Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1045
Ray Bradbury 1920-2012
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Douglas Spaulding and Leonard Spaulding) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, dramatist, nonfiction writer, editor, and author of children's books.
Regarded as an important figure in the development of science fiction, even though he does not write primarily in that genre, Bradbury was among the first authors to combine the concepts of science fiction with a sophisticated prose style. Often described as economical yet poetic, Bradbury's fiction conveys a vivid sense of place in which everyday events are transformed into unusual, sometimes sinister situations. In a career which has spanned more than fifty years, Bradbury has written fantasies, crime and mystery stories, supernatural tales, and mainstream literature, as well as science fiction. In all of his work, Bradbury emphasizes basic human values and cautions against unthinking acceptance of technological progress. His persistent optimism, evident even in his darkest work, has led some critics to label him as sentimental or naive. Bradbury, however, perceives life, even at its most mundane, with a childlike wonder and awe, which charges his work with a fervent affirmation of humanity.
Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, a small town that frequently emerges as the setting in his stories. In the mid-1930s Bradbury's family moved to southern California, where he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938. Determined to become a writer, Bradbury created his own science fiction magazine called Futuria Fantasia, although he produced only four volumes. Bradbury worked as a newsboy in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1943, to support his writing. His first published story, "Pendulum" (with Henry Hasse), surfaced in Super Science Stories in 1941. Shortly thereafter, Bradbury's macabre tales regularly appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask, Amazing Stories, and Weird Tales. The latter magazine served to showcase the works of such fantasy writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth. Derleth, who founded Arkham House, a publishing company specializing in fantasy literature, accepted one of Bradbury's stories for Who Knocks?, an anthology published by his firm. Derleth subsequently suggested that Bradbury compile a volume of his own stories; the resulting book, Dark Carnival (1947), collects Bradbury's early fantasy tales. Due to the success of this first collection, in addition to publication of his stories in The Best American Short Stories of 1946 and the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1947, Bradbury's stories were soon published in such mainstream periodicals as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Yorker, where they reached a wider audience. A prolific author, Bradbury has published numerous short story collections since, earning a reputation as an authority of fantasy literature in the process.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Although he has produced volumes of work in many genres, Bradbury is essentially a short story writer. Sometimes his works cross genres. For example, the novels The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Dandelion Wine (1957) are frequently treated by critics as short story collections, in which chapters are connected by a simple framing device. The stories in The Martian Chronicles, for example are linked by the theme of human settlement on Mars. Another significant collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man (1951), also uses a framing device, basing the stories on the tattoos of the title character. Bradbury's earlier stories—particularly those collected in Dark Carnival, The Martian Chronicles, and The October Country (1970)—have been compared to those of Edgar Allan Poe because of their grotesque and sometimes horrific story lines. "Skeleton," in Dark Carnival, for example, is about a man who grows so repulsed by his own skeleton that he has it removed, consequently becoming "a human jellyfish." "The Third Expedition" (first published in 1948 as "Mars Is Heaven" in Planet Stories and later collected in The Martian Chronicles) is about Americans who travel to Mars where they become reunited with their deceased relatives, who, in actuality, are hostile beings whose human faces melt away in the night as they murder the Americans in their sleep. The futuristic and sometimes morbid themes of Bradbury's early collections rarely surface in his more recent works. Driving Blind (1997), for example, only contains four traditional science fiction stories. The majority, though bizarre, are more nostalgic, optimistic, and romantic. They tend to deal with the everyday. All of Bradbury's fiction, from Dark Carnival to Driving Blind, is issue-oriented, as he frequently addresses such themes as racism, censorship, religion, and technology, often infusing the text with authorial commentary.
While Bradbury's popularity is acknowledged even by his detractors, many critics find the reasons for his success difficult to pinpoint. Some critics were aggravated that Bradbury's futuristic stories, which are often labeled as a science fiction, most often reflect poor scientific knowledge and, at times, an aversion toward technology. Among his defenders was Russel Kirk, who called Bradbury "a moralist," adding that he "is interested not in the precise mechanism of rockets, but in the mentality and the morals of fallible human beings who make and use rockets." Willis E. McNelly concurred, stating that Bradbury "is a visionary who writes not of the impediments of science, but of its effects upon men." Some of Bradbury's detractors have likewise pointed to inconsistencies within Bradbury's text. Thomas M. Disch argued that Bradbury's "dry-ice machine covers the bare stage of his story with a fog of breathy approximations." More forgiving critics have excused any oddities in Bradbury's short stories as imaginative and inventive. Christopher Isherwood wrote that Bradbury's "brilliant, shameless fantasy makes, and needs, no excuses for its wild jumps from the possible to the impossible." Yet by far the greatest complaint of Bradbury is that his fiction is overly sentimental and didactic. Commenting on The Martian Chronicles, Kent Forrester observed that "Bradbury's ideas are so violently drawn . . . that the stories are weakened unless we are as enthusiastic about his ideas as he is." One enthusiastic reviewer, Damon Knight, wrote, "Bradbury's strength lies in the fact that he writes about the things that are really important to us . . . the fundamental prerational fears and longings and desires." Content aside, most critics have expressed appreciation for Bradbury's poetic prose. Forrester concluded that although Bradbury's "prose is occasionally overcooked it is still, in small chunks, superior to any other prose in science fiction. It is prose, like good poetry, that sticks in the mind."
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
Dark Carnival 1947
*The Martian Chronicles 1950
The Illustrated Man 1951
*Fahrenheit 451 1953
The Golden Apples of the Sun 1953
The October Country 1955
*Dandelion Wine 1957
A Medicine for Melancholy 1959
The Meadow 1960
The Ghoul Keepers 1962
†R is for Rocket 1962
The Small Assassin 1962
The Machineries of Joy 1964
The Autumn People 1965
The Vintage Bradbury 1965
†S is for Space 1966
Tomorrow Midnight 1966
‡Twice Twenty-Two 1966
Bloch and Bradbury: Ten Masterpieces of Science Fiction [with Robert Bloch] 1969
I Sing the Body Electric! 1969
Whispers from Beyond [with Bloch] 1972
Selected Stories 1975
The Best of Bradbury 1976
Long After Midnight 1976
To Sing Strange Songs 1979
The Ghosts of Forever (story, essay, and poetry) 1980
The Stories of Ray Bradbury 1980
Dinosaur Tales 1983
The Love Affair (story and poetry) 1983
*Something Wicked This Way Comes 1983
A Memory of Murder 1984
The Toynbee Convector 1988
Quicker Than the Eye 1996
Driving Blind 1997
Other Major Works
Something Wicked This Way Comes 1962
Death Is a Lonely Business 1985
A Graveyard for Lunatics 1990
Green Shadows, White Whale 1992
Yestermorrows; Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures 1993
Something Wicked This Way Comes [adaptor; from his novel of the same title] 1962
Way in the Middle of the Air 1962
The Anthem Sprinters, and Other Antics 1963
The World of Ray Bradbury 1964
The Day It Rained Forever 1966
Leviathan 99 1966
The Pedestrian 1966
Dandelion Wine [adaptor; from his short story collection of the same title] 1967
Christus Apollo 1969
Madrigals for the Space Age 1972
The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit and Other Plays 1972
Pillar of Fire and Other Plays for Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond Tomorrow 1975
That Ghost, That Bride of Time: Excerpts from a Play-in-Progress 1976
The Martian Chronicles [adaptor; from his short story collection of the same title] 1977
Fahrenheit 451 [adaptor; from his short story collection of the same title] 1979
A Device Out of Time 1986
Falling Upward 1988
The Day It Rained Forever / 6610 1991
Old Ahab's Friend, and Friend to Noah, Speaks His Piece: A Celebration 1971
When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed: Celebrations for Almost Any Day in the Year 1973
That Son of Richard III: A Birth Announcement 1974
Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns 1977
The Bike Repairman 1978
Twin Hieroglyphs That Swim the River Dust 1978
The Aqueduct 1979
The Author Considers His Resources 1979
This Attic Where the Meadow Greens 1979
The Last Circus 1980
The Haunted Computer and the Android People 1981
The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury 1982
Forever and the Earth 1984
Death Has Lost Its Charm For Me 1987
Dogs Think Everyday is Christmas 1997
With Cat for Comforter [With Louise Max] 1997
It Came from Outer Space 1953
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [adaptor; from his story 'The Foghorn"] 1953
Moby Dick [adaptor; from the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville] 1956
Icarus Montgolfier Wright [with George C. Johnson] 1962
An American Journey [author of narration] 1964
Picasso Summer [under pseudonym Douglas Spaulding; with Ed Weinberger] 1972
Switch on the Night 1955
The Halloween Tree 1972
The April Witch 1987
Fever Dream 1987
The Foghorn 1987
The Other Foot 1987
The Veldt 1987
Zen and the Art of Writing 1973
The Mummies of Guanajuato 1978
Beyond 1984: Rememberance of Things Future 1979
* These titles are sometimes considered novels.
t These titles are intended for children.
‡ This title contains The Golden Apples of the Sun and Medicine for Melancholy
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SOURCE: A review of The Martian Chronicles, Tomorrow, Vol. X, No. 2, October, 1950, pp. 56-8.
[In the following assessment of The Martian Chronicles—the first major review of any Bradbury work—Isherwood considers Bradbury an author of fantasy literature in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, rather than an author of science fiction. ]
In February 1999, the first rocketship from Earth will land on Mars. Its two crew members will immediately be shot dead by a Mr. Yll K, with a gun which fires bees. Six months later, the crew of a second rocket will be subjected to a mercy killing by Mr. Xxx, a psychologist, in the belief that his victims must be incurable lunatics. In April 2000, the crew of a third rocket will likewise be murdered, while under a deep hypnosis which persuades them that they are visiting their dead relatives and their childhood homes on Earth. But the fourth expedition, in 2001, will be successful, because almost the entire Martian population will have succumbed, in the meanwhile, to an unfamiliar disease carried by the Earthman—chicken pox.
After this, the process of colonization will go forward rapidly for the next four years, bringing the total number of settlers up to 90,000. Then, in November 2005, atomic war will break out on Earth and nearly all of them will return home, leaving the planet practically deserted until October 2026—the date of the arrival of the Thomas and Edwards families, two parties of war refugees escaping on hoarded rockets. These will form the nucleus of a new settlement; and no doubt, in time, others will follow them. Here Mr. Bradbury's Chronicles end.
It is easy to understand why science fiction, and more particularly space-travel-fiction, should be enjoying a revival of popularity at the present time. Faced by probable destruction in a third world war, we turn naturally to dreams of escape from this age and this threatened planet. But that is not the whole of the explanation. For, while the "realistic" two-fisted action-story is going through a phase of imaginative bankruptcy, the science-fiction story grows more prodigious, more ideologically daring. Instead of the grunts of cowboys and the fuddled sexual musings of half-plastered private detectives, we are offered adult speculation about the dangers of galactic imperialism and the future of technocratic man. The best of this new generation of science-fiction writers are highly sensitive and intelligent. They are under no illusions about the prospective blessings of a machine-age utopia. They do not gape at gadgets with adoring wonder. Their approach to the inhabitants of other worlds is anthropological and nonviolent. They owe more to Aldous Huxley than to Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. Insofar as the reading public is turning to them and forsaking the cops and the cowboys, the public is growing up.
