On numerous occasions, Mortimer Adler wrote about the criteria that was used to determine which books of all the books written in the West would be placed within The Great Books of the Western World. Contrary to confusion and many misstatements I’ve read over the years, Adler says it was essentially three criteria and they are as follows:
1) Contemporary significance—Even though historically valuable, these works address “issues, problems, or facets of human life that are of major concern to us today as well as at the time in which they were written.”
Numerous critical reviews when Something Wicked This Way Comes was published considered it a most important and timely work and it was ranked on the New York Tribune’s best books of 1962. Many of the issues explored within the novel are timeless in their nature.
2) Rereadability—These are books “intended for the general reader that are worth reading carefully many times or studying over and over again…indefinitely rereadable for pleasure and profit.”
As I have confessed before in blogs and lectures, I re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes every year around Halloween. This has become my habit for the past several years, and it is with ongoing pleasure and intellectual profit that I have done this. In truth, this work is rich in content and form and has enough meaningful ambiguity to sustain numerous readings and a enriching conversation. Not this this would seal the deal, but even popular novelist Stephen King deemed Something Wicked This Way Comes as Bradbury’s finest work.
3) Extensive relevance and something of significance to say about a large number of the 102 great ideas of the thinking and writing done by the authors chosen.
Of the 102 Great Ideas Adler explored, Something Wicked This Way Comes touches upon or explores in a meaningful manner the following: Beauty, Being, Cause, Chance, Change, Citizen, Courage, Custom and Convention, Desire, Duty, Emotion, Eternity, Evolution, Experience, Family, Fate, God, Good and Evil, Habit, Happiness, Honor, Immortality, Judgment, Knowledge, Law, Life and Death, Love, Man, Memory and Imagination, Mind, Nature, Opinion, Opposition, Philosophy, Pleasure and Pain, Prudence, Punishment, Reasoning, Relation, Religion, Senses, Sign and Symbol, Sin, Soul, Temperance, Theology, Time, Truth, Virtue and Vice, Will, Wisdom, and World.
Additionally, Adler said that the list of Great Books needed to be regularly reevaluated. With this in mind, I hope that I have made the case for including this novel by Ray Bradbury and including it in the open and extended list Adler proposed.
As with other Bradbury writings, there is often an earlier life or version before the published date. While Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962 (50 years ago and still in print), there were earlier kernel versions in short stories—”The Electrocution” 1946, “The Black Ferris” 1948, a screen play entitled “Dark Carnival” 1955, another screen play “The Marked Bullet” 1956, as well as an unpublished first-person novel Jamie and Me.
Something Wicked This Way Comes should be read as a companion story to Dandelion Wine. Even Bradbury clustered these two stories with Farewell Summer and called these the Illinois trilogy.
Whether read as a moral fable, Christian allegory, or a moralistic horror tale, this is a novel that should be rescued from the middle school reading list and the bin of literary obscurity and given due attention. Beyond being a masterfully crafted exploration of numerous humane themes, it is a delightful, at times, but ultimately light, tale about the sin of narcissism and the possibility of human connectedness in the presence of that most damnable of sins.
This essay was originally published on Musings of a Christian Humanist and appears here with Dr. Woods’ gracious permission.
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