This Folio Life: The Nightmare of the Carnival
Comedian and actor, Frank Skinner, was one of the judges at last year’s V&A Illustration Awards. Frank’s passion for literature and for all things Folio came over in the speech he gave about John Vernon Lord’s illustrations for The Folio Society’s Ulysses, which was overall winner that night. As Frank seemed such a Folio fan, I took the opportunity to ask if he might consider writing an introduction for us, and was delighted when he agreed to introduce the new Folio edition of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. The book is one of his favourites and this certainly comes across in his incisive and affectionate analysis – here, read an extract of his exclusive introduction.
Kate Grimwade, Production Director
‘It is a periphery fear, unfocused, slightly out of reach, but it drifts in on the twisted church music of the carnival’s steam organ and lingers till the very end. We are soon drawn into a world where a phrase like ‘beware the autumn people’ can somehow chill us to the bone. The core of this fear is, I think, its timelessness. The deep past, recognisable but unknowable, informs much of this book. The boys are young and vibrant individuals but we see them very gradually swamped by a dark, alternative tradition – a then that becomes their now – too deeply rooted to be supplanted by progress or fashion. They have, it seems, encountered a sort of underground stream of occult murmuring unaffected by the bright and bustling surface world.
‘For all the twists and turns of the narrative, the main reason I love this book is Bradbury’s prose. It is so rich, so ornate, so perfect for this macabre tale. I hope the short quotes embedded in this introduction give you a glimpse of the eerie poetry that suffuses the work. The style reminds me, somehow, of Jack Kerouac’s. It’s always on the verge of flight. They both, for example, explore the possibilities of prose raised up and reassembled by hyphenation. This can be a light touch, like Bradbury’s description of the character who yearns for a ‘lovely gliding ride-around summer’, or it can be more baroque, as when we meet the carnival dwarf, ‘his eyes like broken splinters of brown marble now bright-on-the-surface mad, now deeply mournfully forever-lost-and-gone-buried-away mad’. If I spend an hour reading this book, I notice, afterwards, the distinctive prose style informing my speech patterns, colouring my vocabulary, Bradbury-ing my sentence structure in some subtle way. Even my text messages become like fragments of ancient prophecy. More and more, they remain unanswered.
‘The truth is, generally speaking, I don’t see the point in telling, or reading, stories devoid of mystery and magic or intimations of magic, or future worlds or super powers. I need an alien, a dragon or an enigmatic lightning-rod salesman, bare minimum. If you want everyday life, go to the laundrette. I’ll stick with the carnival.’
This blog is an extract from Frank Skinner’s introduction to the Folio edition of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
‘The finished book is a thing of beauty. I find myself cradling it and running my fingers across its sweet pages. The illustrations combine the garish colours of the carnival with the disturbing images of nightmare and, thus, exactly mirror the unsettling mood of the book.’