This is not to suggest, however, that Ray Bradbury can be classified simply as a science-fiction writer, even a superlatively good one. Dark Carnival, his earlier book of stories, showed that his talents can function equally well within comparatively realistic settings. If one must attach labels, I suppose he might be called a writer of fantasy, and his stories "tales of the grotesque and arabesque" in the sense in which those words are used by Poe. Poe's name comes up, almost inevitably, in any discussion of Mr. Bradbury's work; not because Mr. Bradbury is an imitator (though he is certainly a disciple) but because he already deserves to be measured against the greatest master of his particular genre.
It may even be argued that The Martian Chronicles are not, strictly speaking, science fiction at all. The most firmly established convention of science fiction is that its writers shall use all their art to convince us that their stories could happen. The extraordinary must grow from roots in the ordinary. The scientific "explanations" must have an authoritative air. (There are, as a matter of fact, some science-fiction writers whose work is so full of abstruse technicalities that only connoisseurs can read it.) Such is not Mr. Bradbury's practice. His brilliant, shameless fantasy makes, and needs, no excuses for its wild jumps from the possible to the impossible. His interest in machines seems to be limited to their symbolic and aesthetic aspects. I doubt if he could pilot a rocketship, much less design one.
"The rockets were American," he remarks, with characteristically casual implausibility, "and the men were American and it stayed that way." In other words, he had decided, quite arbitrarily, to tell the story of a purely American immigration and doesn't want to confuse the issue by cluttering up Mars with a lot of foreigners. I think this decision has been entirely justified. For the impact of an immigration gains enormously in violence and drama when the immigrants all belong to the same cultural group.
Through the interstellar spaces, now, as once over the great plains—headed for Mars instead of California and Oregon—the Americans come. First the pioneers; rough, simple, uninhibited men who celebrate their arrival by shooting off their guns, shouting and dancing and getting drunk; later, they build the first crude noisy mining towns. Then the settlers and their womenfolk; city people, merchants, middlemen, bringing trade with them and respectability and tidiness and church religion. Then a great wave of Negroes from the southern states, looking for a new free life. Then the sophisticates; tourists, planners, reformers, interferers, sociologists, shoppers; amateurs of "atmosphere" and eccentrics like Mr. William Stendahl, who erects a replica of the House of Usher in order to mete out a literally Poetic justice to the Society for the Prevention of Fantasy. Then, last of all, the old, "the dried-apricot people," who wish merely to end their days somewhere else, amidst fresh sights and surroundings.
Mr. Bradbury contrasts his very earthy Earthmen with the weird, beautiful, remote Martians; fair, brown-skinned creatures who have eyes like gold coins. They live in houses of crystal, amidst groves of wine-bearing trees; they paint pictures with chemical fire and make books sing by stroking them, like harps, with their six-fingered hands. They wear masks when they wish to hide their feelings. Their children play with golden spiders. Their race is already dying out and most of their cities are uninhabited by the time the first rocketships arrive; but they have accepted their fate calmly, with a philosophy which resembles Taoism. When the chicken pox plague nearly annihilates them, the few survivors hover around the Earth-settlements in ghostly impotence. One, who tries in his loneliness to attach himself to the Earthmen, telepathically takes on the forms of their lost children and friends. He dies of exhaustion, being unable to satisfy everybody at once.
The immigration fails because, with its hot-dog stands and neon lights and gin and hymn singing and automobiles, it remains too obstinately American; it renames the mountains and the forests and the rivers, but it never takes true possession of the planet; its settlement is only a camping party, not a real home. A few realize this. The first of them is Jeff Spender, an archaeologist attached to the Fourth Expedition. Forseeing the vandalism and crass materialism which will follow their occupation, he turns crazy, believes himself to be a chosen avenger of the Martians, and kills several of his companions. His warning and his death are in vain. The Americans do their ugly stupid will and depart, lured by homesickness to their own destruction in Earth's atomic war. And then, at length, after many years, comes Mr. Thomas. He, unlike all his predecessors, has made a complete act of immigration. He blows up his rocket and burns his old papers; and when his children ask to see the Martians he shows them their own reflections, in the water of a canal. Such, as I understand it, is the moral of this book.
The Martian Chronicles is episodic; a collection of formal short stories interspersed with bridge-passages which are written in the style of prose-poems, only a few paragraphs long. It has been impossible for me, in this small space, to convey more than a hint of the vital imagination, anger, humor and pity which Mr. Bradbury has brought to his work. Two of his best stories I have not even referred to; I must mention them now. The first of them is about Mr. Hathaway, one of the very few settlers who remains on Mars after the outbreak of the war on Earth. When his wife and his three children die, he makes four robots to resemble them. He lives with these robots, happy after a fashion, and sometimes even forgetting that they are not human. He grows old. They do not change. Then, one morning, a rocketship lands on its way back from a twenty-year voyage to Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune; it is the same ship of which Hathaway was a crew member on the Fourth Martian Expedition. Hathaway dies of a heart attack brought on by his excitement. When his old friend, the Captain, breaks the news to the robot-wife, she explains that Hathaway has never taught her, or the children, how to feel sad. "He didn't want us to know. He said it was the worst thing that could happen to a man to know how to be lonely and know how to be sad and then cry." So the Captain and his men take off again, for Earth, leaving the robots to their uncanny mimic life. ". . . and in that hut, as the wind roars by and the dust whirls and the cold stars burn, are four figures, a woman, two daughters, a son, tending a low fire for no reason and talking and laughing." They probably won't wear out for two hundred years.
The other story is set in the war-devastated California of 2026. It is about a marvelous mechanical house; a house which cleans itself, cooks its own meals, waters its own garden, wakes its inmates in the morning and reads aloud to them in the evening. But the inmates are no longer there. All that remains of them are their silhouettes, scorched into the wall of the west face by an atomic blast. The house goes on functioning, hour by hour, day by day. This story simply describes its automatic motions, from dawn till ten o'clock on an August evening, when the wind blows a tree bough through the kitchen window, knocking over a bottle of cleaning solvent and starting a fire. The house makes horribly human attempts to save itself, but it fails. "In the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses, oblivious, could be heard announcing the time, playing music, cutting the lawn by remote-control mower, or setting an umbrella frantically out and in the slamming and opening front door . . . a few last cleaning mice darting bravely out to carry the horrid ashes away!" And so our lopsided, labor-saving, thought-destroying mechanistic culture symbolically dies.
Have I made this book sound depressing? It is not—despite its dreadfully timely theme, and one's knowledge that the worst part of its prophecy may well come true, not in 2005 but this very next year. Only the second-rate artist depresses his readers. In work such as this, the sheer lift and power of a truly original imagination exhilarates you, almost in spite of yourself. So I urge even the squeamish to try Mr. Bradbury. His is a very great and unusual talent.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1106
SOURCE: "Introduction," in The Vintage Bradbury, Vintage Books, 1965, pp. vii-x.
[In the essay below, Highet comments on the originality of Bradbury's short fiction.]
One of the most difficult things to achieve in writing fiction is individuality. Hundreds of novels, thousands of short stories are produced every year. Most of them differ from one another only in the locality of their settings, the credibility of their plots, and the atrocity of their sexual and sadistic episodes. Few indeed are those authors whose style and intelligence and interpretation of life are so intense, so distinguished, that their work can be instantly recognized by any sensitive reader, and once recognized can never be forgotten. The fact has been described in a fine antithesis by Truman Capote, himself a highly original author: he is reported to have said of some current novel, "That's not writing, that's typewriting."
Ray Bradbury is one of the most original living American authors: all his work is stamped with the inimitable mark of individuality. No one else could possibly have written his stories. He himself would be utterly incapable of turning out those huge masses of literary meatballs and fictional frankfurters which pour from the publishing kitchens to glut even the most avid reader.
Take his style. A curious mixture of poetry and colloquialism, it is so brisk and economical that it never becomes cloying, so full of unexpected quirks that it is never boring. Occasionally I find it a little too intense and breathless. Ray himself sometimes looks and talks like an enthusiastic teen-ager who has just discovered his own strength, pulled the Sword from the Stone, and believes that he can cope with the world. But there is not a shadow of doubt that it is his own creation, and that it communicates his own clear vision both of the real and of the unreal.
Next, take his subjects. Whatever they are, they are not realistic. But they are human. Real life presses in upon us all the time—usually in the form of crowds or machines. Most of the bad fiction written today, as novels, short stories, and TV and motion-picture plays, is painfully realistic, in that it shows men and women more as objects than as subjects, conditioned and dominated by machines and crowds rather than living genuine lives of their own. With this kind of realism Ray Bradbury has nothing to do. His stories take place in the world of the spirit. He would have written stories equally disconcerting and equally distinguished if he had been born, not in 1920, but in 1820, or 1520, or 20 A.D. Whatever the qualities may be for which future generations will admire him—and they will—we can be sure that he will not be studied as a mirror of external American life in the mid-twentieth century.
What does he write about? Magic. Ghosts. Dreams turning out true, truth dissolving into dreams. The world, which seems dully solid to grownups, transformed into exciting and sometimes appalling fantasy in the minds of children. The future—which we are trying to mold, but which (he knows) will prove to be startlingly different from our plans and our dreams, even our fears. Aristotle said that in making a story it was better to have it impossible and probable, than unconvincing and possible. Most of Ray's stories are impossible—so far; but they are certainly convincing.
He has been misunderstood. He has been underestimated. He will gain a wider and more thoughtful public than he had at first; and his work will last. But he has been misinterpreted. He has often been described as a writer of "science fiction." This is a mistake. He knows little about science; he cares even less. He is a visionary. Technology he scarcely admires and scarcely uses. If it occupies his mind at all, it is not as a convenience or a source of extra muscle-power, but as a possible extension of the abilities of the human spirit. The idea that he can pick up a small machine in California and talk to someone in New York does not excite him. But he once told me that he would be truly enthralled by the invention of a machine which could recover the sounds of the distant past. If we can detect those impossibly distant objects called quasars, why cannot we recapture the sounds of Gettysburg, the words of the first performance of Hamlet, the speeches at the trial of Socrates?
Ray Bradbury is not a science-fiction writer. He is an author of tales of fantasy. His American predecessor is Edgar Allan Poe. His French predecessor is Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. His German predecessor is the author of the Tales of Hoffmann. His English predecessors are (in part, though not wholly) Wells and Kipling. His Greek predecessors are Lucian, and (before him) the creator of Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, Aristophanes.
