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Free Study Guide for Something Wicked This Way Comes

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At the start of the chapter, Jim is compared to a kite that, no matter what preventative actions are taken, will always break its cord. As Jim runs to catch sight of the train, Will trails after him, like he is following a wild kite. Will meditates on the idea that no matter what he does, Jim is always doing something crazier. Will, however, constantly thinks that Jim is the wiser, richer one. As the boys get closer, Jim realizes no one is playing the calliope. The music is made because the wind is allowed to blow freely through the pipes. The boys continue to run, following the train, and the steam whistle sounds. Will reflects on the fact that often at night he hears a train whistle. The emotion of the sound eternally causes him to wake up with tears on his face. This train's whistle, though, seems far more powerful. It seems as if all of the woe in the world is tied in with this whistle. When it blows again, Will finds himself in tears. To cover his emotion, he leans over to pretend to tie his shoe. Then he realizes Jim is crying too, and with the next sounding of the whistle, they both scream against the sound. The sound instantly ceases and the train pulls to a stop in a meadow well known as a place for couples to bask in the moonlight. The train quietly sits in the meadow, and Will observes that it seems terribly quiet for a circus train. Not a soul is in sight. Jim, though, can feel the people moving.

The boys notice a hot air balloon floating two hundred yards above the train. A tall, dark man steps down from the balloon. With a single gesture from the man, the train comes to life. Despite the fact that things begin progressing, the carnival is still utterly silent. Clouds cover the moon, and the meadow darkens. Will can sense the carnival workers putting up the poles for the main tent. Jim tries to crawl forward, and Will stops him, suggesting the men are about to bring out the canvas for the main tent. Then the boys both realize that the canvas is assembled from the dark clouds overhead. Before they know it, the main tent is complete, with flags flying on top of it. Everything stops. Will listens to the canvas blowing in the wind and compares it to an ancient bird, struggling to survive. Everyone disappears, and Will's sense of foreboding is overwhelming. A bird screams, frightening the boys, and they run back to town.


The comparison the text makes between Jim and a kite allows readers to see how chaotic Jim is as a character. Jim cannot be led; he must make his own path. Will seems to realize and envy that quality in Jim. When the boys realize no one is playing the calliope, the supernatural tone for the carnival is sent. It is further emphasized when the main tent is constructed. Throughout the last few hundred years of literature, the steam whistle has often been perceived as lonely. This is, perhaps, why Will wakes up in tears when he hears it. Loneliness often causes sadness. This steam whistle, though, is quite different. All the woe of the world seems to be tied in it, foreshadowing the fact that the carnival itself is filled with the world’s woes. The fear of the entire incident overwhelms the boys and drives them home to relative safety.



Charles watches from a library window as the boys run toward home. Internally, he yells after them, hoping to catch them, but he feels he cannot actually call out to them. As they run toward home, he glances across the town. He, too, heard the train whistle and the calliope. He considers why the train arrived at three in the morning. He regards the blowing canvas in the meadow, the carousel, and the mysteries of the mirror maze. He wonders if the mirror maze could age a man. He suddenly finds himself surrounded by signs of fear: cold, rough skin, and a bitter taste in his mouth. He, however, is glued to the window, watching the carnival in the meadow. He feels torn. Charles wants leave and stay at the same time. He leaves the library and heads home. As he walks toward home, he passes an empty store window. A pool of water with a few shards of ice lies behind the window. Halloway leaves. Behind him, in the meadow, the mirror maze waits for a victim.


Charles’ inability to yell out to the boys highlights his sense of failure, which he attributes to his age. He feels completely unable to connect to either of the boys. He is unable to communicate with them, a fact that will become increasingly important as the story progresses. He, too, has seen the arrival of the carnival and that speaks to the idea that he longs for something better, something younger. He heads home instead of stopping to stare at the strands of hair in the pool of water where the block of ice had been. That speaks to the idea that although he longs for something different, he is attempting to deal with what he has. The final description of the mirror maze at the end of the chapter continues the sense of foreboding that seems to be growing in intensity as the novel continues. His speculation about the mirror maze foreshadows the supernatural truth many others will discover when the carnival opens later that morning.


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