"He knew what the wind was doing to them, where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life."
Ray Bradbury - Something Wicked This Way Comes
Do you remember how they made you read stuff back in school, and then, as an added cruelty, they may have asked you to point out a key moment of the story they forced you to read. God, I hated that. I could never come up with an intelligent answer to this task*, my mind just doesn't work that way.
Now let us take a moments side trip, I’ll come to the point after that, I promise:
Remember how I started out the annual SF&F writers appreciation day with Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001?
Elsewhere on the net, and I would link you to it if could remember where it was, I explained my love for reading old, dated SF stories. It’s partly because I tend to ignore what they got wrong and rather focus on what they got right, or almost right. The other part is that these stories give us a look in two directions at once, we see the future as imagined by people back then, while actually living that future, and so gain a better understanding of our own perceptions of the future, an idea of how much we will have gotten wrong and how some things will turn out to have been pretty close…
I’ve promised to come to the point, so here is it:
See that quote on top? It’s taken from Something wicked, and it is the pivotal point in the story. This is where everything comes together. Here Bradbury casts a longing look back at childhood, expresses the yearning to go back to being part of a world full of magic.
And while as young readers we run with the boys out of the Library, run with the wind to visit all those secret places with them, as older readers we have to hesitate at the door because we can’t but think of all those secrets that already got lost to us, and finally I guess in our old age all we will have left is a faint memory of a world once filled with secrets patiently waiting to be uncovered by us.
There’s a lovely quote by Cornelia Funke, that explains how I feel about Something wicked this way comes, more eloquent than I ever could:
"Isn't it odd how much fatter a book gets when you've read it several times?- Cornelia Funke (Inkspell)
As if something were left between the pages every time you read it.
Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells...and then, when you look at the book again
many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self,
slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed
flower...both strange and familiar."
I’m aware that I’m closer to that sad old man, that sees no magic left to him in the world, but I know always where I can turn to, to find at least a fleeting image of the boy I once was and that world this boy used to live in…
* Side-Track: Our teacher made us read Andorra, a play by Max Frisch.
Never really got what he, Frisch, meant to say with that, besides the obvious, that racism is a pointless but most common trait in humans. However, all I remembered after reading the play was that the female protagonist in it, I forgot her name, goes insane. Here Frisch was following a stage drama tradition in my opinion; In Hamlet Ophelia goes insane and drowns herself¹, and in Goethe’s Faust Gretchen is so shaken by the title giving character’s heresy it drives her close to madness, I still think one had to see a pattern there … my teacher however told me that this was not what stands at the core of Andorra, which, I take it, was the friendliest way he could muster up to say: Failed!
¹ Actually, most of Shakespeares female characters face this fate one way or other.