Fantasy detached from machinery is rare nowadays. Fantasy which enlarges rather than degrades human life has been rare at all times. Franz Kafka was a fantast like Ray Bradbury; but he was a bitter and hopeless pessimist, in whose world everyone struggled and was defeated and did not even glimpse a glory in the mind. Ray Bradbury is both a pessimist and an optimist. The man who is freed from his own hateful skeleton to become as flat and fluid as a mollusc; the explorer of space who, while being burnt to death, becomes a shooting star; the playroom where, out of the imaginations of two quiet bored children, are born horrific monsters; the automated house which survives the death of its occupants and the end of the world—these and other conceptions of Ray Bradbury's are horrors. They are not so foul, not so bestial as the horrors which fill our hospitals and prisons; but they are horrors. Beside them, he puts puzzles. Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up—is he a hero, or a horror? J. M. Barrie made him a lovable fairy, usually acted by mature women so slender that they can (with the help of complex mechanisms) fly. Ray Bradbury makes him a real boy, who cannot grow up, but cannot fly: one who suffers both the torments of youth and the tortures of age. And beside both horrors and puzzles, he puts beautiful and moving fantasies of a future world where we may be as happy as we all wish to be, and memories of a boyhood universe where even the worst monsters can be overcome by energy and confidence—the same sort of energy and confidence which have transformed him from an eager self-taught tale-spinner into a distinguished American author.
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SOURCE: "When I Was in Kneepants: Ray Bradbury," in In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction, Advent Publishers, pp. 108-13.
[In the following essay, Knight presents a brief overview of Bradbury's early short fiction, noting that his principal subject is childhood.]
Ray Bradbury began writing professionally at the floodtide of the cerebral story in science fiction—in 1940, when John Campbell was revolutionizing the field with a new respect for facts, and a wholly justified contempt for the overblown emotional values of the thirties. Bradbury, who had nothing but emotion to offer, couldn't sell Campbell.
Bradbury didn't care. He adapted his work just enough to meet the standards of the lesser markets—he filled it with the secondhand furniture of contemporary science fiction and fantasy—and went on writing what he chose.
It's curious to look back now on those first Bradbury stories and reflect how far they have brought their author. Not many of them are stories at all; most are intensely realized fragments, padded out with any handy straw. The substance of "The Next in Line," for one especially vivid example, is in a two-page description of some Mexican mummies, as relentlessly and embarrassingly horrible as any tourist photograph. The remainder—the two American visitors, the car trouble, the hotel room, the magazines—is not relevant, it merely plumps out the skeleton enough to get it into a conventional suit of clothes.
On a story-a-week schedule, Bradbury sold prodigiously to Weird Tales, Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder. One day we awoke to discover that he had leapfrogged over John Campbell's head, outside our microcosm altogether: his work was beginning to appear in Harper's; in Mademoiselle; in the O. Henry Prize Stories; on the radio; in Esquire, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post.
Outside the huge, brightly-colored bubble he had blown around himself, "serious" critics reacted with rapture:
. . . the sheer lift and power of a truly original imagination exhilarates . . . His is a very great and unusual talent.
Inside the bubble, we get at once a clearer and a more distorted view of Bradbury. Although he has a large following among science fiction readers, there is at least an equally large contingent of people who cannot stomach his work at all; they say he has no respect for the medium; that he does not even trouble to make his scientific double-talk convincing; that—worst crime of all—he fears and distrusts science.
. . . All of which is true, and—for our present purposes, anyhow—irrelevant. The purists are right in saying that he does not write science fiction, and never has.
To Bradbury, as to most people, radar and rocket ships and atomic power are big, frightening, meaningless names: a fact which, no doubt, has something to do with his popular success, but which does not touch the root of the matter. Bradbury's strength lies in the fact that he writes about the things that are really important to us—not the things we pretend we are interested in—science, marriage, sports, politics, crime—but the fundamental prerational fears and longings and desires: the rage at being born; the will to be loved; the longing to communicate; the hatred of parents and siblings, the fear of things that are not self. . . .
People who talk about Bradbury's imagination miss the point. His imagination is mediocre; he borrows nearly all his backgrounds and props, and distorts them badly; wherever he is required to invent anything—a planet, a Martian, a machine—the image is flat and unconvincing. Bradbury's Mars, where it is not as bare as a Chinese stage-setting, is a mass of inconsistency; his spaceships are a joke; his people have no faces. The vivid images in his work are not imagined; they are remembered.
Here is the shock of birth, in "No Particular Night or Morning":
"Have you talked about this to the psychiatrist?"
"So he could try to mortar up the gaps for me, fill in the gulfs with noise and warm water and words and hands touching me . . . ?"
And the death-wish, Bradbury's most recurrent theme:
. . . When I was living I was jealous of you, Lespere . . . Women frightened me and I went into space, always wanting them and jealous of you for having them, and money, and as much happiness as you could have in your own wild way. But now, falling here, with everything over, I'm not jealous of you any more, because it's over for you as it is for me, and right now it's like it never was.
Forty-five thousand people killed every year on this continent . . . made into jelly right in the can, as it were, in the automobiles. Red blood jelly, with white marrow bones like sudden thoughts . . . The cars roll up in tight sardine rolls—all sauce, all silence.
. . . You look out your window and see two people lying atop each other in friendly fashion who, a moment ago, had never met before, dead. . . .
("The Concrete Mixer")
The gulf between Bradbury and the science fiction writers is nowhere more clearly evident than in the lavish similes and metaphors that are his trademarks:
The first concussion cut the rocket up the side with a giant can opener. The men were thrown into space like a dozen wriggling silverfish.
. . . And here were the lions now . . . so feverishly and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and your mouth was stuffed with the dusty upholstery smell of their heated pelts. . . .
The aim of science-fantasy, more and more as it becomes what it has always tried to be—adult fiction—is to expand the imagination, stretch it to include things never before seen or dreamed of. Bradbury's subject is childhood and the buried child-in-man; his aim is to narrow the focus, not to widen it; to shrink all the big frightening things to the compass of the familiar: a spaceship to a tin can; a Fourth of July rocket to a brass kettle; a lion to a Teddy bear.
There is so much to say about Bradbury's meaning that perhaps too little has been said about his technique. He is a superb craftsman, a man who has a great gift and has spent fifteen years laboriously and with love teaching himself to use it. "For here was a kind of writing of which there is never much in any one time—a style at once delicate, economical and unobtrusively firm, sharp enough to cut but without rancor, and clear as water or air." That's Stephen Vincent Bent , writing in 1938 about Robert Nathan; the same words, all but the next to last phrase, might have been written with equal justice of Bradbury. His imagery is luminous and penetrating, continually lighting up familiar corners with unexpected words. He never lets an idea go until he has squeezed it dry, and never wastes one. I well remember my own popeyed admiration when I read his story about a woman who gave birth to a small blue pyramid; this is exactly the sort of thing that might occur to any imaginative writer in a manic or drunken moment; but Bradbury wrote it and sold it.
Why Bradbury's world-line and that of the animated cartoon have never intersected, I do not know; perhaps because the result would necessarily scare the American theater-going public out of its underpants; but clearly, in such stories as "Jack-in-the-Box," Bradbury is writing for no other medium. The gaudy colors and plush textures, the dream-swift or dream-slow motion, the sudden dartings into unsuspected depths of perspective, or contrariwise, the ballooning of a face into the foreground—these are all distinctive techniques of the animated cartoon, and Bradbury uses them all.
As for the rancor, the underlying motif of much early Bradbury, the newer stories show little of it; this might be taken as a sign that Bradbury is mellowing in his thirties, and perhaps he is; I have the feeling that he is rather trying to mellow—deliberately searching for something equally strong, equally individual, less antagonistic toward the universe that buys his stories. I don't think he has yet found it. There's the wry, earthy humor of "En la Noche," the pure fancy of "The Golden Kite, The Silver Wind"; these are neutral stories, anyone might have written them. There are the moralistic tales; if you find the moral palatable, as I do in "The Big Black and White Game" and "Way in the Middle of the Air," these are sincere and moving; if you don't, as I don't in "Powerhouse" or "The Fire Balloons," there is a pious flatness about them. Then there is sentiment; and since Bradbury does nothing by halves, it is sentiment that threatens continually to slop over into sentimentality. At its precarious peak, it is a moving and vital thing: when it slops, it is—no other word will do—sickening.
It has been said of Bradbury that, like H. P. Lovecraft, he was born a century or so too late. I think he would have been a castaway in any age; if he would like to destroy airplanes, television sets, automatic washing machines, it's not because they make loud noises or because they have no faces or even because some of them kill people, but because they are grown-up things; because they symbolize the big, loud, faceless, violent, unromantic world of adults.
Childhood is after all Bradbury's one subject. When he writes of grown-up explorers visiting the sun or the Jurassic jungles, they are palpably children playing at spacemen or time-travelers. He writes feelingly and with sharp perception of young women and of old people—because, I think, he finds them childlike. But it's only when the theme becomes explicit that his song sings truest:
The boys were playing on the green park diamond when he came by. He stood a little while among the oak-tree shadows, watching them hurl the white, snowy baseball into the warm summer air, saw the baseball shadow fly like a dark bird over the grass, saw their hands open in mouths to catch this swift piece of summer that now seemed most especially important to hold onto. . . .
How tall they stood to the sun. In the last few months it seemed the sun had passed a hand above their heads, beckoned, and they were warm metal drawn melting upwards; they were golden taffy pulled by an immense gravity to the sky, thirteen, fourteen years old, looking down upon Willie, smiling, but already beginning to neglect him. . . .
Learned opinion to the contrary, Bradbury is not the heir of Poe, Irving or Hawthorne; his voice is the voice (a little shriller) of Christopher Morley and Robert Nathan and J. D. Salinger. As his talent expands, some of his stories become pointed social commentary; some are surprisingly effective religious tracts, disguised as science fiction; others still are nostalgic vignettes; but under it all is still Bradbury the poet of 20th-century neurosis, Bradbury the isolated spark of consciousness, awake and alone at midnight; Bradbury the grown-up child who still remembers, still believes.
The young Ray Bradbury wrote a story called "Skeleton," about a man obsessed by the fact that he carries a horrid, white, grinning skeleton inside him. The story was raw, exuberant, gauche, pretentious, insulting to the intellect, and unforgettable. Weird Tales published it, and later it appeared in Bradbury's first collection, Dark Carnival.
The story did not soothe its readers' anxieties nor pamper their prejudices, nor provide vicarious adventure in a romantic setting. Far from solving his problem by his own courage and resourcefulness, the hero let it be solved for him by a strange little man named Munigant, who crawled down his throat, gnawed, crunched and munched away the bones which had so annoyed him, and left him lying on his carpet, a human jellyfish.
Time passed; Bradbury got a little older, stopped running quite so hard. His stories acquired depth, smoothness, polish. Little by little he stopped writing about corpses, vampires, cemeteries, things in jars; instead, he wrote about civil rights, religion and good home cooking. The slicks, which had begun buying him as a curiosity when he was horrid, kept on buying him as a staple when he turned syrupy.
Dandelion Wine consists of sixteen loosely connected tales without a ghost or a goblin in them; they are familiar in tone and rhythm, but these stories are no longer what we mean by fantasy; they are what Hollywood means by fantasy. The setting is an imaginary Midwestern town, seen through the wrong end of a rose-colored glass. The period is as vague as the place; Bradbury calls it 1928, but it has no feeling of genuine recollection; most of the time it is like second-hand 1910.
Childhood is Bradbury's one subject, but you will not find real childhood here, Bradbury's least of all. What he has had to say about it has always been expressed obliquely, in symbol and allusion, and always with the tension of the outsider—the ex-child, the lonely one. In giving up this tension, in diving with arms spread into the glutinous pool of sentimentality that has always been waiting for him, Bradbury has renounced the one thing that made him worth reading.
