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  1. #1
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    October '06 BOTM: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

    Discussion is now open on SWTWC. Some ideas to get us started:

    1. In many sections of the book, Jim and Will are contrasted, and Bradbury makes a big deal of their differences. Are they really so different? To what extent is there a little bit of Will and a little bit of Jim in everyone? Which is better to have more of: Jim, Will, or a balance? How does this play into the narrative?

    2. Will's father talks near the end of the book about the interrelatedness of all people and that being the basis for kindness and the need to do good. While certain sections of the book talk about Christian goodness, this view seems to sidestep that issue completely. So does the book ultimately present a more humanist or Christian view of good vs. evil?

    3. There is also a possible idea that the freaks are people who have given up on that kindness between people in favor of some aspect of themselves, and thus are turned into caricatures of that aspect. Thoughts?

    4. Just how corny is it that Mr. Halloway can beat the demons by laughing at them? How much of the book really ends up being about Mr. Halloway beating his "old" demons?

  2. #2
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    1) I think the differences between Will and Jim were more external than anything. Will's father was very persent, Jim's parents didn't seem so much. One worried about going to the carnival more than the other. I didn't see them so much as opposites, though.



    3) I suppose there is truth to that, and the book was very symbolic in that sense.

    4) It is a bit corny how Mr. Halloway beat the demons with laughing, but the novel itself spoke to symbolic elements in that manner. In that sense, I thought it worked well. I didn't see the book ending up as Mr. Halloway beating his demons - that was part of it, sure. I just thought it was about not letting the darker elements of life and your thoughts taking over.


    Aside from those thoughts, I can't say I was surprised, but I found the parallels to Stephen King's It impossible to ignore. Or rather, remembering my readings of It, I now see how much SWtWC indellibly influenced much of King's writing, and It in particular.

  3. #3
    Yobmod Yobmod's Avatar
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    3. There is also a possible idea that the freaks are people who have given up on that kindness between people in favor of some aspect of themselves, and thus are turned into caricatures of that aspect. Thoughts?

    4. Just how corny is it that Mr. Halloway can beat the demons by laughing at them? How much of the book really ends up being about Mr. Halloway beating his "old" demons?
    4) It is a bit corny how Mr. Halloway beat the demons with laughing, but the novel itself spoke to symbolic elements in that manner. In that sense, I thought it worked well. I didn't see the book ending up as Mr. Halloway beating his demons - that was part of it, sure. I just thought it was about not letting the darker elements of life and your thoughts taking over.
    I agree with RobB on this point. It may have been corny, but it felt right for this story. The freaks peculiar looks and abilities were merely the physical manifistations of their spiritual deformities and psychological disorders; being faced with joy and freedom from judgment would naturally repel them. It was certainly preferable to some big shoot-out or brawl, given the mythic nature of the bad guys, and their journey across the world.

    It compares favourably with similar confrontations in other books, like the defeat of the dark lord in Sword of Shanara by confronting him with 'truth' - the Circus folk in SWtWC were always shown to be sensitive to the attitudes of the town-folk, which is how the Sand-witch hunted the boys. I also thought part of the reason for them being an old-style funfair with a freakshow was that freakshow's provoke generally undesirable thoughts in the customers (disgust, pride, lust, hatred), making them susceptible to the Tatooed Man's malign influence. So defeating them by laughing, and simply refusing to partake of the purient judgment of the freaks, diffuses their power.

    Psychic badguys should be defeated spiritually, not physically.

  4. #4
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    I haven't started yet and through a twist of fate my copy of the book is around 1000 k's away and that doesn't look like changing for a few weeks.
    I'll post when I can, in the mean time enjoy.

  5. #5
    Staff Banger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael
    Discussion is now open on SWTWC. Some ideas to get us started:

    1. In many sections of the book, Jim and Will are contrasted, and Bradbury makes a big deal of their differences. Are they really so different? To what extent is there a little bit of Will and a little bit of Jim in everyone? Which is better to have more of: Jim, Will, or a balance? How does this play into the narrative?
    From chapter 3: "Will runs because running is its own excuse. Jim runs because something's up ahead of him."

