Mr. Dark is dead, and as Charles Halloway watches, while Will tries to revive Jim, all of the tattoos on the young boy's body disappear. The freaks seem to see things for the first time, and they run off in all directions away from the carnival. As soon as they leave, the tents begin to fall down. Soon, everyone else is gone and the carnival has fallen apart. But Jim is still cold and silent.
Will thinks his friend is dead, but Charles Halloway does not think so. When Will bursts into tears, his father slaps him and reminds him that sadness and tears are what the evil ones wanted from them. He says that they must run around and laugh, that they cannot take it seriously. Mr. Halloway believes that Jim is still partially alive, but that they must bring him back. Will has trouble letting go of his tears but after a few more slaps from his father he does not cry anymore. Charles Halloway takes out a harmonica and they begin to sing, not really happy or silly at first but trying to get there. Finally, while they sing, Will starts to laugh, and his laughter spreads to his father and carries them through a few moments where they forget Jim and just sing and dance together. And in those moments Jim comes to. Will sees him and realizes that Jim does not know that he was dead. He thinks they will tell him some other time.
Jim joins their fun and laughs, sings, and dances with them. Finally they stop, and Jim asks what happened. Will grabs his friend and weeps, and then they get up to go home. Will is proud of his father and tells him that now he really knows him. He asks if they will ever come back, and Charles Halloway answers that some others will come, perhaps in a different form, but that the fight has just begun. He tells them that perhaps they are already there. But there is only Jim, Will, and his father in the meadow with the carousel. They look up at the merry-go-round and each thinks about how easy it would be to just spin around a few times—forward for Jim and Will and backward for Charles Halloway. But then they realize that they could not do it just once, and that they would keep coming back and soon offer friends and relatives rides. Charles Halloway does his best to destroy the control box of the carousel with a wrench. The boys take off to run back home, and, after thinking for a moment, Charles Halloway runs after them. All three reach their destination at the same time, and, happy, they walk back into town.
All of the evil that Mr. Dark holds together falls apart when he dies. The freaks, who were his accomplices because he was bound to them, run off, feeling a freedom that seems foreign to them. When the tattoos fade from his body, any hold that he had upon the misshapen creatures vanishes, and they are truly on their own. Although at one time they were quite dangerous, the freaks no longer seem to pose a great threat to anyone. It is as if all of the evil in them left when Mr. Dark's hold on them left. They may still commit evil acts, since all people are capable of that, but they are no longer destined for such determined and constant destruction as the carnival required. People can have strange effects upon others, and although the tattoos on the Illustrated Man made his power over his freaks seem supernatural, it happens sometimes that many people do things that they would not otherwise do simply because of the power of one person's personality. We are easily led, and so it is all the more important that we watch out for each other, because someone else will come along soon to replace Mr. Dark.
Will and his father bring Jim back from the brink of death by laughing at the carnival, laughing at their lives, and laughing at Death. They show Jim the beauty of life that he was not willing to give up, and show the part of him that wanted to remain with his friend why he made the right choice, even though he does not remember what happened. The healing power of laughter saves their friend. Throughout most of the book it seems that magic is all on the evil side, but by the end it is clear that there is good magic, too. But it is the kind of magic that we take for granted everyday, the magic that allows laughter and happiness to heal our wounds and make us feel complete again. Jim's revival is a dramatic example of what laughter does for everyone regularly. The magic is out there, and we use it all the time, but we do not realize that it is magic. Jim knows the power of this magic, so he risks losing it for the chance at some of the black magic of the carousel. He forgets about the magic in everyday life and goes looking for magic somewhere else. But Will and Charles Halloway show Jim the true magic of life, and in the end he is satisfied with just being a boy, free to run and laugh and enjoy himself.
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