All the rest is still here: the vivid images, the bombardment of tastes and sounds and smells; the clipped, faceless prose; the heavy nostalgia, the cuteness, the lurking impudence. The phrases, as before, are poignant ("with the little gray toad of a heart flopping weakly here or there in his chest") or silly to the point of self-parody ("lemon-smelling men's room"). The characters are as lifelike as Bradbury's characters ever were: bright, pert, peppermint-stick people, epicene, with cotton-candy hair and sugar smiles.
Maybe Bradbury, like his own protagonist in "Skeleton," grew uneasy about the macabre forces in himself: or maybe success, that nemesis of American writers, was Bradbury's M. Munigant. Whatever the reason, the skeleton has vanished; what's left is recognizable but limp.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1876
SOURCE: "Fantasy: The World of Ray Bradbury," in Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormality in Literature and Politics, Arlington House, 1969, pp. 109-24.
[In the essay below, Kirk alleges that it is Bradbury's preoccupation with the "moral imagination," rather than science and technology, that distinguishes him from other writers of science fiction.]
To commence as a writer for the pulp-magazines is no advantage; nor is writing screen-plays in Hollywood, decade after decade, generally to be recommended for those who would be men of letters. Such was Ray Bradbury's background. He had the advantage, however, of never attending college—which salutary neglect preserved him from many winds of doctrine, insured that his talents would not be spoilt by Creative Writing 201, and gave him leisure and appetite to read good books innumerable, the love of which suffuses Bradbury story after Bradbury story.
Hollywood writer though he is, Bradbury has had only one of his stories made into a film, and that in England: Fahrenheit 451, a passionate and tender and terrifying description of a democratic despotism not necessarily very far distant in the future, in which all books are burnt because they are disturbing influences in an egalitarian and sensate culture. It is something of a pity that Bradbury did not write the screen-play himself, for he is as good a dramatist as he is a writer of stories. His three short plays, under the general title The World of Ray Bradbury, ran for nearly a year in Los Angeles—but closed after a few days in Manhattan.
The rising generation in Los Angeles (of whom Bradbury is the chief hero) loved those three plays—The Veldt, To the Chicago Abyss, and The Pedestrians. Yet the New York play-reviewers were more ferocious with Ray Bradbury than with any other man of mark in my memory, and they succeeded promptly in preventing anyone in New York from perceiving those truths which are best revealed by fable and parable. The rising generation of Manhattan was left with such plays as The Toilet for ethical instruction.
Bradbury (who thinks of himself, so far as he has any politics, as something of a revolutionary) was assailed by the New York critics as a "romantic reactionary." Charitably, Bradbury later remarked to me that perhaps the Manhattan critics merely had been waiting to gun him down once he should ride out of his western fastness. But there was more than that to their vituperative detestation. They perceived that Bradbury is a moralist, which they could not abide; that he has no truck with the obscene, which omission they found unpardonable; that he is no complacent liberal, because he knows the Spirit of the Age to be monstrous—for which let him be anathema; that he is one of the last surviving masters of eloquence and glowing description, which ought to be prohibited; that, with Pascal, he understands how the Heart has reasons which the Reason cannot know—so to the Logicalist lamp-post with him.
Thus the champions of decadence and deliquescence, the enemies of the permanent things, accurately discerned in Ray Bradbury a man of moral imagination, who must be put down promptly. For like Lewis, like Tolkien, like other talented fabulists, Ray Bradbury has drawn the sword against the dreary and corrupting materialism of this cen tury; against society as producer-and-consumer equation, against the hideousness in modern life, against mindless power, against sexual obsession, against sham intellectuality, against the perversion of right reason into the mentality of the television-viewer. His Martians, spectres, and witches are not diverting entertainment only: they become, in their eerie manner, the defenders of truth and beauty.
Consider those three short plays attacked by the Manhattan reviewers. The Veldt is a story of children abandoned by modern parents to the desolation of the Screen—and of how thwarted imagination takes its vengeance, the predators of the mind growing literally red in tooth and claw. To the Chicago Abyss is a picture of the evocative power of tender trifles, restoring the rudiments of order after the Bomb has fallen. The Pedestrians has to do with two men flung into prison for preferring nocturnal strolls to the compulsive TV screen. Alive with pity and terror, such plays cannot be tolerated by any Logicalist.
Some librarians, too, have taken alarm. Bradbury's stories are disturbing! No disturbances can be permitted in this perfect American culture of ours. In error, a company which distributes educational books included among a consignment of books for children one copy of Fahrenheit 451. A female librarian detected this work of heresy, and fired off a letter of furious protest to the wholesaler. How dared they send such a dreadful book? "I took it right out in back and burned it." Tomorrow is already here.
Some paragraphs ago, I mentioned that Bradbury has been injudiciously described as the world's greatest living science-fiction writer. Now he does, indeed, look forward to man's exploration of the planets, although not to the gloating "conquest" of space. But for science and technology, per se, he has no more taste than did C. S. Lewis. H. G. Wells expected man to become godlike through applied science; yet Wells' interior world was dry, unloving, and egotistical. Bradbury (who never drives, never flies in planes if he can help it, and detests most gadgets) thinks it more probable that man may spoil everything, in this planet and in others, by the misapplication of science to avaricious ends—the Baconian and Hobbesian employment of science as power. And Bradbury's interior world is fertile, illuminated by love for the permanent things, warm with generous impulse.
That man may replenish the universe for the greater glory of God, Bradbury would have man fling himself to the most distant worlds. But this is an ambition far different from the arrogance of Wells and his kind—who, in the phrases of Robert Jungk, aspire to the throne of God, and who exhort man "to occupy God's place, to recreate and organize a man-made cosmos according to man-made laws of reason, foresight, and efficiency."
Through nearly all of Bradbury's "science-fiction" tales run forebodings like those of Jungk. Bradbury knows of modern technology, in the phrase of Henry Adams, that we are "monkeys monkeying with a loaded shell." He is interested not in the precise mechanism of rockets, but in the mentality and the morals of fallible human beings who make and use rockets. He is a man of fable and parable.
Every one of us, Bradbury says in a letter to me, has "a private keep somewhere in the upper part of the head where, from time to time, of midnights, the beast can be heard raving. To control that, to the end of life, to stay contemplative, sane, good-humored, is our entire work, in the midst of cities that tempt us to inhumanity, and passions that threaten to drive through the skin with invisible spikes." The author of three hundred tales of the fantastic knows the permanent things as well as did the poet of the Waste Land.
Bradbury is not writing about the gadgets of conquest; his real concerns are the soul and the moral imagination. When the boy-hero of Dandelion Wine, in an abrupt mystical experience, is seized almost bodily by the glowing consciousness that he is really alive, we glimpse that mystery the soul. When, in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the lightning-rod salesman is reduced magically to an idiot dwarf because all his life he had fled from perilous responsibility, we know the moral imagination.
"Soul," a word much out of fashion nowadays, signifies a man's animating entity. That flaming spark the soul is the real space-traveller of Bradbury's stories. "I'm alive!"—that exclamation is heard from Waukegan to Mars and beyond, in Bradbury's fables. Life is its own end—if one has a soul to tell him so.
The moral imagination is the principal possession that man does not share with the beasts. It is man's power to perceive ethical truth, abiding law, in the seeming chaos of many events. Without the moral imagination, man would live merely from day to day, or rather moment to moment, as dogs do. It is the strange faculty—inexplicable if men are assumed to have an animal nature only—of discerning greatness, justice, and order, beyond the bars of appetite and self-interest. And the moral imagination, which shows us what we ought to be, primarily is what distinguishes Bradbury's tales from the futurism of Wells' fancy. For Bradbury, the meaning of life is here and now, in our every action; we live amidst immortality; it is here, not in some future domination like that of Wells' The Sleeper Awakens, that we must find our happiness.
So it will not do to treat of Ray Bradbury, despite his abhorrence of much in the modern world and despite his distrust of man armed for the conquest of space, as if he were a prophet of the coming doom. For no recent writer is more buoyed up by the ebullient spirit of youth, and none more popular with intelligent young readers. Probably no one ever has written so understandingly of twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys as Bradbury does repeatedly, particularly in Dandelion Wine, with its prosaic-romantic setting of Waukegan, Illinois (Bradbury's birthplace) and a thousand other American towns about 1928. Perpetual youth, and therefore perpetual hope, defy in Bradbury's pages the fatigue of this century and the ambitions of exploiting scientism.
If spirits in prison, still we are spirits; if able to besmirch ourselves, still only we men are capable of moral choices. Life and technology are what we make of them, and the failure of man to live in harmony with nature is the failure of moral imagination. That failure is not inevitable. To understand Bradbury's disquietude and his high hopes, we may look at his book about the tragic human conquest of Mars, The Martian Chronicles, and at his book about the wonder and terror behind the facade of any little town, Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3984
SOURCE: "Man and Apollo: A Look at Religion in the Science Fantasies of Ray Bradbury," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 5, No. 4, Spring, 1972, pp. 970-78.
[In the essay below, Dimeo uncovers moralism in Bradbury's short fiction.]
Although religious thinking in the space age has been largely dominated by Nietzschean apostasy, science fiction itself seems to be giving more and more attention to man's relationship with the divine. Religious themes have long been treated in the genre but the first to give it serious and even literary consideration was C. S. Lewis in his trilogy Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1944), and That Hideous Strength (1945) which lofted the Christian mythology complete with angels and devils into tangible planetary realms. Since then the more notable examples of science fiction with more innovative religious implications have included Gore Vidal's Messiah (1954), James Blish's A Case of Conscience (1958), Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960), Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) and Dune Messiah (1969), and Michael Moorcock's In His Image (1968). Four of those works have won the Hugo award, the field's highest annual honor for fiction. In the opinion of science-fiction historian and biographer Sam Moskowitz it was however, Ray Bradbury with his short stories "The Man" (1949) and "The Fire Balloons" (1951) in particular who "provided the bridge between C. S. Lewis and the main body of science fiction in the magazines" [Seekers of Tomorrow, 1967]. Baptized a Baptist, Bradbury grew to be a self-confessed agnostic in his teens. But he has since recognized the significant role religious concerns have played in his life and his writings. As he explained with only some degree of levity in our interview, "I realize very late in life now that I could have made a fine priest or minister" [Unpublished, 1969].
