" Something Wicked This Way Comes "
This is a quotation from Shakespeare's Macbeth
, Act IV, scene i, line 45, as Mr. Halloway will remind us in the library in chapter 37. The Second Witch says it just before Macbeth enters in search of predictions about his future. The title is intended to evoke darkness, blood, and evil.
" October "
October is Bradbury’s favorite month; he has said as much, and it features in many of his books and stories. It is the central month of autumn, when things change most visibly: colors sweep the forests, and creatures age, alter, and die; and Halloween, with its thrills and chills, closes out the month.
One of Bradbury’s earliest story collections was titled The October Country (1955), although it included a number of stories from his very first book, Dark Carnival (1947). “The October Game” (1948) is a story about a man who hates October and plans to hurt his unloved wife during their 8-year-old daughter’s Halloween party. Another story is called “West of October.”
Halloween is Bradbury's favorite holiday, as well. His novel The Halloween Tree (1972), written out of Bradbury's disappointment that the Great Pumpkin never shows up in the 1968 animated Peanuts special, "The Great Pumpkin," has a history of the holiday and its significance related by Death himself.
So it should be no surprise that he would set a novel in the month of October, with two friends who were born a minute before and a minute after midnight on October 30-31.
" 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.
" twig whistles "
A reference to a rural childhood practice of hollowing out a stick and notching it so that it makes a whistling sound when you blow through it.
" milk thistle "
Flowering plants of the daisy family from the Mediterranean regions of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. They are called “milk” (and used to characterize Will’s blond-white hair) because their leaves have white spots and they give off a white sap.
" Scarab beetle "
Scarab of Ancient Egypt - Credit: Stavely
Loosely, any of a huge family of beetles that number roughly 30,000 species worldwide, but here, referring to the fact that ancient Egyptians revered them as sacred and often represented them in amulets and other works of art. The scarab beetle god Khepera was thought to push the setting sun along the sky in the same way that earthbound scarab beetles (also familiarly known as dung beetles) roll balls of dung along the ground and into their burrows (whereupon the females lay their eggs on the balls so that the hatched larvae can feed on them). The lightning-rod salesman’s product apparently has a representation of a sacred Egyptian scarab on it.
" Phoenician hen tracks "
Phoenician was an ancient language of the people who lived along the coast of modern-day Lebanon, Syria, and northern Israel. Its closest modern relation is Hebrew. The Phoenicians were a thriving maritime culture that dated between 1550 and 300 BC and spread as far west as what is now known as Tunisia, Malta, and Algeria. Their written language, developed in the 18th and 17th centuries BC, looks a little like “hen tracks,” though that is evidently Bradbury’s unique description of it.
" Abyssinian "
Along with the more familiar Egyptian and Arabic, the lightning-rod salesman refers to other ancient cultures who were likely closer to the elements and “magic.” Abyssinia, centered in modern day southern Egypt and Ethopia, and dating from the Kingdom of Axum or Aksum in the 400s BC, today is mostly commemorated by a breed of shorthair cat with a distinctive ticked coat.
" Choctaw "
The Choctaw were Native American peoples of the southeastern United States (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana).
" St. Elmo's fires "
A bright blue or violet glow that emanates from tall, pointed structures such as lightning rods, ships’ masts, spires and chimneys, and sometimes airplane wings, during electrical storms. Sometimes a distinct hissing or buzzing sound accompanies the event. The “fire” is actually plasma, or ionized gas, caused during thunderstorms when the ground is electrically charged and the high voltage passes from clouds to the ground. The voltage separates the air molecules and the gas begins to glow.
Sailors who saw the phenomenon aboard ships and reacted with religious awe named it after St. Erasmus of Formiae (also known as St. Elmo), the patron saint of sailors. References to St. Elmo’s fire appear everywhere from the works of Julius Caesar and Pliny the Elder to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five during the Battle of the Bulge.
" Miss Columbias "
This is probably an offhand and erroneous reference to the Miss Liberty, the goddess that adorned the dime until Franklin Roosevelt became the “heads” on the U.S. ten-cent piece in 1946. Through most of the 19th century, the figure on a dime was obviously a seated goddess, but between 1916 and 1945, the design showed a profile with a winged head, often mistaken for the Roman god Mercury and commonly known as "Mercury dimes." But the head was still Miss Liberty.
