Birds, by Daphne Du Maurier – I started reading a collection of short pieces by Du Maurier but only got through the titular piece. I really enjoyed her writing style and want to get back to the collection sometime this year. And if you haven’t read her story “The Birds,” you should. It’s creepy and somehow even more bleak than Hitchcock’s film adaptation.
  • The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, by Tim Madigan – I’m definitely coming back to this one before the centennial anniversary on June 1st. This terrible event in 20th-century American history deserves to be more well-known and studied, because the details are just awful. If you aren’t familiar with the Tulsa Race “Riot” (Madigan’s word “massacre” is a better descriptor) and the burning of “Black Wall Street,” you should do some research on it. Just horrific.
  • Ready Player Two, by Ernest Cline – I enjoyed Cline’s earlier novel Ready Player One (80’s/90’s nostalgia, plus video games? C’mon!) as well as his other book Armada, but as I started reading this one, I just lost interest immediately. I don’t know if I just didn’t give it enough time or wasn’t in the right headspace, but I found the lead character to be much more unlikeable this go-round. Ultimately, I just didn’t care enough to keep going, and I don’t want to read a novel if it feels like work, so I dropped this one after a few chapters. I don’t expect I’ll come back to it. (If you think I should, make your case in the comments!)

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There’s my January reading list–what’s yours? Comment below with what you’ve been reading lately!

And here’s a video by some friends of mine. Check it out, and if you like it, make sure to like, subscribe, comment, and tell ’em The4thDave sent ya by. Thanks!

2020 Reading List

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Happy “New Year’s Adam” (a.k.a NYE-eve), readers!

Sorry for the unexpected radio silence. December has included a few curveballs, but I definitely wanted to get in here before the end of the year and log my annual reading list!

It’s curious to me that in a year where I had more free time due to a change in work habits and less time in transit, I didn’t seem to read as much. Honestly, I really struggled to read much at all during the middle part of the year. It just seemed easier to vege out and watch movies or TV (or my recent addiction: video game playthroughs on Youtube… don’t judge me).

Nevertheless, I was able to complete 26 books this year (thanks in part to a prolific and comics-filled December!), and most of them were pretty short reads (fewer than 300 pages). If you’re looking for something quick to burn through, you might like some of these:

  • The Whole Christ – Sinclair Ferguson
  • A Great and Glorious Game – A. Bartlett Giamatti
  • The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
  • The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down – Al Mohler
  • Budgeting for a Healthy Church – Jamie Dunlop
  • State of the Union – Nick Hornby (novella)
  • Susie – Ray Rhodes, Jr.
  • The Final Days of Jesus  – Andreas Kostenberger
  • Reset – David Murray
  • re:raptured – Bartels/Kluck
  • 5 Minutes in Church History – Steve Nichols
  • re:raptured again – Kluck/Bartels
  • Church Elders – Jeramie Rinne
  • The ONE Thing – Gary Keller
  • We Cannot Be Silent – Al Mohler
  • A Way With Words – Dan Darling
  • Leadership Strategies and Tactics – Jocko Willink
  • Superman Smashes the Klan – Gene Luen Yang / Gurihiru
  • American Carnage – Tim Alberta
  • The End of October – Lawrence Wright
  • Daredevil: The Man without Fear – Frank Miller / John Romita Jr.
  • Batman: White Knight – Sean Gordon Murphy
  • Live Not By Lies – Rod Dreher
  • Superman: The Man of Steel (vol. 1) – John Byrne / Marv Wolfman / Jerry Oroway / Dick Giordano
  • Daredevil: Yellow – Jeph Loeb / Tim Sale
  • Daredevil: Born Again – Frank Miller / David Mazzucchelli

It’s been a weird year, and my reading has been a bit less rigorous as a result (for example, 7 of my last 10 titles are graphic novels and/or trade paperbacks of comic-book runs). But here are 4 books that I thought were excellent and certainly worth your time:

The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson — As I mentioned during #Booktober, Ferguson’s study of the Marrow Controversy was both theologically challenging and soul-stirring. The volume will be referenced fondly by theologians for decades to come. A perfect blend of pastoral and theological prose.

American Carnage, by Tim Alberta — Tim Alberta’s meticulously researched analysis of the Republican Party in the decade leading up to the Trump presidency was both insightful and frustrating. It’s hard to argue that many of the trends he described and warnings he gave have played out in the last few months. While it seems clear Alberta is pretty critical of the GOP in general, his analysis is spot-on and shouldn’t be discounted.