Certainly his moral awareness suggests some truth to the claim. Having called himself in fact "a writer of moral fairy tales," he defends his moralistic strain when he says in another interview, "Touch any s-f writer working today and you will, nine times out of ten, touch a moralist" ["A Portrait of a Genius," Show, December, 1964]. Two other science-fiction writers have noted this aspect of Bradbury's work. Henry Kuttner writes [in "Ray Bradbury's Themes" Ray Bradbury Review, 1952], for instance, "The converse of James Branch Cabell, Bradbury deals realistically with a romantic theme: the value of faith." Chad Oliver, speaking of the tone of The Martian Chronicles (1950) in particular, explains further, "Bradbury's faith in the essential dignity of the common man prevented him from falling into the hopelessness of T. S. Eliot, but he is nonetheless a religious man and there are echoes of 'The Waste Land' and 'The Hollow Men' in his work." Since those observations were made, Bradbury has published the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), a heavy-handed allegory in which two 13-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, led by Will's father Charles (modeled after Bradbury's own father), defeat Death and Evil in the form of a carnival and its proprietor Mr. Dark. At his worst, as a matter of fact, Bradbury has belabored morality to death. Charles Halloway, who discourses lengthily on Good and Evil in that novel, epitomizes this self-conscious moralizing. It is apparent in Fahrenheit 451 (1953) when the ex-English teacher Faber condemns the future-present for having abandoned the reality and dreams of books, when the old man in "To the Chicago Abyss" (1963) eulogizes the forgotten trivia like cigarettes and candy bars of the world before the nuclear war erased all but the memory, or when the robot grandmother in "I Sing the Body Electric!" elaborates too much on the perfection of machines and the more-than-mortal love she symbolizes.
But Bradbury has elsewhere simplified his conception of morality in a way that suggests the broader nature of that faith in man which Oliver refers to: "Light is good. Dark is evil. Life is good. Death is evil. Man, representing this good of light and life, moves against death and universal darkness" ["Remembrances of Things Future," Playboy, January 1965]. Only when Bradbury puts aside his penchant for homily to focus on the teleology and hierology implicit in this mortal effort to wade through darkness does he transcend a superficial didacticism. His literary interest in religion is thus at its best not a concern for morality but rather for mortality and immortality. Upon understanding Bradbury's opinion of the interrelationship between science and religion and man and god in the age of space, the Christian, divine, and transcendental allusions in his stories can be seen to underline the symbolic implications of his fictional pilgrimages into space itself.
Bradbury calls attention to the similarity of science and religion in especial. "This whole talk about science and religion being two ways of thinking or two separate things is ridiculous," he says. "They're both the same thing. . . . Science provides tools, insights, theories. So does religion. And religion relates us to the universe at the same moment that science is trying to relate us to that same universe. But whereas science provides us with working theories that are relevant to tools at hand, three-dimensional tools that we can pick and change the environment with, religion simply says where tools are no longer usable or the information is not available, then you've got to go on faith. . . . From this point on, you need someone who will make you easy with the unknowable and the mystical side of life. And you've got to have it, that's all. If you don't have it on my level, you're going to have it on the half-assed level of the astrologers." Bradbury looks askance at the younger generation's belief in these pseudo-sciences, political fanaticism or hero worship of one sort or another but sees it as inevitable in the light of the century's relative religious vacuum. He has suggested, however, that present scientific aspirations can fill that void. "As the years went by," he explains, "I found myself getting more and more interested in just the whole universe—you know, who we are, what we're doing here, where we're going, what our plans are for the next billion years. That's a long time and space is one of our ways of planning. The more we get into space, the more religious we've got to become. We're going to be meeting more mysteries." It is no surprise then that Bradbury described his following the first satellite across the night sky as "'an absolutely religious experience'" ["The Magic World of Ray Bradbury," Los Angeles Magazine, March 1962]. For more than ever before science has put man closer to the heavens he had formerly considered the territory of the gods.
Since man's ascension into space has clearly brought the dreams of a god-like flight to fruition, Bradbury predictably places man at the center of the universe in the romantic and Renaissance tradition. As he explains it [in Kitte Turmell's "Predicting the Future is an art as Old as Plato," Youth, January 17, 1965], "I feel that in the Space Age each person must look on himself as a god, that is, a living part of the universe, a moving intelligence. If God lives, he lives in us." In an essay he writes, too,
But now very late in the scroll of earth, phoenix man, who lives by burning, a true furnace of energy, stoking himself with chemistries, must stand as God. Not represent Him, not pretend to be Him, not deny Him, but simply nobly, and frighteningly be Him.
["Remembrance of Things Future"]
His concept is clearly pantheistic as he suggests in another essay that even delineates an eternal purpose of self-discovery to man's scientific aspirations:
We may take some comfort in daring to think that perhaps we are part of some Divine stir and perambulation, a vast blind itch of a God universe to touch, taste, see, hear, know itself.
If all the universe is God, then on the instant are we not extrusions of dumb, miraculous matter put in motion to protest unknowingness, to combat darkness, to willfully expunge Death, to long for immortality, to cherish Being, and with our own extrusions, our metal machineries of joy and confusion begot in testpit and factory, to go off in search of yet finer miracles basking under far-journeying suns?
["Cry the Cosmos," Life, 53]
The egoistic pantheism echoes the very same "Thou Art God" philosophy the Martian-trained Valentine Michael Smith martyrs himself for in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. The view of course is not original but derives out of what William H. Whyte in The Organization Man has called the Protestant rather than the Social Ethic, and echoes in fact the doctrine of self-reliance advocated by the 19th century ex-Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though not particularly new to science fiction in the twentieth century, it has never been analyzed in such terms. Perhaps the individual, more than ever before, has once again become to writers like Bradbury or Heinlein the single standard in a scientific society dominated by the relativity and uncertainty of Einstein and Heisenberg or the very power of the atom and the computer.
In any case, while Bradbury conceives of man in general as a kind of god today, he also has recognized his own divine pretensions as a fundamental human truth. Speaking of "The Miracles of Jamie," a story he has not had reprinted since its publication when he was 26, he explains it was "about a little boy who thought he was the reincarnation of Christ. And when his sister is dying, he goes into the bedroom, unbeknownst to his parents, and commands her to live and it doesn't work. And that's a big disillusionment. Not that this ever happened in my life. But every Christian boy is full of ideas about the Second Coming. . . . Well, I imagine [even] every Jewish boy thinks he's a Messiah or maybe knows it. So I think the only disillusionment I might have had, on just a secret level and not a big thing that I can tell about, is that whole thing of the Christ image when I was very young. I'm not even sure about that. But the fact that I wrote a story about it, I think, proves there was some interest in the legend when I was 11 going on 12."
He has since then, however, vicariously resurrected the illusion, for he sometimes imputes Christ-like qualities to his characters. For instance in "El Dia de Muerte" (1947), a story that smacks of Hemingway from the gory description of a bullfight to the name Villalta for the matador, the little boy Raimundo who is killed by a car corresponds to the Mexican imitating Christ who falls from the cross. The psychiatrist Dr. Immanuel Brokaw in "The Man in the Rorschach Shirt" (1966) embodies spiritual leaders and ultimately Christ, too. The narrator describes the doctor's disappearance as a kind of reverse visitation: "So the giant who had been Gandhi-Moses-Christ-Buddha-Freud all layered in one incredible American dessert had dropped through a hole in the clouds." And when ten years later the narrator meets the man again, Dr. Brokaw "Reared up like God manifest, bearded, benevolent, pontifical, erudite, merry, accepting, forgiving, messianic, tutorial, forever and eternal. . . ." Brokaw himself relates the personal revelation of his prior imperfections in terms of Moses on Mt. Sinai:
'Holy Moses, Brokaw, I cried, all these years down from the Mount, the world of God like a flea in your ear. And now, late in the day, old wise one, you think to consult your lightning-scribbled stones. And find your Laws, your Tables, different!'
And when the narrator sees Brokaw go out amongst the multitude on the beach, he sees another Christ metaphorically walking on water: "He seemed to tread lightly upon a water of people. The last I saw of him, he was still gloriously afloat." It seems significant, too, that Harry Smith in the more recent "Henry the Ninth" (1969) becomes the incarnation of England's famous real and fictional men of history on Christmas Eve.
But the divine qualities are often more universal than Christian. On the artistic level, to begin with, Edgar Allan Poe in "The Exiles" (1949) tells his fellow authors who have been banished to Mars, "'I am a god, Mr. Dickens, even as you are a god, even as we all are gods. . . . "'The special effects artist Terwilliger who sculptures a miniature dinosaur in "Tyrannosaurus Rex" (1962) similarly thinks of himself as a god when he considers, "I feel . . . quite simply that there stands my Garden and these my animal creations which I love on this Sixth Day, and tomorrow, the Seventh, I must rest." It also takes Bodoni in "The Rocket" (1950) seven days to remodel his otherwise useless ship into a world of illusion that simulates for him and his children a journey to Mars they haven't the money to take in reality. Perhaps, too, it is no accident that the charlatan who originally sells the rocket to Bodoni for $2,000 is named Mathews, Hebrew for "gift from Jehovah."
When the references do not metaphorically enhance the labors of mortal creators, they depict man in one way or another trying to transcend the confines of his body and commune with a kind of Over-Soul in the Zen tradition. In "The Homecoming," which won an O. Henry Memorial award in 1947, the boy Timothy's frustrated desire to assume the supernatural dimensions of his relatives in effect reflects the more general human aspirations to shuffle off the mortal coils. Cecy, reappearing in "The April Witch" (1952), actually demonstrates divine powers in her ability to become one with an amoeba, a water droplet, or even a mortal like Ann Leary in whose body she comes to know human love. On an even grander scale, Hollis and his crew, scattered apart from the explosion of their rocket in "Kaleidoscope" (1949), unite with God Himself, as this passage implies: "There were only the great diamonds and sapphires and emerald mists and velvet inks of space, with God's voice mingling among the crystal fires. . . . Their [the crew's] voices had died like echoes of the words of God spoken and vibrating in the starred deep." Certainly—perhaps even too obviously—the heroine of "Powerhouse," a story which in 1948 also won the O. Henry award, becomes one with a pantheistic world when she literally becomes the electricity that links all of mankind. Before this mystical experience; she hasn't faith enough to accept her mother's imminent death. But the powerhouse where she and her husband stay that night proves to be a kind of church that provides the faith, for afterwards electric sparks are "like saints and choruses, haloed now yellow, now red, now green and a massed singing beat along the roof hollows and echoed down in endless hymns and chants." The next morning after the night rain has ceased, she looks out under the clear desert sky and sees now that she is still a part of all humanity, a part of a divine design in the world:
And she could see the far mountains; there was no blur nor a running-of-color to things. All was solid stone touching stone, and stone touching sand, and sand touching wild flower, and wild flower touching the sky in one continuous clear flow, everything definite and of a piece.
This impulse to discover God in oneself is not as implicit in these tales of what Time [in "Poet of the Pulps," March 23, 1963] has called "infinite interfusion" so much as it is in Bradbury's fictional pilgrimages. And there is no Last Judgment, no discrimination implied in his personal eschatology. Man's projected odyssey into infinity is itself aiming at the eternity of the empyrean. We are striving for the stars, as Bradbury puts it, "Because we love life and fear death. Man craves immortality. . . . Once man is continuous from Mars to Pluto to the Coalsack Nebula, and the threat of racial death banished, the questions about annihilation will be meaningless." Inevitably then in "The Machineries of Joy" (1962) Father Brian, who begins to face the religious crisis inherent in the space age, realizes that the leap into space is simply another Genesis for mankind. He suggests as much at the story's conclusion when he awaits the televised launch and "the voice that would teach a silly, a strange, a wild and miraculous thing: How to count back, ever backward . . . to zero."
