Summary of Chapters 49-54
Charles sees himself a millionfold in the Mirror Maze, getting older and older, and then the lights go out at the carnival as Will follows him into the Maze. Will strikes a match and holds it to the mirrors. Charles falls on his knees, terrified by what he sees of his old age. Will cries out that he does not care how old his father is, he loves him. The father takes that in and suddenly laughs aloud. Everyone, including Jim, Mr. Dark, and the freaks, hear the laugh. The mirrors crack like dominos. Released from the Maze, Charles and Will run out looking for Jim. The moon gives them light. They hear the calliope. The freaks leave them alone, afraid of them. Mr. Cooger in the electric chair turns to dust and flies away. The carousel is going forward, and Jim grabs a pole to get on. Will grabs his free hand and tries to pull him off. Jim goes around for about a half a year, dragging Will. Finally, Jim falls off and lays as though dead. Just then, a boy runs up and asks Charles to help him because Mr. Dark is after him. Charles tells Will to give Jim artificial respiration while he follows the boy.
Charles understands the trick that Mr. Dark has played. He made himself young on the carousel. Charles rips off the boy’s shirt and sees the tattoos. He holds the boy close to him, knowing that he can’t stand to be around someone good. Finally, the illustrations on the body try to get loose. The freaks are getting free, as the body of the illustrated boy drops, and the illustrations melt away. The souls flee into the night, and the tents all fall down. The boy called Dark is dead.
Will starts crying over the body of his friend Jim until his father slaps him, telling him to get up and jump around. He has to laugh and shout. His father plays a harmonica and makes Will laugh at death and evil. Jim finally opens his eyes and asks what happened. They all roll in the grass with happiness until the circus tents blow away. On the way back to town, the boys race, and Charles races with them.
Commentary on Chapters 49-54
In this final confrontation with evil, Charles Halloway becomes more and more confident in his ability to resist and stop Mr. Dark. Once again, he uses laughter as a weapon. As he holds the evil boy close to him Charles thinks, “Evil has only the power we give it. I give you nothing” (Chapter 52, p. 204). He tells Will to stop crying because evil feeds on despair. “We can’t take them seriously, Willy” (Chapter 53, p. 208). The story ends happily as Father Knows Best, and a loving parent is able to save a child from the darkness in the world. Will asks if the circus will ever come back, and his father says they must always watch, for this kind of thing is bound to turn up in one form or another. The boys have made a rite of passage as they go into adolescence, more fully acquainted with the nature of life.
The book illustrates two ways to make such a rite of passage. Jim wants to grow up too fast by tasting forbidden experience, represented by riding the carousel so he can be artificially older. The transition in which the father initiates the boys into the mysteries of life, giving them knowledge and support, is the graceful, balanced way.