" as if it were a once friendly fort that might now be manned by Arabs. "
Probably a reference to a popular boys’ fantasy of serving in the French Foreign Legion. Established in 1831, the Légion étrangère was a special unit in the French army for foreign nationals who wished to serve, but always under French officers. Algeria was its base for the next 130 years, so although members of the Legion served across the globe, most popular depictions of its actions (from P.C. Wren’s 1924 novel Beau Geste
, subsequently made into several movies, to the 1998 film Legionnaire
starring Jean-Claude Van Damme) show its soldiers fighting Algerian Berbers, which resemble Arabs.
" long-after-midnight train "
The phrase “long after midnight” is a key one in Bradbury’s work. Many of his stories (or at least key events in them) take place “long after midnight.”
In 1950 Bradbury used the phrase as the working title for a 140-page manuscript that was the predecessor of Fahrenheit 451, a 1984-like nightmare in which Montag was "caught and reported by a young boy for reading books," according to Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction by Jonathan R. Eller and William F. Touponce.
The title passed on to other tales, including a short story written shortly after Something Wicked, though it was not published in book form until 1976 (as the title story of the collection).
Here, of course, it refers directly to the time when the carnival train arrived in town several nights before, but also note Mr. Halloway’s long paragraph of thoughts in chapter 14 concerning that “special hour” of 3 a.m.
" Beware the autumn people "
Mr. Halloway recalls “an old religious tract” by Pastor Newgate Phillips in which he warns the listener against “the autumn people,” who “sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners.” I have not been able to find any record of Pastor Phillips or the pamphlet, and have concluded that Bradbury made it up. The Autumn People
became the title for a collection of EC comic book adaptations of eight Bradbury short stories, illustrated by Alfred Feldstein and published in 1965.
Also, compare Mr. Halloway’s speech with the introduction to The October Country, in which Bradbury quotes his grandfather about “the October people,” who are conceived in the autumn of one year and born in the autumn of the next”; when “it’s always a dark season” and they “smell of burnt leaves.”
" Sweet Water "
Said to be the birthplace of Charles Halloway. Since his capsule biography says he lived in Chicago -- presumably next -- this probably refers to Sweet Water, Illinois, a tiny town between Springfield and Peoria. Other Sweetwaters (one word) in the U.S. are in Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
" death-watch beetles "
Death-watch beetle - Credit: Sarefo
The death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum
) is a wood-boring beetle that attracts mates by making a tapping or clicking sound that can be heard in old wooden buildings on summer evenings. Thus, it has been associated with sleepless nights and vigils for the dead, and has been taken as an omen of oncoming death. When Mr. Halloway says the carnival people “set their clocks” by death-watch beetles, he ties together the ticking sound with the death omen.
" White Horses of the Plague "
Four Riders of the Apocalypse
This reference is not clear. It seems to refer to the Plagues that “coursed Europe” during the Middle Ages, though the plagues are not normally associated with horses. It may conflate the plagues of the past with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the forces of destruction described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation; but there, only one horse is white, the others are black, red, and pale green. The woodcut at right is by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).
Though the other three clearly are destructive (usually taken to represent famine, war, and death), there has been considerable disagreement as to whether the white horse represents evil or righteousness. Whatever the case, they are intended to be evil in Bradbury's story.
" They whispered to Caesar that he was mortal "
It was apparently a Roman tradition that during the “triumph” (the parade through Rome when a general returned from foreign victories) a slave stood in the chariot behind the victorious general and while holding a garland of laurel over his head, would whisper in his ear that he was only mortal, and glory is fleeting. Although repeated in George C. Scott’s final monologue in the 1970 movie “Patton,” some historians have argued this story may have been a Renaissance invention.
Mr. Halloway goes on to say the carnival’s early incarnations “sold daggers at half-price in the grand March sale.” This is a sly reference to Julius Caesar’s assassination during the ides of March (March 15).
" Mephistopheles "
Mephistopheles over Wittenberg
A devil that first turned up in the 16th century Faust stories. (See bookmark for page 196, “Dr. Faustus.”) The name appears to have been invented as a pseudo-Greek or pseudo-Hebrew reference. One theory is that the name is made from the Greek me
("lover") -- that is, "not a lover of light," which would be a play on Lucifer
("light bearer") -- and that the switch from mephoto
suggests the Latin mephitis
("a noxious gas from the ground, a malaria"). An alternative might be the Hebrew mephiz
("liar") and tophel
This particular representation of Mephistopheles is by Eugène Delacroix for an 1839 edition of Goethe's Faust. Wittenberg is a German town closely associated with Martin Luther and the birth of the Protestant Reformation (Luther taught at the University of Wittenberg and nailed his 95 theses to a church door in the town), which made it an appropriate setting for a free-thinking scientist like Dr. Faustus to summon a devil. Coincidentally, it is also where Hamlet has been attending school, according to his uncle, King Claudius (Act I, scene ii, lines 112-113).
" Scratch "
American folk name for the devil, more often given as “Old Scratch.” May have derived from Schratz
, a demon of Scandinavian mythology. Turns up most famously as the devil’s name in “The Devil and Tom Walker,” an 1824 story by Washington Irving, and then “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” a 1937 story by Stephen Vincent Benet -- both of which have been made into movies. The plot is very similar to that of Faust
" Beautiful Ohio "
Simple song about two people falling in love in a canoe on the Ohio river. The lyrics were written by Ballard MacDonald, and Mary Earl (real name Robert A. “Bobo” King) set it to music. Ohio adopted it as its state song in 1969.
The song also has a personal significance to Bradbury. On the rainy night after his lengthy visit with the real Mr. Electrico, he stood next to a turning carousel that was playing "Beautiful Ohio" and wept. "I knew something important had happened that day, I just wasn't sure what it was," he recalled later.
See also the Bookmark notes on "Mr. Electrico" in chapter 7 (page 34 in this edition); and "Just tell me I'll live forever," in chapter 28 (page 144 of this edition).
" Merry Widow "
Waltz from a light opera by the same name that premiered in Vienna in 1905, with music by Franz Lehár, book and lyrics by Victor Léon and Leo Stein. The opera has remained a popular staple of the repertory and is often revived. Several film versions of the story have also been made.
" time's out of joint "
Hamlet and his father's ghost
Reference to a famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I, scene v, lines 188-189. At the conclusion of the scene with the ghost of his father, Hamlet says to his friends, “The time is out of joint -- O cursèd spite / That ever I was born to set it right!” Hamlet is referring to time as if it were a patient with a broken limb, and he the physician that must treat it by setting it in a cast.
This picture, which shows Hamlet's friends restraining him as he talks with the ghost of his father, is another by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825).
" Methuselah "
In Genesis 5:21-27, Methuselah is mentioned in part of the genealogy that connects Adam to Noah. He is said to have lived 969 years; hence, the name has become a metaphor for any very old person.
" coke for its ovens "
Coke is the solid product from the distillation of coal in an oven which is mostly carbon and which is in turn burned as a fuel -- in the past, to drive steam trains and ships and to heat large buildings; more recently, as a fuel in metallurgy to reduce metallic oxides to metals. Mr. Halloway is probably speaking of it as a fuel for a steam engine, and metaphorically for the operation of the entire evil carnival.
" Silver bullets ... church holy water "
The boys are referring to quasi-magic tools for defeating evil creatures that they probably saw in movies. European folklore (including tales collected by the Brothers Grimm) stated that silver bullets were the only effective ammunition for firearms to kill werewolves, witches, and other monsters. Similarly, holy water was supposed to have the power to repel evil and temptation.