    Will is Bradbury's ideal. He sees how his friend wants to grow up too fast, and how his father wants to be young again, and senses that where he is at that moment of his life is right where he belongs. He is integral to this story because it is this centeredness that saves both Jim and Charles Halloway from becoming freaks in Dark's carnival. The problem with Will though is that because he has this innate sense and his struggles are primarily external and not internal, he is both less interesting as a character and less easy to identify with than Jim and Charles.

    2. Will's father talks near the end of the book about the interrelatedness of all people and that being the basis for kindness and the need to do good. While certain sections of the book talk about Christian goodness, this view seems to sidestep that issue completely. So does the book ultimately present a more humanist or Christian view of good vs. evil?
    I got the impression that "Christian" goodness was being used in a non-religious sense. I believe that Bradbury depicts a humanist view of good and evil with a moral system based on empathy.

    3. There is also a possible idea that the freaks are people who have given up on that kindness between people in favor of some aspect of themselves, and thus are turned into caricatures of that aspect. Thoughts?
    I think that the freaks are not so much given up on kindness as having succumbed to the despair of the finitude of human existence, which manifests itself in a variety of perceived shortcomings. Because they are so wrapped up in what they lack, they fail to recognize that others suffer from this same condition. This lack of empathy is the cause of evil.

    4. Just how corny is it that Mr. Halloway can beat the demons by laughing at them? How much of the book really ends up being about Mr. Halloway beating his "old" demons?
    Halloway says in chapter 39 that when faced with the fact of the human condition:

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Halloway
    So, in sum, what are we? We are the creatures that know and know too much. That leaves us with such a burden again we have a choice, to laugh or cry. We do both, depending on the season and the need. Somehow, I feel the carnival watches, to see what we're doing and how and why, and moves in on us when it feels we're ripe.
    So, it would appear that in some circumstances it may be appropriate to cry. However, not in the two instances where Charles, and later Charles and Will, laugh. In the first instance, when he is being attacked by the Dust Witch, Charles is confronted with his mortality and defeats her by laughing:

    Life in the end seemed a prank of such size you could only stand off at this end of the corridor to note its meaningless length and its quite unnecessary height, a mountain built to such ridiculous immensities you were dwarfed in its shadow and mocking of its pomp.
    Charles recognizes the undue importance people give to things in their lives that really aren't that important when viewed from the end of life. In fact, this erroneous prioritizing is life-denying, as it results in despair. It's for this reason that Charles and Will laugh for Jim at the end. To do otherwise would be to legitimize despair.

    It does come across as a little corny, but I think it is intended. I think that Bradbury is saying that lightness of heart is required to combat the despair of mortal existence. We're all going to die, so we should enjoy what life we have while we can live it, and share that joy with those we love. Laughter is infectious, is expressive without words, and comes from deep within. It is one of the simplest and most intimate ways in which we can connect with others.

  6. #6
    Registered User AJ_'s Avatar
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    1. In many sections of the book, Jim and Will are contrasted, and Bradbury makes a big deal of their differences. Are they really so different? To what extent is there a little bit of Will and a little bit of Jim in everyone? Which is better to have more of: Jim, Will, or a balance? How does this play into the narrative?

    The only marked difference I saw was that Will didn't like his home life and wanted to escape it by becoming older. The other differences they had in character were very subtle, because my impression was that they were both basically the same.

    2. Will's father talks near the end of the book about the interrelatedness of all people and that being the basis for kindness and the need to do good. While certain sections of the book talk about Christian goodness, this view seems to sidestep that issue completely. So does the book ultimately present a more humanist or Christian view of good vs. evil?

    A more humanist view, since Will's father knew they couldn't be defeated with a cross or quotes from the Bible.

