This month I read Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, in order to participate in the Faith and Fiction Saturday Roundtable hosted by Amy, of My Friend Amy. Overall I found that while some parts of the story and ideas presented were compelling, the book was on the inaccessible side, with a style that made it difficult to read.
Roundtable participants included: Hannah (Word Lily), Thomas (My Random Thoughts), Jason (Moored At Sea), Jacob (Jacob Ritari), and me. As a group we were intrigued by laughter as an antidote to evil.
An excerpt of our discussion is below.
Hannah: I agree, Nicole! Perhaps because I didn’t expect laughter to be the cure that it was all the more intriguing, powerful.
Nicole: I have been thinking about the laughter part a lot in terms of its effects of lessening the power that another thing or person can wield over you. It seems to be a way that you can remain in control of your own circumstances in the face of something horrific, like when Charlie Halloway first faces the witch. What can she do to him in the face of his laughter?
I have also been thinking a lot about Charlie’s speech and the exploration of the nature of evil and the devil. The devil has been personified as something that is outside of man, tempting him to follow along and do evil deeds. But the evil here is more sinister because the people who become a part of the workings of the carnival are described as detached from life. They aren’t actively evil, but they are passive and on the outskirts of life. Charlie asks the boys if they even know who he is, and Will is shocked but James isn’t, and wants to know the answer to the question. I think he can even ask the question because he, like Charlie, has that same restless and not quite connected feeling.
Charlie saves himself and his relationship with his son when he decides to act, and to participate in his son’s life for once.
Jacob: I also found the exploration of laughter interesting. I’ve long thought laughter is a powerful antidote to evil as it just seems so…incompatible with it. I’m not sure there ever was an evil person with a real sense of humor. I think this is why–sorry to digress quite a bit–I never found The Joker (Batman villain) all that compelling, even after his re-imagining, because nothing he does is actually funny, and how could it be. To recourse to Lewis again, who quotes (I think) Luther at the beginning of The Screwtape Letters: “The Devil, that proude spirit, cannot endure mockery…”
Nicole, I agree about Charlie saving himself through his relationship with the boys; he’s pining after his own youth, and doesn’t realize the way people can actually participate in youth as they grow older.
But on another note, I always found, and still find, the character of Jim really sinister. As a counterpoint to Charlie he’s this precocious child, and the seed, as it were, of corruption in him seems to me to undercut the positive conclusion just a bit. If a supposedly innocent child can have these desires, is there ever really such a thing as innocence?
Jason: I think the thing to consider to me is that, yes that quote about the devil is a very interesting one, but that it echoes all kinds of biblical verses about God – “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” for instance. The warning against mocking God, or against mocking holy things is pretty omnipresent in religious discourse – in fact, it kind of forms the basis of much of our ideas about blasphemy, right? I think this sort of duality actually makes itself manifest in a lot of mythology. The fairies for instance, the most whimsical and human of the three classes of spirit (Angel, Fa iry, Demon) and the most mischievous and – for lack of a better word, because I know this is the wrong one – funny were, after all, often considered to be made fey because they were not wicked enough for hell or good enough for heaven. I don’t think this is because they were consdidered mediocre – mediocrity in most of the older Christian tradition is more than enough justification for hell – I think it goes back to the same idea – if you cannot take a thing seriously, it cannot really have power over you – good and evil are first foremost powerful as ideas, not physical forces, and an idea must hold purchase in your brain before you can be affected by it, you know? I’m not saying that this is sound theology, or anything, just that, after all, if the devil is driven off by laughing at him, why isn’t god? And wouldn’t the devil delight in people who laughed at him, if he WERE real and had power? To laugh at the notion of evil, after all is difficult if you are to take seriously the notion of good, so a man who will not accept the existence of evil cannot really serve a god who is in a war against it.