Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11 - 15


At three in the morning, the boys awake to the sound of soft calliope music and a train engine. Looking out of their windows, they see cloud of steam "like the first of a storm cloud yet to come" and then the train itself. It looks old, like it should be from the Civil War. Jim gets dresses and slides down a drainpipe to go meet the train. Will reluctantly follows.

They reach the rail bridge and suddenly the train thunders across, carnival music screaming. They look inside to the calliope, but no one is at the keys: the music plays itself. The train's whistle blows steam, and Will hears within it the "protests of a billion people dead or dying." It brings tears to Jim's eyes, too, and both boys cover their ears. Then the train passes and the whistle ceases.

The train stops in Rolfe's moon meadow, where the boys watch from under a bush. They watch the carnival eerily assemble itself, seeming to draw its materials from the clouds and the darkness with the help of a huge balloon. Terrified, Will gets up to run, but Jim stays under the bush for a second, mesmerized. Then they both run home. Charles is in the library and sees Jim and Will run by, though he does not call out to them. He looks out the window and over the town to the field where the carnival has been assembled. He is torn between wanting and not wanting to go to the carnival. On his way home, he passes the shop where the block of ice once lay. In its place is a pool of water, a few shards of ice, and some long strands of hair. He returns home, overheard by his son, and obsesses on the nature of time, parenthood, gender and aging.

The two boys wake, wondering if the past night had really happened. They find the carnival in the meadow, though it looks like a regular, cheery carnival, far from the dark scene they saw the night before. At the carnival they see Miss Foley, their seventh-grade teacher, who is out early because she loves carnivals. However, she can't find her nephew. They were supposed to meet, but "you know boys," she says. In the meantime, she says, she thinks she will go and check out the Mirror Maze. Will hears this and tries to talk her out of it. She walks in anyway. Both boys agree that the Mirror Maze retains some of the ominous character of the night before.

They see Miss Foley's reflection in the mirrors and wave, but she does not wave back. Entranced by the mirrors, she begins to scream for help. The boys plunge into the maze and an old woman's hand reaches out. Together, they are able to haul Miss Foley out of the Maze. Outside, Miss Foley tells them that she saw herself as a little girl "drowning" in the mirrors. Will wants to leave, but Jim wants to stay till sundown to "figure it all out.".Even so, Jim is afraid of the Maze.


The mystery of the carnival intensifies. The prologue tells us that Halloween comes early this year, at three hours past midnight on October 24th. This is the time at which the train arrives, so the carnival's arrival marks the beginning of Halloween. It is here that we also realize that there is no approaching storm in the conventional sense. The storm, which Tom Fury said would be "no ordinary storm", is indeed no storm at all. The storm is the carnival, and the approaching train, whose steam looks like the beginnings of a storm cloud, marks its arrival. We don't know whether or not Jim ever removed the lightning rod from his house, but it is a safe bet that his decision - for good or ill - will play an important role in the rest of the novel.

The Mirror Maze is set up as one of the most evil parts of this storm/carnival. It clearly plays off of the novel's already established theme of dissatisfaction with one's age, and we can bet that Charles's obsession with his own age will at some point interact with the age-altering properties of the Maze. It is worth noting that mirrors and windows are symbolic of age in this novel. Three examples so far: first, according to Will, his father looks like him "in a smashed mirror"; second, Charles, upon hearing the whistled Christmas carol imagines children walking around amongst the tired and dirty faces of adults whose faces are unwashed of sin and "smashed like small windows by life that hit without warning"; and third, the narrator's musings on an infinite series of mirrors whose images increase with age.

The Mirror Maze, when it appears in Chapter 15, capitalizes on the ominous promise of these images. It seems likely that had the boys not rushed in to save Miss Foley, she would have been stuck in the Maze forever, lost in the strange effect it has on time, age and reality. The Maze is paradoxical: Miss Foley sees a vision of her younger self "drowning," yet she herself grows older. Moreover, Miss Foley doesn't just see a younger image of herself reflected in the mirror, she sees another person acting independently. This younger version of herself speaks to her and seems to think that Miss Foley is the reflection while she (the young "refection") is in the Mirror Maze.

This paradoxical move, while to some degree inexplicable, acts out the anxieties of age experienced by the older characters in the novel. Charles, for instance, feels older when he contemplates his childhood, just as Miss Foley ages when she sees her younger self. Moreover, Charles feels a younger self trapped within -- whom he feeds with his drink a day, among other things -- like an independant being. He feels as though that past, innocent self is the "real" him, and the aging body the false. In general, then, the carnival, and especially the Maze, make concrete the paradoxical anxieties of adulthood, which emphasize age even while reflecting on youth.

The book doesn't just address these anxieties in concrete images, though; it also features ruminations like those in Chapter 14, where the arrival of the train at 3:00 a.m. brings on for Charles thoughts of death, mortality, and old age. He begins to think that his son is not really his own. He does not harbor thoughts or suspicions of infidelity. Rather, he considers the process of conception and birth and thinks that his role in the whole thing was minimal at best, compared with the role of the mother. Fathers everywhere must feel this way, he thinks. Fathers provide one half of a seed, so to speak, but the child grows in the mother. What's more, it is the mother who "makes the flesh" of the child. And it is the process of heredity, children begetting children ad infinitum, that Charles defines as "Time". Looking at it this way, he thinks, women "nest in Time" - i.e. they play a continuous active role throughout - whereas men are really more like bystanders, waiting for their own time to be over, as Time itself marches on. They are "blind to the continuity."