The nature of the goal receives symbolic treatment in "The Golden Apples of the Sun" (1953), a title taken aptly from the lines of Yeats' "The Song of Wandering Aengus." In this story a rocket named alternately Copa de Oro ("Cup of Gold"), Prometheus, and Icarus heads directly for the sun to catch a part of the ultimate dream of mankind, the gold at the end of the rainbow, a reference the story itself makes. But the golden apples are not wealth alone. They are immortality as well, for the fire plucked from the sun is "a gift of fire that might burn forever."
They are spirituality, for the sun is described as "the bodiless body and the fleshless flesh." They are finally the wisdom of a god as suggested by the captain's burning tree simile for the sun. For the image recalls not only the Tree of Knowledge but also Moses' vision of God as the burning bush. What the rocket's Cup scoops up is not merely part of the sun, then, but
a bit of the flesh of God, the blood of the universe, the blazing thought, the blinding philosophy that set out and mothered a galaxy, that idled and swept planets in their fields and summoned or laid to rest lies and livelihoods.
In "The Man" the trip to the stars becomes even more clearly an archetypal search for the Holy Grail. Before Capt. Hart and Lt. Martin discover Christ has just visited the planet they have landed on, they discuss man's purpose in space:
'Why do we do it, Martin? This space travel, I mean. Always on the go, Always searching. Our insides always tight, never any rest.'
'Maybe we're looking for peace and quiet. Certainly there's none on Earth,' said Martin.
'No, there's not, is there? . . . Not since Darwin, eh? Not since everything went by the board, everything we used to believe in, eh? Divine power and all that. And so maybe that's why we're going out to the stars, eh, Martin? Looking for our lost souls, is that it? Trying to get away from our evil planet to a good one?'
'Perhaps, sir. Certainly we're looking for something.'
On discovering Christ has brought peace to the nearby city, Martin is content with His effect. But the nervous, ambitious Capt. Hart ignores the probable futility and takes off in the rocket to pursue the cause, Christ Himself. The title of the story seems doubly ironic in the final analysis, for Christ to Capt. Hart represents man successfully transcending his own limitations. Perhaps, too, the Man here is actually Capt. Hart himself who comes to epitomize man's driving discontent.
Unlike Capt. Hart, Father Peregrine in "The Fire Balloons" appears to discover what he sets out looking for. The pilgrim that his name implies, he searches for a bit of Beauty more lasting than the Fourth of July balloons in the Illinois town of his youth. Only after his ridiculous effort to 'convert' the Martians does he believe his search has ended with these blue and sentient globes. Once men like him, they have evolved out of mortality altogether. As man's freed and sinless soul and intellect, they are finally happy and at peace.
But has this discovery subsequently set the priest's own mind at ease? Admittedly the Martians that he finally calls "the fireworks of the pure soul" represent more of a constant than the transient fire balloons in his past that "dwindled, forever gone . . ."; the Martians are "fixed, gaseous, miraculous, forever." But Father Peregrine's reactions there in the hills counterpose Christ's in the wilderness. The priest enjoys succumbing to mortal temptations when he plummets from a cliff or fires three bullets at himself only to be saved by the "blue round dreams." Despite yet because of the discovery, he seems by his very actions to despair of that chimerical immortality before his eyes.
The changes in his character and in Father Stone's offer the key to understanding what the end of the quest really signifies. Father Peregrine attempts at first to proselyte the Martians, then realizes that he must finally learn from them instead. After understanding what the Martians are, Father Stone, who was formerly more interested in recognizing "the inhuman in the human" rather than "the human in the inhuman," regrets that they can only descend out of the hills to First Town "'to handle our own kind.'" He believes the round glass model they have constructed is not just a sign but Christ after all. But there will be Christs on the other worlds, too, and only when they can be apprehended as a whole will the "Big Truth" be known. For now both the priests must walk "down out of the hills toward the new town"—back to mortal reality. But they intend to climb again, as this passage indicates:
'May I'—cried Father Peregrine, not daring to ask, eyes closed—'may I come again, someday, that I may learn from you?'
The blue fires blazed. The air trembled.
Yes. Someday he might come again. Someday.
The search that seemed over for Father Peregrine has actually just begun. Despite Bradbury's previous protestations, man in his space Odyssey remains only an inchoate god.
But can such a pilgrimage ever really be over? The achievements that Bradbury depicts are either partial or ephemeral. Other stories which more subtly evince this apparently pervasive preoccupation with man's Daedelus-like aspirations, bear out the same principle. In "The Fox and the Forest" (1950), to take one example, William and Susan Travis—the assumed name may mean to suggest the travellers that they are—jump back in time from the imminently destructive world of 2155 A. D. to the festive peacefulness of Mexico in 1938 A. D. Their real patronym "Kristen" implies that they are in fact Christian pilgrims turning away from what they consider to be an evil society. But the policing Searchers foil their plan and the couple inevitably return to their obligations in the future. Perhaps Bradbury suggests the fantastic, irreparably romantic nature of such pilgrimages when he explains ["Ray Bradbury Keeping an Eye on Cloud IX," Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1970],
'I love my work and love the world with all its nonsense and hydrogen bombs. I'm not a blind optimist—I see the evil. I circumvent it when I can and warn people where I can warn them.'
'But I don't know how to cure morons, the only thing I can do is be honest—and take a trip on my imagination when it seizes me and says, "Run away.'"
Probably unconsciously, then, Bradbury has provided a fictional testimony for the disillusioning truth in Oscar Wilde's apothegm, "Never to achieve—that is the true ideal." Not that man will ever stop looking. Carl Jung in his study Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1959) concluded that the saucers in their mystically circular perfection temporarily became modern man's visionary surrogate for God. Bradbury has simply seen God in NASA's Saturns and Apollos. The apotheosis seems particularly despairing now that the Nixon administration is cutting away at their priority and intimidating them with questions of rationale. Yet Bradbury's tendency may be almost inevitable now that existentialism has seen through the institutionalized illusions of religion in the past and left a Weltanschauung that forces us to face a life of meaningless absurdities. By means of a genre that has been both Utopian and dystopian, fantastic and realistic, Bradbury at least and perhaps science fiction itself are helping the pendulum swing again from that void to one beyond the gravity of the brutal truth.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1951
SOURCE: "The Dangers of Being Earnest: Ray Bradbury and the Martian Chronicles," in The Journal of General Education, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 50-4.
[In the following essay, Forrester cites a number of literary flaws in the stories collected in The Martian Chronicles, chief among which is Bradbury's tendency to lecture the reader at the expense of his narrative. Even so, the critic lauds Bradbury's more imaginative prose, asserting that it is "superior to any other prose in science fiction."]
I read my first Ray Bradbury story when I was about ten, and it was love at first sight: prose as rich as the cream filling of the Twinkies I loved, creatures bizarre enough to please a ten year old palate, machinery and rockets abundant enough to satisfy a boy living in those pre-Romantic 1950s.
I drifted away from science fiction and Bradbury about fifteen years ago. But I never forgot Bradbury's stories. I remembered the blue triangle baby in "Tomorrow's Child," the writhing pictures on the skin of the Illustrated Man, the Martian's crystal homes in The Martian Chronicles. When my interest in science fiction was reawakened about three years ago, I especially relished the thought of rereading Bradbury's stories, whose images had stuck in my memory for over a decade. However, when I reread Bradbury, I found disquieting elements that I hadn't noticed when I was younger. There was, for instance, a shrill devotion to ideas at the expense of his narratives.
Few people love their ideas as much as Ray Bradbury loves his. He overstates them in newspaper interviews, he forces them into the mouths of his heroes, who then try to harangue us into right reason, and he sometimes stops his narration to lecture us. I'm reminded of Wells, who eventually became more fond of his role as lecturer-moralist than of his role as a storyteller.
Bradbury once estimated that he had turned out almost three million words of fiction before he made his first sale [Ray Bradbury, All Our Yesterdays, 1969]. Those three million words taught Bradbury how to handle prose rhythms and lush description, but they didn't teach him cold-blooded revision.
Never has an author asked so much of his readers. Bradbury's nostalgia for a golden age, his hatred of "glitter-eyed psychiatrists, clever sociologists, resentful educationalists, antiseptic parents," and his anti-materialistic biases occasionally seduce him into artistic lapses ["The Exiles," in The Illustrated Man, 1952]. Once an advocate of Technocracy, Bradbury has turned on his previous love with a passion.
In "—And the Moon Be Still as Bright," for instance, the sensitive Jeff Spender likes wood instead of chemical fires, castigates Americans because they love Chicago plumbing too much, quotes Byron, and knows that "living is life." All well and good. However, when Spender shoots to death six fellow crew members because they are materialistic philistines, Bradbury continues to justify Spender's behavior. "How would you feel," Spender asks rhetorically, "if a Martian vomited stale liquor on the White House floor?"
Moreover, Captain Wilder, Bradbury's spokesman for the via media, sides with the mass murderer. Wilder secretly hopes that Spender will escape, he almost shoots Parkhill in the back when that entrepreneur charges after Spender, and he demands of his men that Spender be shot "cleanly." Finally, Wilder gives Spender a hero's funeral when he buries him in a Martian sarcophagus. The last we see of Spender is his "peaceful face."
It would seem that readers who are not blinded by Spender's noble sentiments would be fed up with him by the time he kills six people. Bradbury asks too much of us when he comes just short of justifying Spender's behavior on the grounds that he doesn't want to see the golden houses and tile floors desecrated. That is, Bradbury put sullied flesh on an idea and then asked us to admire the flesh along with the idea.
Bradbury's ideas are so violently drawn in The Martian Chronicles that the stories are weakened unless we are as enthusiastic about his ideas as he is. Bradbury can't resist, for instance, forcing his characters onto soap boxes, where they spend their time lecturing us on Rousseauian primitivism, the pleasures of the imagination, and the crassness of American society. At least a fourth of "—And the Moon Be Still as Bright" consists of Spender's lectures on ecology and aesthetics; and Stendahl in "Usher II" and Dad in the "Million Year Picnic" are as preachy as Spender. Bradbury lacks either the inclination or the skill to weave these sentiments into his plot.
In an article in Extrapolation, Robert Reilly, infatuated by Bradbury's "neo-humanism," suggests that the Martians of The Martian Chronicles are well-defined and consistent when he calls them a "courteous," "reserved" and gentle race ["The Artistry of Ray Bradbury," Extrapolation, Vol. 13, December, 1971]. And it is true that in the fourth expedition Wilder calls the Martians a "graceful, beautiful, and philosophical people." Later, in the story "The Off Season," we see the Martians behaving as kindly as Wilder tells us they behave when, after Sam Parkhill murders a few of them, they turn their cheeks and give Sam Parkhill their land.
Yet these same Martians, under the exigencies of Bradbury's plots, are quite a different people. When Bradbury needs the first Earth expedition murdered, he uses a Martian, one of those "gentle" creatures, as the murderer ("Ylla"). Ylla's husband, who lives in that crystal-pillared house built by a race that knows how to blend "religion, art, and science," becomes a cold-blooded killer when his jealousy is aroused. The second expedition is wiped out by a Martian psychologist who thinks they are Martian madmen, and we find out that there are an incredible number of Martian madmen among a population that is supposed to be so reasonable and philosophical. Finally, the seventeen members of the third expedition are murdered in their beds by these Martians that we are told by Bradbury to admire. Under the influence of Bradbury's plots, the Martians kill. Under the influence of his "neo-humanism," we are told that the Martians are cleaner and nicer than we are.
