"You'll live and get hurt," she said, in the dark. "But when it's time, tell me. Say goodbye. Otherwise, I might not let you go. Wouldn't that be terrible, to just grab ahold?"
Jim's mother tells Jim that he cannot live life without being hurt. He tells her that he never plans on being hurt, but she knows that this is not a possible way of life. Jim's mother realizes that her son is trying to live life a way that it cannot be lived. He is the ultimate child, living each moment individually, never stepping back from life to ponder it or wonder. Jim goes from adventure to adventure and insists on remaining free and independent, but his mother knows that only children can be that way. What Jim truly fears, to be grounded, to lose some of his precious freedom, is what she threatens him with if he does not at least say goodbye to her before he leaves for good. But her threat is not really a terrible thing. Jim's mother wants him to let go a little bit of his independence so that he will let other people into his life, even though those people could hurt him. Her life will be better if she can hold onto her son sometimes and she knows that he will need someone to hold onto eventually. Much of the book can be viewed as Jim's struggle against curbing his freedom and allowing others into his life.
"Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he's covering up. He's had his fun and he's guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells."
Will thinks being happy can be equated with being good, and Charles Halloway sets his son straight. Will wondered if his father was a good man because he was so sad, but Mr. Halloway points out that being good is a difficult thing. Often those who are happiest are full of sin and those who are sad may be good. He tells his son that he must learn to see whose happiness really covers up guilt. To be happy or sad is a disposition, but to be good, one must work hard. The two things are completely different. Learning this is important for Will, because he is growing up but also because very soon after his father tells him this he will need the ability to judge for himself who is good and who is evil. This conversation occurs after Will makes Mr. Cooger into an extremely old man. Will learns not to privilege the happy man but to respect the good man. An evil person may be happy, and a good person may be sad, but in the novel, it is whether someone is good or evil in the end that matters. Mr. Halloway helps his son learn what is important about people and what is not.
"I suppose one night hundreds of thousands of years ago in a cave by a night fire when one of those shaggy men wakened to gaze over the banked coals at his woman, his children, and thought of their being cold, dead, gone forever. Then he must have wept. And he put out his hand in the night to the woman who must die some day and to the children who must follow her. And for a little bit next morning, he treated them somewhat better, for he saw that they, like himself, had the seed of night in them."
In the library, before Mr. Dark comes, Charles Halloway describes to Will and Jim how he thinks human kindness first came about. People began to treat each other well, in his vision, because they were conscious of their mortality, and the fact that everyone would eventually die. From that consciousness came empathy. He says that understanding others' conditions allows us to feel for them. We are kind to people because we know what it is like to deal with the things that they have to deal with; or, if we do not know directly, we can imagine. But we all must deal with death. So, Mr. Halloway says, rather than treat each other cruelly we can view fellow human beings as participants in a common game. This speech is important because it contains the key to defeating Mr. Dark and the carnival. They must use kindness and their friendship to battle the forces that would divide each person from the rest and then conquer them all separately. The carnival is no match for the goodwill of a community, and they will have to make do with a community of three.
"Not words, old man," said Mr. Dark. "Not words in books or words you say but real thoughts, real actions, quick thought, quick action, win the day."
Mr. Dark says this just before he crushes Mr. Halloway's hand. He has taken the boys and is on his way back to the carnival. All appears lost at this point, but shortly afterwards, Mr. Halloway injures and drives off the witch by laughing at her and then goes to the carnival. At the carnival, he acts spontaneously, which is too quick for Mr. Dark to come up with any sort of plan to stop him. Charles Halloway beats Mr. Dark at his own game by using improvised thoughts and actions to guide him in his fight against the carnival. His success validates Mr. Dark's statement, but it also shows that someone of strong mind and good intentions can win the day through spontaneous action, while someone with evil intentions must plan things through.
All because he accepted everything at last, accepted the carnival, the hills beyond, the people in the hills, Jim, Will, and above all himself and all of life, and, accepting, threw back his head for the second time tonight and showed his acceptance with sound.
Mr. Halloway destroys the Mirror Maze with a laugh. He is no longer worried about his age, and he is simply content with being a fifty-four year old janitor. Although such contentment may seem like nothing special, the strength that Charles Halloway gains from feeling at home in his own skin is the strength that allows him to defeat the carnival. He is immune to its threats because he does not desire the undesirable. He cannot be tempted into wanting to be what he is not, and so the carnival has nothing to offer him. Once the carnival has nothing to offer someone, then it loses all control over them, for all of its evils are based upon using people's desires to destroy them. Fully comfortable with himself, Charles Halloway is free to laugh at the carnival, and his laughter destroys it.