    3. There is also a possible idea that the freaks are people who have given up on that kindness between people in favor of some aspect of themselves, and thus are turned into caricatures of that aspect. Thoughts?

    I wish we had some more background of the freaks, I would have like to known their history more and how they ended up becoming part of the carnival. The teacher and the lightening rod salesman didn't seem like uncaring people, so I'm more of the opinion that they were just unlucky souls to cross the path of Mr. Dark.

    4. Just how corny is it that Mr. Halloway can beat the demons by laughing at them? How much of the book really ends up being about Mr. Halloway beating his "old" demons?

    Pretty darn corny. But if it really was about Mr. Halloway beating his own personal demons, then it would make sense.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael
    1. In many sections of the book, Jim and Will are contrasted, and Bradbury makes a big deal of their differences. Are they really so different? To what extent is there a little bit of Will and a little bit of Jim in everyone? Which is better to have more of: Jim, Will, or a balance? How does this play into the narrative?
    I thought Jim was more the "wild child" and Will came across as more steadfast. It felt like a fairly watered down Frodo-Sam relationship that's quite common...

    2. Will's father talks near the end of the book about the interrelatedness of all people and that being the basis for kindness and the need to do good. While certain sections of the book talk about Christian goodness, this view seems to sidestep that issue completely. So does the book ultimately present a more humanist or Christian view of good vs. evil?
    Hmmm....
    Well, to be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure how I'd define a humanist view of good and evil. The view from the book I got is that the potential for evil is quiescent in all of us, and the fairground drew it out - the bad guys were the ones who gave in to it.

    3. There is also a possible idea that the freaks are people who have given up on that kindness between people in favor of some aspect of themselves, and thus are turned into caricatures of that aspect. Thoughts?
    As above - the freaks are the ones who gave in to their inner darkness.

    4. Just how corny is it that Mr. Halloway can beat the demons by laughing at them? How much of the book really ends up being about Mr. Halloway beating his "old" demons?
    Very corny. I cringed slightly at that point. But as others have said above, it does make sense in the light of the nature of the fairground.

    Overall I felt this book hasn't aged very well, I don't know whether because it seems the concepts have been re-used so many time since it was first published, or just because the whole concept of "innocent, small-town America" seems a bit dated. But if I pretended I was reading it 30 years ago, it was a good read!

    JJ

  8. #8
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Hey, I'm here!!!

    SFFWorld has been really cranky with my computer lately. Not sure if it's servers or something between me and it or what, but I've had a hell of a time getting on lately and having the site actually work....

    So I've been trying to think of what to say about this one for about three weeks now. It was my nomination, so I feel like I should have an essay of some sort about SWTWC.

    So far it just hasn't come to me, and my reading of the book is getting farther and farther in the past. There were a lot of general mood things that I really liked about the book. The general atmosphere felt a lot to me like a grey October, which happens to be just about my favorite month. So I really felt at home with the general character of the book.

    Given that this is a book that's discussed in so many classes, I guess maybe my expectations were a little high as to the deep literary aspects of the work. With the exception of some of Charlie's philosophical ramblings at the end of the book, there was much less than I expected as far as meat goes.

    The two most interesting things to me were probably the freaks, and the nature of why they become freaks, and Charlie's discussion of good and evil and empathy near the end, both of which are very interrelated. I don't feel like the freaks so much gave in to the inner darkness, as JJ99 points out. I feel more like they've lost some essential connection to other humans or they've become so obsessed with something in themselves that they close off that connection.

    I think about the teacher, name forgotten, who becomes a little girl. It seems that she's so fixated on aging and such that the fair is able to tempt her in, to turn her into a girl and essentially make her a freak.

    To expand on what Banger mentions about the laughing, our fears only have power over us so long as we take them seriously. In not taking them seriously, they can do nothing but wither and go away. I don't know if the book was intended as a slightly more YA offering, but the message and presentation really seem like they would work well for angst-filled teenage readers (maybe why it's done so much in high school classes).