A Columbia figure once appeared on a colonial coin (“Columbia” being a poetic feminine personification of the European colonies in North America), but that was back in the 16th or 17th century.
" Indian-heads "
This refers to the U.S. one-cent piece between 1859 and 1909, when the "heads" side featured a Native American profile with feather head dress. It was also known as an "Indian Penny." In 1909 it was replaced with the familiar profile of President Abraham Lincoln with the Lincoln Memorial on the "tails" side.
The first year, the "tails" side of the Indian cent carried only "One Cent" inside an olive wreath. After that, with only minor modifications, it showed "One Cent" inside a wreath of oak and olive tied at their stems with a ribbon, and a Federal shield carrying a stars-and-stripes pattern at the top.
" books "
Chapter Two unobtrusively introduces one of the unsung heroes of this story: books: "There's nothing in the living world like books on water cures, deaths-of-a-thousand-slices, or pouring white-hot lava off castle walls on drolls and mountebanks."
They'll reappear several times; for instance, near the end of Chapter 8, when Will realizes "in the rush I got Jim's book, he's got one of mine ... But it was a pretty fine reptile."
Much later, in Chapter 38, books and newspaper clippings will help Mr. Halloway track the dark carnival through history and get a grasp of just what the boys are up against. Books of course are at the center of one of Bradbury's other famous novels, Fahrenheit 451.
" library "
Another casual introduction to a site that will grow in significance as the story progresses. The boys have two reasons to swing by the library: to check out books and to say "hi" to Will's Dad, Charles Halloway, who is 52 and a janitor at the library. (Bradbury modeled Mr. Halloway on his own father.)
The library will serve as a sort of protagonist structure against the dark carnival: it provides information on the carnival's past history, and serves as a refuge for the boys, at least temporarily, when Mr. Dark and his minions come looking for them.
As a voracious reader growing up, Bradbury had spent many hours in libraries. He composed a draft of Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library in 1950.
The Carnegie library in his home town of Waukegan (one of more than 1,600 such libraries built across the U.S. with funding from the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie -- nearly a thousand more were funded in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, and Fiji -- between 1883 and 1929) served as the model for the library in Something Wicked This Way Comes.
When it came time for Disney Touchstone to film the novel in the early 1980s, the filmmakers made sure to include touches of those original Carnegie libraries in the set for the movie version, such as the green-shaded lamps and a spiral iron staircase.
" Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever "
Ripley's cartoon of marching Chinese - Credit: Ripley Entertainment Inc.
This refers to one of the most famous items in Robert Ripley’s Believe It Or Not book and newspaper column/cartoon panel: “If all the Chinese in the world were to march four abreast past a given point they would never finish passing, though they marched forever and ever.” The idea was that the already-numerous Chinese reproduce faster than the time it would take them to march past a given point. Ripley produced a memorable drawing of an endless parade of Chinese in coolie hats, marching four abreast across the globe, for his newspaper feature as early as 1910.
Though the concept caught the public’s imagination (and served as partial inspiration for Cyril Kornbluth’s 1951 science-fiction story “The Marching Morons”), Ripley’s math was faulty, starting with the most recent census figures he used: from 1402, with an annual 19 percent population gain! More recent calculations have suggested it would take the Chinese only 23 to 42 years to march completely past a single point.
Bradbury’s reference merely illustrates one of the things you might easily find in a library.
" box-Brownie "
This was the informal name for a series of simple and inexpensive cameras called Brownies and sold by the Eastman Kodak company. The first Brownie, in 1900, was an actual cardboard box with a simple lens that sold for $1, so like the Model T, the idea was that almost anyone could own one. Millions of the Brownie 127 were purchased by Americans between 1952 and 1967.
" Peiping, Yokohama, and the Celebes "
A trio of geographical place names that might have turned up during a search of the Green Town library.
Yokohama is a famous Japanese city; at 3.6 million, it is the largest incorporated city in Japan.
