The lightning-rods salesman, dressed in storm-colored clothes jangling and clanking with his peculiar bag of rods approached the two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, laying on the front lawn:
“Halloway. Nightshade. No money, you say?”
The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.
“Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash, roast pork and cinders! Grab!”
The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move. But Will caught the iron and gasped.
“Boy, it’s heavy! And funny-looking. Never seen a lightning-rod like this. Look, Jim!”
And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow. But Will was staring beyond the man now.
“Which,” he said. “Which house will it strike?”
“Which? Hold on. Wait.” The salesman searched deep in their faces. “Some folks draw lightning, suck it like cats suck babies’ breath. Some folks’ polarities are negative, some positive. Some glow in the dark. Some snuff out. You now, the two… I–“
“What makes you so sure lightning will strike anywhere around here?” said Jim suddenly, his eyes bright.
The salesman almost flinched. “Why, I got a nose, an eye, an ear. Both those houses, their timbers! Listen!”
They listened. Maybe their houses leaned under the cool afternoon wind. Maybe not.
“Lightning needs channels, like rivers, to run in. One of those attics is a dry river bottom, itching to let lightning pour through! Tonight!”
“Tonight?” Jim sat up happily.
“No ordinary storm!” said the salesman. “Tom Fury tells you. Fury, ain’t that a fine name for one who sells lightning-rods? Did I take the name? No! Did the name fire me to my occupations? Yes! Grown up, I saw cloudy fires jumping the world, making men hop and hide. Thought: I’ll chart hurricanes, map storms, then run ahead shaking my iron cudgels, my miraculous defenders, in my fists! I’ve shielded and made snug-safe one hundred thousand, count ’em, God-fearing homes. So when I tell you, boys, you’re in dire need, listen! Climb that roof, nail this rod high, ground it in the good earth before nightfall!”
— Ray Bradbury from his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
There are a few different motifs and themes in this classic Bradbury novel, but the one I want to touch on here is belief, the psychological power and influence of what a group’s ideology can accomplish, for better or worse, when the right components are all in play.
The characters in Something Wicked This Way Comes are amazed and puzzled by “Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show,” a strange carnival that has unexpectedly arrived in their small town. Word soon spreads that because it caters to people’s deepest desires and fears, it is viewed by the town as evil. Yet, Mr. Dark claims they did not arrive unannounced, or unwelcomed. Indeed, the people of the town invited them, ah, wanted them:
Mr. Dark: “Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well. To stuff ourselves on other people’s torments. And butter our plain bread with delicious pain … Funerals, marriages, lost loves, lonely beds that is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet. We can smell the young ulcerating to be men a thousand miles off. And hear a middle-aged fool like yourself groaning with midnight despairs from halfway round the world.”
The good people of Green Town handed over the power and will for Mr. Dark’s visit. Whether taught, or inherited, or both, they had long believed their lives were incomplete, intolerable, in the balance, and in grave danger. It wasn’t until Will Halloway’s father, Charles Halloway, embraced his age, occupation as a janitor, the paradox of life and death, and his gifted humanity that any “power” the Pandemonium Shadow Show could have wielded was gone, like a mist in the wind.
When a story is told well, as was Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, mountains can be moved and lives changed forever. Whether that canard is true or not often makes little difference. And when a captivating story is well performed, immersing its audience with spectacular effects, marketing tools, and endless millions of dollars, the spellbinding dopamine avalanche is near impossible to stop. Or can it?
With all the same dramatic components and controversy in play with the creation, development, and intent, the recent opening of the Museum of the Bible is no different.
“At the center of this [drama] is the word “non-sectarian,” which the Museum of the Bible uses often in its messaging. The term has a long history in the evangelist community dating back to the early 19th century. As Steven K. Green (no relation), the director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University College, explains, for the faith tradition, the concept is rooted in the belief that there are fundamentals of the Bible that are non-disputable and non-debatable. “It’s hard for you to realize it is representing a particular perspective,” says Green of the often well-meaning evangelical Protestants who clashed with Catholics firm in their own religious tradition in the 1800s.”
The museum opened its doors to the public today. Here is one article from Smithsonian.com magazine which elaborates on the museum’s promises, its biased funding, and the far-reaching controversy over its artifacts and narrative-slant all wrapped in an enticing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.
I’m very curious to read what all of you have to say about “The Greatest Show Ever Told” and whether museum visitors are well-versed, or should be, in the much broader less known (untold?) stories, artifacts, and narratives of the Bible. What are your thoughts?
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
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