    Also interesting that Rob points out a Stephen King connection. On the SWTWC Wiki page (I believe that's where it is), there is a list of things the book really influenced. They point out Stephen King's Needful Things as being a retelling of SWTWC, but instead of a fair it's a junk/curiosities shop, the owner of which "buys" people souls with their greatest desires.


    Well, that's super rambly. All in all, not disappointed, but wish there was a little more meat for discussion in this one.

  9. #9
    And sleep deprived... starry-eyed's Avatar
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    So on the west coast it is not yet 3 hours past midnight on Oct 24th, but I can't stay up that late and I figure this is close enough...

    1. Bradbury seems to be using Jim and Will to represent acceptance/contentment with one's lot (Will) verses lack of acceptance/discontentment (Jim). The author seemed to be saying that Will represented a better "balance". Only I personally never saw it that way. Unlike others, I did identify with Will's character because I did NOT see him as well balanced- I felt Will was not just uninterested in changing his life, rather he was afraid of change. By the end of the novel, Jim has learned to better accept his current lot and I felt that Will got a glimpse of how, eventually, his world would have to change.

    2. The issue of whether Bradbury was relying on a humanist vs. Christian view of Good vs. Evil seemed murky to me. Bradbury provided a humanist explanation for why man should strive towards Goodness and Evil is what eventually results from failing to relate to one's fellow man. The circus was clearly Evil, but the failings of its victims were both morally and spiritually ambiguous. For example, the traveling salesman was hardly unkind to his fellow man- he offered the free lightning rod to Jim because he sensed its necessity. Perhaps one could argue that the salesman "left before the storm" (as Bradbury does) and refused to struggle through opposition with his fellow man. Still, whether you choose the humanist or the Christian definition of "a lack of kindness," the faults of the salesman seem relatively minor.

    3. Mr. Halloway speaks directly to this- speculating about the faults of each man that allowed him to become prey to the circus. Again, these "failings" seem to be minor personality faults and hardly failings of human kindness. Yearning to be young again or wanting to grow up may not be psychologically healthy, but as a moral failing, I find that a bit hard to swallow. I would say the freaks of the circus were those who were discontent with their lots in life and unable to forgive themselves their faults.

    4. If you can't beat Evil by being Good, maybe you have to stop taking Good, Evil, and all the rest of it so seriously. I thought it fitting with the rest of the novel for it to end with everyone taking a deep breath and just letting go a bit. The circus man tells Mr. Halloway that quick actions not thoughts would save the day. Yet Mr. Halloway is trying to "act quickly" as he did earlier that day, but his good intentions are all for naught. Only by letting go and allowing himself to reevaluate his priorities does he see his earlier desires as silly. By not being so dramatic about it all, he robs the dust witch of the emotions she needs from him and thus escapes her and eventually saves the day. Relax, let go and laugh a little -even if that doesn't help your dreams come true, it does help you defeat an Evil circus.

  10. #10
    Staff Banger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by starry-eyed
    1. Bradbury seems to be using Jim and Will to represent acceptance/contentment with one's lot (Will) verses lack of acceptance/discontentment (Jim). The author seemed to be saying that Will represented a better "balance". Only I personally never saw it that way. Unlike others, I did identify with Will's character because I did NOT see him as well balanced- I felt Will was not just uninterested in changing his life, rather he was afraid of change. By the end of the novel, Jim has learned to better accept his current lot and I felt that Will got a glimpse of how, eventually, his world would have to change.
    That is a really interesting perspective on Will, but I don't think that it is borne out by the story. After all, if Will is so afraid of change, then he would also want to make a deal with Mr. Dark. But he doesn't want to make any deals. Furthermore, it would be contrary to narrative intent, if indeed Charles Halloway is the mouthpiece of the narrator, as Charles thinks of boys like Will, "They feel good, they look good, they are good." (Chapter 3).

