It’s easy to see why Bradbury is held by so many in such high esteem as a writer. The particular brand of horror he brings to story would have an appeal to a diverse group. I believe that horror is one of the best loved and widest read of the genres and as Bradbury sticks it with his magical realism style into a well-wrought story of realistic normalcy–much as does Stephen King–it stings smarter for its surprise.
His characters are fully formed, each main character having a life and accompanying conflicts enough to bring interest and caring from the reader. Will and Jim are fourteen, an age full of its own natural questions and changes but with the dimension of their friendship adding so much more to the development of their stories. They are very different: Jim, an adventurous and mysterious sort; Will, a follower yet desirous of the temptations Jim holds out to him. Will’s conflict within himself is between safety and danger. The boys are extremely close friends, complementing each other’s traits and yet this one excursion into seeking out the mysteries of the carnival appears to threaten that bond.
Will’s father, Charles Halloway, is a walking conflict. He is old, wanting to be young. He is envious of the boys’ freedom yet takes his own freedom by hiding within the library, getting his excitement out of books because he cannot run with the boys.
The characters of Cooger and Dark, the carnival runners are each a contrast in good and evil. Cooger, a menacing forty year-old, then a sweet young boy masking maliciousness of mind, and finally–or so at this point of the story–an ugly and venomous over-a-hundred-year-old, brought-back-to-life man. Dark, the illustrated man. So swift-talking and generous, yet we know he is the mastermind of some evil doings of the carnival he oversees.
The imagery may at times be overdone, yet I think it is well appreciated by lovers of words. All elements of style are used to perfection in writing; sentence structure dramatizes, fragments emphasize, arcs are in the form of what I’d call la petit mort–the little death–and cause the reader to build up to a near faintness before the swoon of release comes with the safe turn of events for our heroes. Mini-arcs within the capsule of the more slowly building story, put together like puzzle pieces of lightning rods and carousels and men who turn into strange little boys.
What could be more normal than two boyhood friends in the heart of America? What could be more abnormal than what they see?