Susie, by Ray Rhodes, Jr. — I adored this biographical look at Susannah Spurgeon, the perservering and long-suffering helpmeet of the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon. Rhodes does a masterful job balancing the focus between Susie’s life as the wife of the era’s most important theologian and as a woman with a long-lasting and meaningful ministry of her own. Rhodes has a follow-up coming out in February, and I’m eagerly looking forward to more like this.

Live Not By Lies, by Rod Dreher — I noted on Twitter a week or so ago that the ideas and themes of this book “rang in my head and my heart like a struck bell.” Dreher sounds the call for Christians to stand against a culture that believes and perpetuates lies, and he gives several examples from Christian dissidents under Soviet rule to describe how we can resist “soft totalitarianism” by choosing to reject lies and live in truth. This book is a must-read, and I look forward to working through it again sometime in the coming year. There was a lot to glean from these pages.

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There’s my list. What’s yours? Did you have a favorite read from 2020? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below!

Booktober 31st: “Why We’re Protestant” by Nate Pickowicz

[This is the final day of #Booktober 2020! Thanks for being part of the fun!]

What It Is: An introduction to the big ideas of the Protestant Reformation through an examination of the concepts called the “Five Sola’s”: sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, sola scriptura, and soli Deo gloria–faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

Why You Should Read It: Because October 31st is Reformation Day, the anniversary of that meddlesome monk Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door! There is no doubt that the world was rocked by the slams of Luther’s mallet, and for the last 500 years, the Protestant Church has sought (with mixed success, admittedly) to call people back to these core principles. If you’re not a Christian, or if you’re not Protestant, you may wonder why this is such a big deal. Pastor Nate’s book is a ground-level entrypoint into that discussion. It’s written in a way that’s accessible to the lay person as well as the pastor or theology student, and is worth your time and attention.

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That’s it! 31 days of #Booktober. I hope you found some new things to add to your reading list. If you did, I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to comment below and let me know which of these books you may be checking out in the future.

So what’s next for the 4DB? I’ll be posting selections from some of my recent sermons, as well as another Twilight Zone 2019 episode review and a review of a new book about how we communicate online. I’ve also got an idea for a series of posts about one of my favorite classic films that I’m hoping to roll out around Thanksgiving, so I’ll be working on that over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, look for some odds and ends on the blog. I won’t be posting every day, but I’m going to shoot for Tuesdays and Thursdays (with the occasional Sunday sermon post). The best way to keep up with my new content? Subscribe/follow using the button and form on the sidebar.

Have a great Halloween / Reformation Day! Stay safe, enjoy your sweets, and we’ll see you in November!

Booktober 30th: “Side By Side” by Ed Welch

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love: Welch, Edward T.:  0884618492309: Amazon.com: Books

[This is Day 30 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for one more recommendation!]

What It Is: A short and very practical book about “one another” ministry within the Church.

Why You Should Read It: While God does give some as pastors and teachers to help build up the body of believers, the nuts-and-bolts day-to-day ministry of the church isn’t done by paid professionals, but by the everyday believer in the pews. Welch lays out practical encouragements to teach believers how to “build up one another in love” and minister to each other’s spiritual and emotional needs. If you want to know how to create a culture of love and service and discipleship in your church, whether you’re in a particular church office/role or just a healthy and active member of the body, get this book and put it into practice.

Booktober 29th: “The Keto Reset Diet” by Mark Sisson

The Keto Reset Diet Named a New York Times Bestseller | Primal Kitchen®

[This is Day 29 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A basic introduction to primal/keto eating from one of the most respected names in this particular area of nutrition coaching.

Why You Should Read It: If you’re a sugar addict like I am, and you’ve struggled with weight like I do, the ketogenic diet may be a good fit for you. But it can be done really badly, even dangerously (like any strict eating plan), so having a sensible on-ramp is the best way to approach it. Mark Sisson gives you that on-ramp by laying out the basic ideas and science behind a ketogenic approach to eating, and then he walks the reader through a 3-week process of dialing back carb intake, fine-tuning some non-food lifestyle factors that may affect your ability to restrict carb intake, and then tweaking the dials a bit in the last week to get you ready for full-blown keto eating. I’ll admit, I read this book, tried to apply it, and then fell off the wagon after a few months of “going keto.” Not an uncommon thing–but the fact of it is, when I’m “on-plan,” I feel better and I lose weight. Kicking the sugar addiction is hard. But if you’re ready to commit to something serious in order to curb the habit, Mark Sisson may have your answer.

Booktober 28th: “Running For Mortals” by John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield

Running for Mortals: A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life With Running:  Bingham, John, Hadfield, Jenny: 9781594863257: Amazon.com: Books

[This is Day 28 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A book about the hobby/sport of distance running that is written for the couch-to-5K’er instead of the elite athlete.

