"James Nightshade … William Halloway"
The two boys at the center of the story, both nearly 14 years old, are evocatively named. Nightshade in itself suggests darkness and shadow (“night shade”), but “deadly nightshade” was a common name for a poisonous plant called belladonna (Atropa belladonna
), found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia, which contains toxins that – if ingested – can cause delirium, hallucinations, and death. Jim Nightshade has a dark side that is especially attracted to the carnival, and it senses that in him.
“Halloway” perhaps more subtly hints at the comparative purity of Will, who favors the “hallow” (that is to say, the holy) way. All through the book, the contrast between the more adventurous, risk-taking, and mischievous redhead (Jim) and the more cautious, thoughtful, and ethical blonde (Will) is stressed.