Bradbury also occasionally becomes so enamored with his prose that he forgets to ask himself if his descriptions fit his stories. For instance, the conclusion to "The Third Expedition" contains the kind of evocative tableau—with its brass band, coffins, and mourners—that Bradbury is so fond of. However, it is so implausible that it should jar any reader who is not completely caught up in Bradbury's prose. Never have the Martians been pictured as whimsical humorists, yet here they are participating in an American burial after they have killed the American visitors. The "mayor" makes a speech, the "mourners" cry, and the brass band plays "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean." What are we to think of all this? Until this time, the Martians have shown no sentimental attachment to humans, no traces of whimsy, and no interest in psycho-drama. Yet there they are, still dressed in Earth clothes and Earth faces, forced to act in an implausible scene because the author loves to describe a nostalgic burial and is unable to stop his pen. As an isolated tableau, the burial scene is a masterpiece. It has the power of pleasing our taste for the unexpected and sensational. But the scene doesn't satisfy our need for a well-made plot and internal consistency. That Bradbury is writing fantasy science fiction is no excuse. The world that a fantasy author creates—like the worlds created by medieval theologians—must be internally consistent.
But enough of this. Despite their literary "flaws," I remembered Bradbury's stories, when I had forgotten most of the others. So I reexamined his stories in a search for what made his stories memorable. My first discovery was that I—perhaps we—can forgive an author his shortcomings if he can make up for them in other ways. Daniel Defoe didn't know when to stop a story, but we easily forgive him. We remember Crusoe's island adventures and forget his boring overland trip back to England from Portugal. We can forgive Alexander Pope his personal attacks on his various enemies because of his sustained inventiveness and cleverness. So despite his shortcomings, Bradbury's strengths make his books memorable.
Although his prose is occasionally overcooked it is still, in small chunks, superior to any other prose in science fiction. It is prose, like good poetry, that sticks in the mind. Let me point to a single example out of The Martian Chronicles. It's hard to forget those dormant robots waiting in the cellar in "Usher II," because Bradbury's prose rhythms are appropriate to the action and because he is master of the small, sensuous detail that captures our imagination:
Full grown without memory, the robots waited. In green silks the color of forest pools, in silks the color of frog and fern, they waited. In yellow hair the color of sun and sand, the robots waited. Oiled, with tube bones cut from bronze and sunk in gelatin, the robots lay. In coffins for the not dead and not alive, in planked boxes, the Metronomes waited to be set in motion. There was a smell of lubrication and lathed brass. . . . And now there was a vast screaming of yanked nails. Now there was a lifting of lids.
Bradbury has more to offer than prose: his imagination is inventive and vivid. I don't agree with Damon Knight that Bradbury has a "mediocre" imagination [In Search of Wonder, 1967]. Bradbury does not work like Hal Clement, whose controlled visions construct coherent extraterrestrial environments and then people them with believable and appropriate creatures. Bradbury's mind creates the outlandish (stealing a cup of gold from the sun, blue triangle babies, etc.); and when his prose is working, he carries it off. His visions of the Martians and their environment in The Martian Chronicles may be contradictory, but they are aesthetically pleasing and richly imaginative. Crystal homes, blue-sailed sandships, coffined robots, singing books, rockets that turn the winter landscape into summer—these details go a long way toward compensating for other artistic lapses.
Let me list a few images out of Bradbury's stories and see if you don't remember the same ones I remember: the scurrying metal mice in "There Will Come Soft Rains" who are used as miniature vacuum cleaners, and who continue to work feverishly as their house burns down; the mechanical coffin in "Wake for the Living" that embalms the brother and then digs his grave and covers it behind him; the children's nursery in "The Veldt," with electronic walls that fill the room with the smells and sounds of African lions; the crushed butterfly on the boots of the time traveler in "A Sound of Thunder." And always the running children in tennis shoes, the rockets belching flames, the old-fashioned burials.
But most of all, Bradbury deserves our praise for those stories that deal with, in Damon Knight's words, our "fundamental prerational fears and longings and desires" [In Search of Wonder]. Bradbury knows, as all good writers know, how to touch that residue of ancient images that we carry around with us: lost Edens (which come in the form of small American towns of the 1920s), new green beginnings for the pioneers on Mars, nostalgia for universally lost childhoods, the fear of the wicked that this way comes. Bradbury—thank goodness—never tires of touching these strings.
Do these strengths of Bradbury overcome his weaknesses? I think they do. In that one thing that is, to my mind, important to most science fiction—an artist's ability to engage us in that world of oiled robots, strange beings, time paradoxes, other worlds, and bizarre futures—Bradbury is very good. And that's why I remembered Ray Bradbury.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2956
SOURCE: "Two Views: Ray Bradbury—Past, Present, and Future," in Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 167-75.
[In the following excerpt, McNelly purports that Bradbury's short fiction is thematically tied to mainstream American tradition.]
Ray Bradbury, hailed as a stylist and a visionary by critics such as Gilbert Highet and authors such as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, remained for years the darling, almost the house pet, of a literary establishment other wise unwilling to admit any quality in the technological and scientific projections known as science fiction. Within the field of science fiction itself, Bradbury's star zoomed like the Leviathan '99 comet he later celebrated in a significant but ill-fated dramatic adaptation of the Moby-Dick myth. Fans pointed to Bradbury with ill-concealed pride, as if to prove that, at least with him, science fiction had come of age and deserved major critical attention.
Certainly America's best-known science fiction writer, Bradbury has been anthologized in over 300 different collections. His own individual works number in the dozens and have been translated into even more languages. After some ten million words—his own estimate—he feels almost physically ill unless he can spend four hours a day at the typewriter. His aim is to work successfully in virtually every written medium before he changes his last typewriter ribbon. His plays have been successfully produced both in Los Angeles and off Broadway. He is currently researching the history of Halloween for a TV special, and he still collects his share of rejection slips for short stories, novellas, or movie scripts, with a larger share of acceptances.
Bradbury's major themes transform the past, present, and future into a constantly shifting kaleidoscope whose brilliance shades into pastels or transforms language into coruscant vibrations through his verbal magic. Contemporary literature to reflect its age, he believes, must depict man existing in an increasingly technological era, and the ability to fantasize thus becomes the ability to survive. He himself is a living evocation of his own theory—a sport, a throwback to an earlier age when life was simpler. Resident of a city, Los Angeles, where the automobile is god and the freeway its prophet, Bradbury steadfastly refuses to drive a car. He has no simplistic anti-machine phobia; rather his reliance on taxicabs or buses springs from the hegira his family made from Waukegan, Illinois, to Los Angeles during the depths of the Depression when he was 14. The roads, he recalls, were strewn with the hulks of broken cars. Since that time his continual concern has been the life of man, not the death of machines. Man must be the master of the machine, not its slave or robot. Bradbury's art, in other words, like that of W. B. Yeats, whom he greatly admires, is deeply dependent upon life. Like Yeats in "The Circus Animals' Desertion." Bradbury must ". . . lie down where all the ladders start, / in the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart."
If Bradbury's ladders lead to Mars, whose chronicler he has become, or to the apocalyptic future of Fahrenheit 451, the change is simply one of direction, not of intensity. He is a visionary who writes not of the impediments of science, but of its effects upon man. Fahrenheit 451, after all, is not a novel about the technology of the future, and is only secondarily concerned with censorship or book-burning. In actuality it is the story of Bradbury, disguised as Montag, and his lifelong love affair with books. If the love of a man and a woman is worth notarizing in conventional fiction, so also is the love of a man and an idea. A man may have a wife or a mistress or two in his lifetime, and the situation may become the valuable seedstuff of literature. However, that same man may in the same lifetime have an endless series of affairs with books, and the offspring can become great literature. For that reason, Bradbury feels that Truffaut was quite successful in translating the spirit of the novel, and the viewer who expects futuristic hardware or science fiction gimmickry will be disappointed in the motion picture. "Look at it through the eyes of the French impressionists," Bradbury suggests. "See the poetic romantic vision of Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, Seurat, or Manet that Truffaut evokes in the film, and then remember that this method was his metaphor to capture the metaphor in my novel."
"Metaphor" is an important word to Bradbury. He uses it generically to describe a method of comprehending one reality and then expressing that same reality so that the reader will see it with the intensity of the writer. His use of the term, in fact, strongly resembles T. S. Eliot's view of the objective correlative. Bradbury's metaphor in Fahrenheit 451 is the burning of books; in The Illustrated Man, a moving tattoo; and pervading all of his work, the metaphor becomes a generalized nostalgia that can best be described as a nostalgia for the future.
Another overwhelming metaphor in his writing is one derived from Jules Verne and Herman Melville—the cylindrical shape of the submarine, the whale, or the space ship. It becomes a mandala, a graphic symbol of Bradbury's view of the universe, a space-phallus. Bradbury achieved his first "mainstream" fame with his adaptation of Melville's novel for the screen, after Verne had aroused his interest in science fiction. Moby-Dick may forever remain uncapturable in another medium, but Bradbury's screenplay was generally accepted as being the best thing about an otherwise ordinary motion picture. John Huston's vision was perhaps more confining than Ray Bradbury's.
Essentially a romantic, Bradbury belongs to the great frontier tradition. He is an exemplar of the Turner thesis, and the blunt opposition between a tradition-bound Eastern establishment and Western vitality finds itself mirrored in his writing. The metaphors may change, but the conflict in Bradbury is ultimately between human vitality and the machine, between the expanding individual and the confining group, between the capacity for wonder and the stultification of conformity. These tensions are a continual source for him, whether the collection is named The Golden Apples of the Sun, Dandelion Wine, or The Martian Chronicles. Thus, to use his own terminology, nostalgia for either the past or future is a basic metaphor utilized to express these tensions. Science fiction is the vehicle.
Ironic detachment combined with emotional involvement—these are the recurring tones in Bradbury's work, and they find their expression in the metaphor of "wilderness." To Bradbury, America is a wilderness country and hers a wilderness people. There was first the wilderness of the sea, he maintains. Man conquered that when he discovered this country and is still conquering it today. Then came the wilderness of the land. He quotes, with obvious approval, Fitzgerald's evocation at the end of The Great Gatsby: ". . . the fresh, green breast of the new world . . . for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent. . . face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."
For Bradbury the final, inexhaustible wilderness is the wilderness of space. In that wilderness, man will find himself, renew himself. There, in space, as atoms of God, mankind will live forever. Ultimately, then, the conquest of space becomes a religious quest. The religious theme in his writing is sounded directly only on occasion, in such stories as "The Fire Balloons," where two priests try to decide if some blue fire-balls on Mars have souls, or "The Man," where Christ leaves a far planet the day before an Earth rocket lands. Ultimately the religious theme is the end product of Bradbury's vision of man; the theme is implicit in man's nature.
