Summary and Analysis
An OUT OF ORDER sign on the carnival's carousel does not stop the boys from investigating the merry-go-round. Their boyish curiosity concerning the carousel results in a confrontation between them and Cooger and Dark, the owners of the carnival. Mr. Dark is also the Illustrated Man, and Jim and Will are momentarily thrilled by the seemingly living figures on the Illustrated Man's body. They now become even more wary of this unusual carnival, and they withhold their true names from Cooger and Dark.
Impetuous, Jim refuses Mr. Dark's command to return for a ride on the merry-go-round when it has been repaired. From the vantage point of a tree, both boys gain a superb view of the carnival's activities. Here, they learn how the carousel really works.
Although he does not recognize the song, Will immediately realizes that the carousel's music is being played backward; In fact, the carousel itself runs backward. The boys watch as Mr. Cooger goes for a backward ride on the carousel, and they are astonished to see Cooger, somehow, grow younger with every backward revolution of this machine. Cooger's age is reduced from forty years old to twelve years old in a matter of moments.
The music itself should be a clear warning against a ride on this carousel. Its calliope emits a putrefied steam of music that almost seems to grieve for itself. For the rides backward in time, the calliope plays Chopin's "Funeral March." This song is played backward because the carousel's rider is, here, marching away from his funeral rather than toward it. Also, the calliope plays church music that has somehow been changed. Three different hymns are the basis for its tune, but they have been hopelessly mixed up and lost. Perhaps in Bradbury's particular description of the carousel's music, he is implying that even as the tunes of the hymns are confused and lost, so also are the people who ride this carousel. The riders are lost to themselves and are, therefore, quite vulnerable to the evil that the carnival has to offer.