The two other names are outmoded. “Peiping” is an archaic Anglicization of the capital city of China, known later as Peking and nowadays as Beijing.
Bradbury’s use of “the Celebes” is a misnomer, because it is only one of four large Indonesian islands, as well as archaic. Celebes was the name of a large island between Borneo and the Maluku Islands (in the Southeastern Pacific, north of Australia and east of Indonesia) known today as Sulawesi.
" 20,000-fathoms-deep world "
An apparent reference to Jules Verne’s popular 1870 science-fiction adventure, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea
. The unit of measurement is wrong: a fathom is two yards (or six feet), and a league is roughly three miles. Hence, Verne’s novel is about a submarine that travels 60,000 miles around the globe beneath the surface of the ocean; not straight down, as “20,000-fathoms-deep” would imply. Bradbury might have had fathoms on his mind because his famous short story, “The Foghorn,” provided the inspiration for a Hollywood movie called “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” in 1953, but that would have been after this novel seems to take place.
" Alighieri "
Surname of an Italian poet of the Middle Ages, Durante degli Alighieri (1265-1321), better known as Dante (as Charles Holloway says, a moment later). Jim mishears it as “allegory” -- a nice pun, for the name of a poet.
" Pictures by Mr. Doré "
Paul Gustave Doré (1832-1883), usually referred to as Gustave Doré (“Door-AY”), was a French artist and sculptor who mostly worked in wood engraving and steel engraving. Perhaps his most famous illustrations were for book editions of Dante’s The Divine Comedy
(the Inferno section of which is probably what Mr. Halloway is showing the boys at this point) and Don Quixote
" Middle name's Moriarty "
Charles Halloway lists an array of fictional and historical characters one might encounter at the library to characterize Jim Nightshade (or at least the kind of books and characters that would appeal to him the most).
First is Dr. James Moriarty, the criminal mastermind and nemesis of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved private consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. This illustration of Moriarty is by Sidney Paget, which he did for the Strand magazine in 1893 to accompany the story entitled "The Final Problem," in which Holmes (supposedly) died at Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland at the hands of Moriarty.
" Fu Manchu "
Dr. Fu Manchu was another evil criminal genius, who originated in the novels of English author Sax Rohmer between 1913 and 1959, went on to a rich life in movies, TV, and comics, and gave his name to a distinctive style of mustache.
" medium-size dark fedora ... extra large black Stetson "
Although Mr. Halloway speaks of black hats and white hats to contrast Jim and Will, respectively, the only specific hat styles he cites are both for Jim. A fedora is a felt that is creased lengthwise along the top and pinched in the front on both sides -- the classic gangster’s hat. Stetson is a particular brand started by the John B. Stetson Company of St. Joseph, Missouri in 1865, which made (and still makes) a variety of hat styles but is probably best known for cowboy hats. A black Stetson suggests a lawbreaking gunslinger.
" Machiavelli "
On the other hand, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a real person, an Italian philosopher and writer best known for The Prince
, in which he advises rulers how to govern with ruthless practicality. The portrait of Machiavelli here is a detail from a painting by Santi di Tito.
" Dr. Faustus "
Dr. Faustus is a fictional character -- brainy, ambitious and overly scientific and rational -- who makes a bargain with the devil for power and knowledge … to his ultimate sorrow, of course.
The legend appears to have begun in Germany in the late 16th century, was popularized in England in Chrisopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” (first published in 1604; the woodcut here depicting Faustus conjuring the devil up through the floor is from a 1620 printing of the play). The story was subsequently reworked by such writers as Goethe, Thomas Mann, Mikhail Bulgakov, and many composers as well.
" Gandhi "
Mr. Halloway now turns to a corresponding list of white-hatted good guys to characterize his son Will. The first, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), also known as Mahatma Gandhi, was the father of modern India and a pioneer of nonviolent resistance and vegetarianism. Besides being a politician, charismatic leader, and religious figure, Gandhi could turn a sly phrase. Someone once asked him what he thought of Western civilization and he replied, "I think it would be a good idea."
