Several reviewers have pointed out what they believe to be the novel's major flaw: Almost any reader is going to solve the mystery of the undead Arbuthnot before getting half way through the novel. A much greater flaw than the easily-solved mystery is the use of the Beast as a kind of phantom-of-the-opera figure lurking about the back lots of Maximus Films. The idea of transplanting the classic figure from the cellars of an opera house to the dark old sets of an aging motion-picture studio is a cliché; it has been the central plot of some uninspired made-for-television movies.
The transparency of the mystery is not a major obstacle to enjoying the novel. Instead, it provides a structure which Bradbury uses to establish the central aspect of the novel — its blending of fantasy and reality. Maximus Films, like other Hollywood studios, has been manufacturing fantasies for film audiences for decades. The novel takes the fantastic images of motion pictures and blends them into the real world, making fantasy and reality one. Special effects artists such as Roy Holdstrom create monsters that seem alive in motion pictures; in A Graveyard for Lunatics these bizarre creatures come to life in the forms of the novel's various weird characters. A key to the success of this blend of fantasy and reality is the fact that the novel never fully becomes a fantasy. Bradbury shows how motion pictures shape people's lives by shaping their imaginations; if the novel were to slip completely into fantasy, this important aspect would be lost. The mystery format is essential, therefore, because the detective must slowly uncover the reality under the fantasy, showing the real human drama behind the man who plays Christ, the make-up genius, and the imagination of people who run the studio. The real mystery of A Graveyard for Lunatics is not whether Arbuthnot is alive or dead; the real mystery is how people create motion picture worlds that seem more realistic than the ordinary world. This is, along with the many interesting characters, part of the fun of the novel.
Also enjoyable is the humor which is present throughout. Death ordinarily is not a funny subject, but the humor in A Graveyard for Lunatics is black comedy. The novel is written in two distinct movements, and the comedy follows two distinct directions. The first movement begins at the novel's opening and ends with Roy's hanging. During this movement, the comedy focuses on the narrator's attempts to make sense out of the confused world of the motion picture studio. There is a mystery to be solved, but it is not an urgent one. There is time for the narrator to meet the important characters of the novel, and the humor evolves out of their eccentric personalities. For instance, Fritz Wong comically curses at everyone he meets, and the wiser ones curse right back at him. The second movement is darker and denser than the first, reaching its climax with the rebirth of Roy. In this movement, people die, and the studio itself is very nearly destroyed. The narrator ceases to be the outsider looking in on the world of movie-making; he has become another eccentric part of that world. As he explores...
(The entire section is 817 words.)