Saturday, October 8, 2011

Countdown: Ray Bradbury's Top 10 Dark Carnival/October Country Stories--#9

Let's make it a double-post day...

(For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.)

#9."The Black Ferris" (collected in The Stories of Ray Bradbury)

Bradbury sets the scene and season instantly in this 1948 tale, with a short but unforgettable opening paragraph:
The carnival had come to town like an October wind, like a dark bat flying over the cold lake, bones rattling in the night, mourning, sighing, whispering up the tents in the dark rain.  It stayed on for a month by the gray restless lake of October, in the black weather and increasing storms and leaden skies.
This embryonic version of Something Wicked This Way Comes lacks the sophistication of the novel (the story reads a bit like a Hardy Boys narrative, as young Peter and Hank endeavor to foil a jewel heist by the carnival man, Mr. Cooger).  But "The Black Ferris" is wonderfully atmospheric, excelling in its depiction of the dark and desolate state of the carnival grounds ("The midway was silent, all the gray tents hissing on the wind like gigantic prehistoric wings.").  Also, a black Ferris Wheel (which can age or rejuvenate a rider, by spinning forward or backward) makes for a more sinister apparatus than a carousel (the centerpiece of the carnival in the novel).  Bradbury further accentuates the creepiness of the short story by having the Ferris manned by a blind hunchback in a black booth.  And the final line of the story (a shocking ending for any reader unfamiliar with Something Wicked) has all the macabre magnificence of the concluding image of an E.C. Comic.

Much like its titular thrill ride, "The Black Ferris" is a magical time machine that transports readers back to the start of Bradbury's career.  This portrait of a dark fantasist as a young man reveals a writer of fertile, and fiendish, imagination--a scribe likely to be sending many other significant dispatches from the October Country.

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