Why You Should Read It: John “The Penguin” Bingham and Jenny Hadfield wrote for Runner’s World magazine for years. Bingham in particular became a champion for the plodders, walkers, and waddlers (like me), and through his words he helped to make the running community open and accessible to the less-than-fit who were interested in discovering a new hobby on the open road. This book is the perfect entry-point for people who have never really done any distance running (or run/walking, or just plain walking) and perhaps feel intrigued yet intimidated by the idea. They talk about how to get started, what a training program might look like depending on your physical level, how to eat, how to rest, and what gear you might need. It would be easy to get overwhelmed by the flood of information on the internet. Books like this take the reader by the hand and say, “Let’s just take a walk and get started!” Like the running community itself, Bingham and Hadfield welcome readers from all backgrounds to join the fun and discover something new about themselves in the process.

Booktober 27th: “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman

[This is Day 27 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A cultural jeremiad written 35 years ago about the power and allure of news-as-entertainment that is still surprisingly applicable to our image-driven culture.

Why You Should Read It: While Postman didn’t anticipate the Internet age, his critiques and warnings have proven all the more applicable. Postman takes the idea of “the medium is the message” and argues that at some point, the medium starts to undercut or subvert the message, which has a devastating effect on public discourse. His warnings about television seem almost quaint now, but you can extrapolate the trajectory out and see that he was certainly on the right track. I still think about some of his arguments about the mental and emotional weight of daily news updates that don’t actually give you actionable information. While a bit outdated now, there’s still a lot of core ideas here worth exploring. You can see the foundations of the work of current cultural observers like Cal Newport and Tony Reinke.

Booktober 26th: “The Pastor’s Justification” by Jared C. Wilson

The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and  Ministry: Wilson, Jared C., Ayers, Mike: 9781433536649: Amazon.com: Books

[This is Day 26 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: An encouraging reminder to pastors and those in full-time ministry that they are first and foremost disciples and sheep themselves, and that their true hope of peace, security, and fulfillment is found in Jesus’ completed work, not their many efforts and accomplishments in ministry.

Why You Should Read It (And/Or Give it Away): This book is a balm to the wounds and a cup of cool water to the dry throat of pastors and elders who are laboring in ministry and growing weary and burnt out. Wilson writes with such compassion toward that group because he was there himself–exhausted and heartsick from years of doing, doing, doing. When he finally stopped and threw himself desparately into the arms of grace, he was reminded that his security and hope is found in what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf, not on his performance or perfection. Even if we pastors know this to be true mentally or abstractly, it’s a different thing for us to believe it from the heart. Wilson reminds us that we serve best when we serve from a place of full reliance on God’s grace. If you’re a pastor, read this book. If you know a pastor, get them this book. There are still a few more days in “Pastor Appreciation Month.” Grab a copy or two for the shepherds who serve and love you and your family.

Booktober 25th: “Confessing the Faith” by Chad Van Dixhoorn

Confessing the Faith: A reader's guide to the Westminster Confession of  Faith by Chad B. Van Dixhoorn

[This is Day 25 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A lay-friendly exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, with commentary on how each article is grounded in Scriptural truth and has application to the Christian life.

Why You Should Read It: I’m not quite halfway through this one, but I can easily recommend it. Upon the recommendation of a dear friend who gave it to me as a gift, I’m reading it slowly, section by section, giving myself time to meditate on the insights provided. Dr. Van Dixhoorn walks the reader through each point of each article of the confession, providing the Scriptural basis for each statement and describing the logical progression and thought processes of the Westminster Divines’ argumentation. Each section begins with the original text of the article sub-section, next to a modernized version of the verbiage, followed by Dr. Van Dixhoorn’s analysis and application. Rather than being a dry and dusty academic tome, this one has warmed my heart and encouraged me in my devotion to the Lord. Strong recommendation here.

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Hey y’all, just a quick non-Booktober-related note:

This is my 500th post on this blog. I’m…stunned. Stunned and very pleased. I’ve been blogging in various places for the last…golly, has it really been 17 years?!? But I started this particular blog about 7 years ago, and only in the last couple of years has it really taken off in terms of views and readers. It’s been pretty exciting seeing the engagement–knowing that people actually read and care about what I write is thrilling in a way I never expected.

THANK YOU SO MUCH to the readers and commenters who keep coming back, and by doing so keep *me* coming back. I hope this blog and my words are a blessing and an encouragment to you. Feel free to drop me a hello in the comments, especially if you’ve never done so before. I’d love to thank you by name, if I can.

Here’s to another 500 posts!

–d.