Summary of Chapters 17-20
Will is trying to get Jim to go home, but they discover the abandoned leather bag of the lightning rod salesman with the lightning rods inside. They want to know what would make a man drop his whole life like that. They discover the carousel with the sign, “Out of Order.” They do not believe it is out of order. Jim jumps on but is grabbed by a strong, red-haired man (Mr. Cooger) who tells them it is broken. Mr. Dark shows Jim the tattoos on his arms, where the pictures seem to be alive. Jim knows he is not a tattooed man, but an Illustrated Man. Jim lies about his name, saying it is Simon, and is given a free card to ride the merry-go-round later. Jim pretends to leave, but jumps into a tree with Will so they can spy. They see the merry-go-round start up and go backward, as Cooger gets on for a ride. He gets younger, and when he gets off, he is twelve years old.
The boys get down and follow the man-boy as he goes to town. They see him go to Miss Foley’s house. They visit Miss Foley to warn her, and she introduces her nephew Robert, who Jim sees, has Mr. Cooger’s eyes. His eyes are a hidden camera that takes their pictures. This fake nephew says he is taking his aunt to the carnival that night. Will does not know how to warn Miss Foley not to go with the boy who says he is her nephew. He simply says that Mr. Crosetti the barber is dead. The boys leave. They get into trouble at home for being late and are sent to their rooms. Will thinks they have to do something to help Miss Foley and keeps throwing stones at Jim’s window across the way.
Commentary on Chapters 17-20
The confrontation with evil begins to get intense and personal. Jim goes right into the Mirror-Maze and the carousel, two of the worst places at the circus. They meet Cooger and Dark who begin to work their magic on Jim. Will hangs back and keeps trying to talk sense into Jim. The carousel can make time go forward or backward, and Mr. Cooger becomes a boy who pretends to be Miss Foley’s nephew. They see she is in danger, but Will does not know what to say. On the way to Miss Foley’s he happened to notice Mr. Crosetti’s barber shop with a sign that said the shop was closed due to illness. Will does not think of it until he gets to Miss Foley’s, and then he blurts out twice to her that Mr. Crosetti is dead. It seems to be an intuition, connected to something about the circus. In this section, Jim is falling, and Will starts to get stronger.
The concept of the Illustrated Man came from an earlier book by Bradbury of that name, published in 1951. There, the narrator meets an illustrated man whose tattoos each become the subject of a short story. In this book the Illustrated Man has tattoos representing the souls of his victims.