    To say that Will is afraid of all change one must also ignore Will's own words (Chapter 26):

    Quote Originally Posted by Will Halloway
    Oh, Jim, Jim you do see, don't you? Everything in its time, like the preacher said only last month, everything one by one, not two by two, will you remember?
    Concerning good/evil and kindness/unkindness, I don't think Bradbury is saying that Foley and the lightning rod salesmen are evil people. I think he's saying that they are so obsessed with their perceived shortcomings that they become susceptible to evil. Not becoming evil, but having evil happen to them.

    From a humanist standpoint, evil is not necessarily a rejection of good, but a lack of good, a form of weakness. Foley and the lightning rod salesmen aren't too much different than Jim and Charles, except that Jim and Charles are saved. Why are they saved and Foley and the lightning rod salesman are not? Because of empathy. Note that all of the characters who are transformed are pretty much solitary individuals without family, the spinster Foley a weaker example and the itinerant lightning rod salesmen a stronger example. Just about all of Chapter 39 lays out how goodness comes from connecting with others.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Halloway
    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. He felt that seed like slime in his pulse, splitting, making more against the day they would multiply his body into darkness. So that man, the first one, knew what we know now: our hour is short, eternity is long. With this knowledge came pity and mercy, so we spared others for the later, more intricate, more mysterious benefits of love.
    The solitary individuals in the story are so wrapped up in their shortcomings that they never look to others and acknowledge that "our hour is short, eternity is long." Instead, they try to circumvent nature. This isn't to say that they are evil people, but just that they lack empathy, which makes them susceptible to making the wrong choice when Mr. Dark offers them one.

  11. #11
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    OK, I finally got my hands on this and even managed to finish it before the end of the month. I would've rather posted 2 days ago, but them's the breaks.

    Some comments before I get onto the discussion questions:
    I found the prose in this book interesting (and not always enjoyable). Bradbury's ability to shift from long, nearly overwrought sentences to short punchy statements works very well at times, but for me missed the mark at others. It was a very different style to the only other Bradbury I've read - Fahrenheit 451.
    There's a few sentences that stick with me still:
    Dad's tall. Dad's very tall indeed. - after Charles stands up to Mr Dark.
    But Jim was cold as spaded earth. - after Jim has been on the carousel. Great way to end a chapter.

    Did anyone else notice the various way's that Charles Halloway is refered to in the novel? He's at times Dad, Will's father, Charles Holloway, Mr Holloway - all depending on the events and viewpoint at the time. Another nice touch that reminded me of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

    I read the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition, which had a bit of an afterword by Bradbury. Did anyone else realise that this was originally written as a screenplay?

    Now a question: Has anyone read The Illustrated Man? Is the titular character Mr Dark?


    1. In many sections of the book, Jim and Will are contrasted, and Bradbury makes a big deal of their differences. Are they really so different? To what extent is there a little bit of Will and a little bit of Jim in everyone? Which is better to have more of: Jim, Will, or a balance? How does this play into the narrative?
    I'm of the mind that they're similar as boys of that age will be, but still very different. I could see a lot of myself and my friends at the time in Will and Jim, so maybe that empathy helped me relate to and distinguish them as characters.

    Will's father talks near the end of the book about the interrelatedness of all people and that being the basis for kindness and the need to do good. While certain sections of the book talk about Christian goodness, this view seems to sidestep that issue completely. So does the book ultimately present a more humanist or Christian view of good vs. evil?
    Humanist - as mentioned earlier in this thread, he realises that Christian symbols such as the Bible and holy water will not make a difference - that the "evil" is just a feeding off of lackofempathy. Hence the caveman speech quoted above, which was another of the more memorable parts of the book for me.

    There is also a possible idea that the freaks are people who have given up on that kindness between people in favor of some aspect of themselves, and thus are turned into caricatures of that aspect. Thoughts?

