Summary of Prologue
The third-person narrator explains that the story takes place in October, a special month for boys, because of Halloween. This particular October, Halloween came early. James Nightshade was thirteen years, eleven months, and twenty-three days old, and his best friend and next-door neighbor, William Halloway, was thirteen years, eleven months, and twenty-four days old. The boys grew older overnight and were never young again.
Commentary on Prologue
Bradbury sets the mood for a dark fantasy, evoking Halloween, and a pair of boys who are almost twins, and very keen to grow up.
PART ONE: ARRIVALS
Summary of Chapters 1-4
In Green Town, Illinois, a man named Tom Fury is selling lightning rods door to door before a storm sets in. He sees two boys lying on the grass carving twig whistles. The blonde boy is Will Halloway, and the dark boy is Jim Nightshade. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30, and Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31. The boys have no money, so the salesman gives them a free lightning rod, explaining one house is going to be hit and turned to ash. The rod is like a half-crescent-half cross and marked with Egyptian hieroglyphics, the man says, so it can talk to the storm. Will wants to know which house lightning will strike, and the man says this is no ordinary storm. He tests the timbers of the houses and says it’s Jim’s house. Jim is proud. Tom Fury says Jim must hurry to nail the rod to his roof as they hear distant thunder.
Jim nails the crescent rod to the roof, and after supper, the boys go to the library. Charles Halloway, Will’s father, is the janitor of the library. Father and son are always a bit surprised to see each other, for the father is old (fifty-four) while Will is very young. Though Mr. Halloway is a janitor, he is a learned man and knows all the books. He stays half the night in the town library, reading every night.
Jim tends to like dark books about crimes and weapons, and Will likes Jules Verne. The father hands them appropriate books for their tastes, and they leave. Mr. Halloway watches them go and understands why boys have to run with the wind in the night. The narrative switches to his point of view and his deep understanding of the boys and life in general. Mr. Halloway is the wisest character in the book, deeply intuitive and spiritual, but he is disappointed with his life. He stops for a drink on the way home, remembering the freedom of being a boy. The boys walk around the town on a Friday night as the lights are turned off in the stores. They speak to Mr. Crosetti, the barber, who is closing his shop and suddenly smells cotton candy in the air.
Commentary on Chapters 1-4
One of Bradbury’s favorite themes, especially in the Green Town Cycle, is the ecstasy of childhood. The book is crammed on every page with vivid and lyric sense descriptions of nature, objects, ideas, and people from a boy’s point of view. The boys are said, for instance, to “leave their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town . . . and their footprints on every open path” (Chapter 1, p. 5). The two boys are curious and enthusiastic about everything, wanting to experience all of life in every instant. They have energy to burn and never walk when they can run. This sets the stage for their temptation by the arrival of the circus, foreshadowed by the smell of cotton candy in the air. Jim especially wants to taste the dark side of things, but both boys rush headlong into adventure wherever they may find it or create it. Bradbury idealizes small town American life between the world wars with his fictitious Green Town. He makes it clear, however, that the boys are about to grow up fast, so this is the threshold between childhood and adolescence.
The father, Mr. Halloway, is grieved that he is too old for his son. He creates a generation gap in his mind, withdrawing from Will. Jim lacks a father, and so Mr. Halloway tries to be a father to both boys, though he is aware that Jim is a little strange, going for the dark side of life, while his boy Will is more wholesome. The lightning rod salesman is a real con artist for he frightens the boys with his knowledge of storms, using mythical references to make the storm seem supernatural. He indicates the crescent-shaped rod with hieroglyphics will appease the storm by some kind of magic. This kind of allusion leads the reader to believe it will not be a realistic story. It has an archetypal style, with the boys being character doubles or alter-egos, born before and after midnight, one light and one dark, one given to goodness, and one to evil. One of the headnotes of this book is from Moby Dick, and Bradbury sometimes matches Melville’s dense symbolic and allegorical technique, trying to tell us a metaphysical story about the nature of the universe and human life. At this point, the boys feel at home and safe in their small town. The title of the book, however, comes from Shakespeare’sMacbeth with its premonition of evil: “By the prickling of my thumbs/ Something wicked this way comes.”