As the northern hemisphere nights start to draw in, the crisp air almost crackles and the mist is a miasma creeping over streets and fields, our thoughts turn to things that go bump in the night. In preparation for a review of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, timed to coincide with The Emerald City Book Review’s annual Witch Week, I thought I’d like to share here a few thoughts on aspects of this Halloween thriller. And I shall start with Green Town’s public library, based on the Carnegie library in Waukegan, Illinois that Bradbury knew so well as a child in the 1930s:
Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. […] This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered.
After this passage, which promises exotic experiences to come, the library — though it remains no less enticing — starts to take on a more sinister aspect:
The library […] cloistered with great drifts of silence and transfixed avalanche of books posed like the cuneiform stones of eternity on shelves, so high the unseen snows of time fell all year there. […] All the books, he thought, perched there, hundreds of years old, peeling skin, leaning on each other like ten million vultures. Walk along the dark stacks and all the gold titles shine their eyes at you.
Threats like those posed by avalanches of ancient books with predatory stares linger in a chapter where a place once promising peace and refuge turns into a place where your voice may reveal your presence to a lurking hunter:
Deep forests, dark caves, dim churches, half-lit libraries were all the same, they tuned you down, they dampened your ardour, they brought you to murmurs and soft cries for fear of raising up phantom twins of your voice which might haunt corridors long after your passage.
Modern libraries are often places of light, colour and sociability, rather different from the traditional view of them as sepulchres of dusty tomes arranged in anonymous serried ranks where strict silence is enjoined. And yet it’s not so long ago that the latter scenario was the norm, hardly changed in decades from the kind of forbidding situation suggested by the shelves illustrated of the private library in Cardiff Castle: sets of identical volumes, dark wood panelling, Don’t Touch implied in the very atmosphere.
In the next related post I shall be examining some of the unusual books that the Green Town public library housed, but you may in the meantime like to know what sparked off my rekindled interest in the Bradbury novel. Lori is hosting the third annual Witch Week from October 31 to November 6, which she describes as a chance to celebrate favourite fantasy books and authors and an event she has so much fun putting together each year. This year, to tie in with her year-long Reading New England challenge, she chose the theme “Made in America” to focus on fantasy works based in the USA. There’ll be
an interview with New Hampshire author Kat Howard, a top ten list, thoughts about the Oz books, a consideration of Neil Gaiman’s iconic American Gods, a giveaway, and more!
Readers are especially invited to join in the readalong of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I’ve never read this spooky classic set in a midwestern town, so I’m excited to jump into it in company with others.
The Carnegie Library building in Waukegan is now disused — a new building houses its contents — though plans are afoot to conserve it as a memorial to Bradbury. Perhaps the ghosts of Green Town’s library are lurking there still.