A Book a Bit Backwards
By Zenon Holowaty
All authors strive to add a certain sense of realism to their writing that will enthrall the reader. It’s popular to write violent finales that raise the stakes because you’re never sure if the characters are going to make it to the next page. Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling have established what a good, modern fantasy has to be: a group of kids trapped in a violent world they’re merely trying to survive. Half a century ago, Ray Bradbury established his own fantasy. Bradbury merely introduced strange events into the average lives of two kids, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway.
Will and Jim live in a picturesque town based on Ray Bradbury’s hometown, Waukegan. They spend their days firmly in the joys of childhood, but time runs differently for everyone in town. Jim is described as being aware and mature in his observations to the point that he has truly lived more than people his age. In contrast, Will is childishly self-involved. Every adult mourns a loss of youth. Suddenly though, bizarre things begin to intrude, especially with the arrival of a circus train.
Bradbury has written every aspect into the theme of a fear of aging, and this theme perfectly ties everything, fantastic and realistic, together. The character motives connect as bits of their life are shown in this context; a scene of Holloway up at three am, or other characters pondering their lives in the dark of the night. The strongest aspect is the language, though. This book reads poetically and vividly: “There was a thing in Dad’s voice, up, down, easy as a hand winging soft in the air like a white bird describing flight patterns, made the ear want to follow and the mind’s eye to see.” This book remains one of the most quotable things I’ve ever read because of how succinctly Bradbury captures everyday life as if he were writing a Rockwell painting. The conflict addresses whether a way to relive those years existed and what could happen if it got into the wrong hands.
The book flips between cynical adult life with Will’s father, Jim’s mother, even their school teacher, all haunted by very real tragedies: alienation from a child because of aging, the deaths of her children, a fear of wasted youth. Shuffled in are the starkly contrasting adventures of kids, youngsters chosen as the subject of fantasy for their youthful, anything-can-happen nature: where the discover wonders and magic all the time. This changing focus is clever, but every audience this book has at some point will get lost: children won’t be interested in depressed adults, and adults will be caught off guard by how hokey some of the plot can be, like the teacher’s panic in a mirror maze, screaming in fear at seeing her younger self upset.
The ending of this book makes it a perfect feel good story. Everything starts out so bizarre, but after whipping into a full-fledged finale, all loose ends are tied off and the ending is wholesome in a way that completes the picture and puts a blanket of calm, self-acceptance over the characters. After such a long journey through a series of strange and disturbing events, the story ends in a way that’s so right, and so natural.