" St. Thomas "
St. Thomas Aquinas or Thomas of Aquin or Aquino (ca. 1225-1274) was a Dominican priest in medieval Italy and France, and a hugely influential theorist in Western ethics, natural law, and political science. At right is a painting of St. Thomas by the Italian Renaissance painter Fra Bartolommeo, also known as Baccio della Porta (1472-1517).
" Buddha "
Bronze statue of the Grand Buddha Daibatsu, in Kamakura, Japan - Credit: Dirk Beyer
Siddhārtha Gautama, better known as Buddha, lived and traveled in India and Nepal in the sixth and fifth century BC, and is the founder of Buddhism.
" The Mysterious Island ... Jules Verne "
Engraving by Jules Férat for The Mysterious Island
The last two items are Will’s choice for reading material: Jules Verne’s 1874 adventure novel is about five Union Army prisoners of war who escape the Confederacy (and the Civil War) and crash-land on a tiny, unknown island in the Pacific. It is sort of a sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
and In Search of the Castaways
, because the island turns out to be the hideout of Captain Nemo and home harbor of his submarine the Nautilus
, though it is a very different book from the other two.
" grasshopper fiddlings "
A reference to one of the title characters of the fable by Aesop (620-560 BC), “The Grasshopper and the Ants.” Aesop depicted the grasshopper thoughtlessly singing the summer months away while the ants toiled to save up food for the winter. Starving by then, the grasshopper is rebuked and turned away by the ants for his idleness.
There have been many subsequent retellings of the tale, but it may have been a 1934 Disney cartoon that specifically put a fiddle in the grasshopper’s forelegs (as well as joined other adaptations in having the ants save the grasshopper from certain death in the dead of winter).
" Caesar's lean and hungry friends "
A reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
, Act I, scene ii, in which Caesar spies Cassius (the primary instigator of his future assassination) talking with Brutus and says “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,/He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.” Caesar contrasts Cassius with fat, contented men, with whom he would prefer to surround himself (and wisely, too). The historic Cassius was known as Gaius Cassius Longinus (c. 85 BCE – 42 BCE), a Roman senator, practitioner of Epicurean philosophy, and for two years the governor of the province of Syria.
" They eat the dark, who only stand and breathe "
This sounds like a reworking of the familiar final line from John Milton’s sonnet, “On His Blindness,” in which the poet wonders what use he might be to God without his sight: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Bradbury, or rather Charles Halloway, turns the line from Milton on its head in thinking about idle people who may become more evil, or capable of it, while waiting for something to happen.
" Elixir-Vitae "
Generally, an elixir is a chemical mixture used for medicinal purposes. Elixirs were a favorite creation of alchemists, however; elixir vitae (vitae
being Latin for “of life) was supposed to be a chemical that would prolong life. It was closely related to the fabled philosopher’s stone.
" wooden Cherokee "
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, tobacconists often advertised their business with a full-size wooden statue of an Indian outside the front door. Visual aides of this sort were useful at a time when a good percentage of one’s clientele might be illiterate. Cigars and pipes and accessories were associated with Indians because Native Americans had introduced Europeans to tobacco.
" barber pole whirl its red serpentine "
Just as a wooden Indian signaled the entrance to a cigar store, a traditional feature of a barber shop facade was the barber pole: a glass cylinder that contained a revolving white cylinder with a red stripe and a blue stripe painted in a spiral around it, so that, as it revolved, the red, white, and blue “ribbons” appeared to be steadily moving.
Barber poles are said to have originated from the medieval medical practice of bloodletting. Barbers performed surgery and tooth extractions in those times, as well. The pole had a brass basin at the top (which represented the container for blood-letting leeches) and another at the bottom for receiving the blood. The pole represented the staff a patient grasped to hasten the blood flow.
The stripes grew out of the bandages used in France during medical procedures. Hung outside the theater of operations to dry, bandages would blow in the wind and wrap themselves around the pole in a spiral pattern. A painted wooden pole of red and white stripes replaced this as an emblem of the barber/surgeon’s profession, then the mesmerizing mobile ones: “On countless noons Will had stood here trying to unravel that ribbon, watch it come, go, end without ending.”