    I'm pretty sure there's apassage that discusses exactly that. As to why they are susceptible in the first place, that seems to me to be the whole point of the carnival. Tools like their hall of mirrors play on the flaws within people and drive them to despair, and thus the carousel.

    4. Just how corny is it that Mr. Halloway can beat the demons by laughing at them? How much of the book really ends up being about Mr. Halloway beating his "old" demons?
    Well, laughter and wax bullets
    I thought it worked. I don't expect some old man to get all Buffy on them. Having said that, when he opened up the rifle and handled the bullet I somehow expected him to try and smash the hall of mirrors. How it actually broke was much cooler - that was one of the best images in the book.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Banger View Post
    From a humanist standpoint, evil is not necessarily a rejection of good, but a lack of good, a form of weakness. Foley and the lightning rod salesmen aren't too much different than Jim and Charles, except that Jim and Charles are saved. Why are they saved and Foley and the lightning rod salesman are not? Because of empathy. Note that all of the characters who are transformed are pretty much solitary individuals without family, the spinster Foley a weaker example and the itinerant lightning rod salesmen a stronger example. Just about all of Chapter 39 lays out how goodness comes from connecting with others.

    [...]
    The solitary individuals in the story are so wrapped up in their shortcomings that they never look to others and acknowledge that "our hour is short, eternity is long." Instead, they try to circumvent nature. This isn't to say that they are evil people, but just that they lack empathy, which makes them susceptible to making the wrong choice when Mr. Dark offers them one.
    I think you need to take this a step further. Empathy, yes, but family, too. A lot of Charles Halloway's early dithering and self-pity is based on thinking too much about himself. By the novel's end he's not just feeling empathy for the boys, he's reasserting the value of family and love of family, and he's a stronger man not just for thinking of someone besides himself but for having someone else to think of. It's about connection and community and love as well as empathy.

    As for the ending, I've always found that weak. How do you beat an ages old evil with something that probability suggests they'd have run into sometime before?

    Randy M.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy M. View Post
    I think you need to take this a step further. Empathy, yes, but family, too. A lot of Charles Halloway's early dithering and self-pity is based on thinking too much about himself. By the novel's end he's not just feeling empathy for the boys, he's reasserting the value of family and love of family, and he's a stronger man not just for thinking of someone besides himself but for having someone else to think of. It's about connection and community and love as well as empathy.
    Isn't that just what I'm saying in the bit you quoted? I specifically mention family and connecting with others.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Banger View Post
    Isn't that just what I'm saying in the bit you quoted? I specifically mention family and connecting with others.
    I guess I want to shift the emphasis. You put empathy at the forefront of your argument. I'm suggesting putting family at the forefront. Family is central to the novel with empathy and compassion stemming from that, not vice versa. Those who fall to Cougar & Dark, as you rightly point out, either have no family or have a bad family life (or are irredeemably selfish, I suppose, which would lead to a bad family life). In any case, Bradbury circles around the idea of family, and it is family and the bond of love between father and son that eventually triumphs.

    Charles and Will are in danger because their relationship has suffered due to Charles perceiving a gap between them caused by his "advanced" age. Jim is in danger because he has no close family attachment, only Will, the brother who isn't really his brother, but who believes in him like one. Charles and Will's salvation lies in their reconnection to each other as father and son. In the process Charles affirms the connection between the boys by treating Huck ... er ... Jim like a son, and so they save Jim by, for all intents and purposes, adopting him into their family.


    Randy M.

  15. #15
    Yobmod Yobmod's Avatar
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    Now a question: Has anyone read The Illustrated Man? Is the titular character Mr Dark?
    The illustrated man is a good (but not great) collection - but the protagonist of the frame story has nothing to do with Mr dark; apart from having magical tatoos, they are entirely different.

    Mr Dark's tatoos were somehow tied into his control of the freaks; Illustrated Man's tatoos simply tell stories of the future and are completely outside his control.

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