Bradbury's own view of his writing shows a critical self-awareness. He describes himself essentially as a short story writer, not a novelist, whose stories seize him, shake him, and emerge after a two or three hour tussle. It is an emotional experience, not an intellectual one; the intellectualization comes later when he edits. To be sure, Bradbury does not lack the artistic vision for large conception or creation. The novel form is simply not his normal medium. Rather he aims to objectify or universalize the particular. He pivots upon an individual, a specific object, or particular act, and then shows it from a different perspective or a new viewpoint. The result can become a striking insight into the ordinary, sometimes an ironic comment on our limited vision.
An early short story, "The Highway," illustrates this awareness of irony. A Mexican peasant wonders at the frantic, hurtling stream of traffic flowing north. He is told by an American who stops for water that the end of the world has come with the out-break of the atom war. Untouched in his demi-Eden, Hernando calls out to his burro as he plows the rain-fresh land below the green jungle, above the deep river. "What do they mean 'the world?'" he asks himself, and continues plowing.
Debate over whether or not Bradbury is, in the end, a science fiction writer, is fruitless when one considers this story or dozens like it. The only "science" in the story is the "atom war" somewhere far to the north, away from the ribbon of concrete. All other artifacts of man in the story—the automobile, a hubcap, a tire—provide successive ironies to the notion that while civilization may corrupt, it does not do so absolutely. A blownout tire may have brought death to the driver of a car, but it now provides Hernando with sandals; a shattered hubcap becomes a cooking pan. Hernando and his wife and child live in a prelapsarian world utilizing the gifts of the machine in primitive simplicity. These people recall the Noble Savage myth; they form a primary group possessing the idyllic oneness of true community. The strength of Hernando, then, is derived from the myth of the frontier; the quality and vigor of life derive from, indeed are dependent upon, the existence of the frontier.
Yet irony piles on irony: the highway—any highway—leads in two directions. The Americans in this fable form a seemingly endless flowing stream of men and vehicles. They ride northward toward cold destruction, leaving the tropical warmth of the new Eden behind them. Can we recreate the past, as Gatsby wondered. Perhaps, suggests Bradbury, if we re-incarnate the dreams of our youth and reaffirm the social ethic of passionate involvement. And nowhere does he make this moral quite as clear as in Fahrenheit 451.
Originally cast as a short story, "The Fireman," Fahrenheit 451 underwent a number of transmutations before finding its final form. From the short story it became an unpublished novella, "Fire, Fire, Burn Books!" and was again transformed by twenty days of high speed writing into the novel. An examination of a photocopy of the original first draft of "The Fireman," reveals how carefully Bradbury works. His certainty with words makes for extremely clean copy: three or four revisions on the first page; none on the second. He adds an adverb, "silently"; cuts an unnecessary sentence; sharpens the verb "spoke" to "whispered"; eliminates another sentence; anglicizes a noun. Nothing more. Yet the artistry is there, the clean-limbed expressive prose, the immediacy of the situation heightened by the terseness of the dialogue, the compounded adjectives, the brevity and condensation everywhere evident.
Inspection of his rewrite of the same page shows some further small but significant changes, changes that give Bradbury's prose its evocative poetic quality. Note the modifications in the following sentences: "Mr. Montag sat among the other Fire Men in the Fire House, and he heard the voice tell the time of morning, the hour, the day, the year, and he shivered." This becomes sharper, more intense: "Mr. Montag sat stiffly among the other Fire Men in the Fire House, heard the voice-clock mourn out the cold hour and the cold year, and shivered." The voice now "mourns," not "tells," and the appeal to the senses is clarified, the general made specific as "some night jet-planes . . . flying" becomes "five hundred jet-planes screamed." These changes may be minor, to be sure, but they indicate the method of the writer at work. Titles which Bradbury provided to successive drafts indicate something of the way his mind moves: "The Fireman," "The Hearth and the Salamander," "The Son of Icarus," "Burning Bright," "Find Me in Fire," "Fire, Fire, Burn Books!" These metamorphosed into Fahrenheit 451, as anguished a plea for the freedom to read as the mid-twentieth century has produced.
Yet even Fahrenheit 451 illustrates his major themes: the freedom of the mind; the evocation of the past; the desire for Eden; the integrity of the individual; the allurements and traps of the future. At the end of the novel, Montag's mind has been purified, refined by fire, and phoenix-like, Montag—hence mankind—rises from the ashes of the destructive, self-destroying civilization. "'Never liked cities,' said the man who was Plato," as Bradbury hammers home his message at the end of the novel. "'Always felt that cities owned men, that was all, and used men to keep themselves going, to keep the machines oiled and dusted" ("The Fireman").
The leader of the book-memorizers at the end of the novel is significantly named Granger, a farmer, a shepherd guiding his flock of books along the road to a new future, a new Eden. "Our way is simpler," Granger says, "and better and the thing we wish to do is keep the knowledge intact and safe and not to anger or excite anyone, for then if we are destroyed the knowledge is most certainly dead. . . . So we wait quietly for the day when the machines are dented junk and then we hope to walk by and say, here we are, to those who survive this war, and we'll say Have you come to your senses now? Perhaps a few books will do you some good."
This vision of the future which Bradbury provides at the end of Fahrenheit 451 shows his essentially optimistic character. In fact, Bradbury seized upon the hatreds abroad in 1953 when the book was written, and shows that hatred, war, desecration of the individual are all self-destructive. Bradbury's 1953 vision of hatred becomes extrapolated to a fire which consumes minds, spirits, men, ideas, books. Out of the ashes and rubble revealed by this projected vision. Bradbury reveals one final elegiac redemptive clash of past, present, and future:
Montag looked at the mens' faces, old all of them, in the firelight, and certainly tired. Perhaps he was looking for a brightness, a resolve, a triumph over tomorrow that wasn't really there, perhaps he expected these men to be proud with the knowledge they carried, to glow with the wisdom as lanterns glow with the fire they contain. But all the light came from the campfire here, and these men seemed no different than any other man who has run a long run, searched a long search, seen precious things destroyed, seen old friends die, and now, very late in time, were gathered together to watch the machines die, or hope they might die, even while cherishing a last paradoxical love for those very machines which could spin out a material with happiness in the warp and terror in the woof, so interblended that a man might go insane trying to tell the design to himself and his place in it. They weren't at all certain that what they carried in their heads might make every future dawn brighter, they were sure of nothing save that the books were on file behind their solemn eyes and that if man put his mind to them properly something of dignity and happiness might be regained.
What has been Ray Bradbury's contribution to science fiction? The question might well be rephrased: What has been Ray Bradbury's contribution to mid-twentieth century American literature? Neither question is easy to answer without risking the dangers of over-generalization. From the viewpoint of science fiction, Bradbury has proved that quality writing is possible in that much-maligned genre. Bradbury is obviously a careful craftsman, an ardent wordsmith whose attention to the niceties of language and its poetic cadences would have marked him as significant even if he had never written a word about Mars.
His themes, however, place him squarely in the middle of the mainstream of American life and tradition. His eyes are set firmly on the horizon-Frontier where dream fathers mission and action mirrors illusion. And if Bradbury's eyes lift from the horizon to the stars, the act is merely an extension of the vision all Americans share. His voice is that of the poet raised against the mechanization of mankind. Perhaps, in the end, he can provide his own best summary:
The machines themselves are empty gloves. And the hand that fills them is always the hand of man. This hand can be good or evil. Today we stand on the rim of Space, and man, in his immense tidal motion is about to flow out toward far new worlds, but man must conquer the seed of his own self-destruction. Man is half-idealist, half-destroyer, and the real and terrible thing is that he can still destroy himself before reaching the stars. I see man's self-destructive half, the blind spider fiddling in the venomous dark, dreaming mushroom-cloud whispers, shaking a handful of atoms like a necklace of dark beads. We are now in the greatest age of history, capable of leaving our home planet behind us, of going off into space on a tremendous voyage of survival. Nothing must be allowed to stop this voyage, our last great wilderness trek.
[William F. Nolan, "Bradbury: Prose Poet in an Age of Space," F&SF, May 1963]
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2523
SOURCE: "Two Views: The Past, the Future, and Ray Bradbury," in Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 175-84.
[In the excerpt that follows, Stupple explores the relationship between the past and the future in Bradbury's short stories.]
Anyone who has ever watched those classic "Flash Gordon" serials must have been puzzled by the incongruous meeting of the past and the future which runs through them. Planet Mongo is filled with marvelous technological advancements. Yet, at the same time, it is a world which is hopelessly feudal, filled with endless sword play and courtly intrigues. It is as if we travel deep within the future only to meet instead the remote and archaic past. This is not, however, a special effect peculiar to adolescent space operas. On the contrary, this overlapping of past and future is one of the most common features of science fiction. It is found, for example, in such highly acclaimed works as Frank Herbert's Dune and Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, futuristic novels whose settings are decidedly "medieval." A similar effect is also created in such philosophical science fiction novels as Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Anthony Burgess' The Wanting Seed. In each of these works a future setting allows the novelist an opportunity to engage in an historiographical analysis; in each the future provides the distance needed for a study of the patterns of the past. But of all the writers of science fiction who have dealt with this meeting of the past and the future, it is Ray Bradbury whose treatment has been the deepest and most sophisticated. What has made Bradbury's handling of this theme distinctive is that his attitudes and interpretations have changed as he came to discover the complexities and the ambiguities inherent in it.
Bradbury began to concentrate upon this subject early in his career in The Martian Chronicles (1951). In a broad sense, the past in this work is represented by the Earth—a planet doomed by nuclear warfare, a "natural" outgrowth of man's history. To flee from this past. Earthmen begin to look to a future life on Mars, a place where the course of man's development has not been irrevocably determined. But getting a foothold on Mars was no easy matter, as the deaths of the members of the first two expeditions show. To Captain Black's Third Expedition, however, Mars seems anything but an alien, inhospitable planet, for as their rocket lands in April of the year 2000, the Earthmen see what looks exactly like an early twentieth century village. Around them they see the cupolas of old Victorian mansions, neat, whitewashed bungalows, elm trees, maples and chestnuts. Initially Black is skeptical. The future cannot so closely resemble the past. Sensing that something is wrong, he refuses to leave the ship. Finally one of his crewmen argues that the similarity between this Martian scene and those of his American boyhood may indicate that there is some order to the universe after all—that perhaps there is a supreme being who actually does guide and protect mankind.
Black agrees to investigate. Setting foot on Martian soil, the Captain enters a peaceful, delightful world. It is "a beautiful spring day" filled with the scent of blossoming flowers and the songs of birds. After the flux of space travel it must have appeared to have been a timeless, unchanging world—a static piece of the past. But Black is certain that this is Mars and persists in his attempt to find a rational explanation. His logical mind, however, makes it impossible for him to accept any facile solutions. Eventually, though, despite his intellectual rigor, the Captain begins to succumb to the charms of stasis:
In spite of himself, Captain John Black felt a great peace come over him. It had been thirty years since he had been in a small town, and the buzzing of spring bees on the air lulled and quieted him, and the fresh look of things was a balm to his soul.
As soon as he begins to weaken, he learns, from a lemonade-sipping matron, that this is the year 1926 and that the village is Green Town, Illinois, Black's own home town. The Captain now wants to believe in what he sees and begins to delude himself by theorizing that an unknown early twentieth century expedition came to Mars and that the colonizers, desperately homesick, created such a successful image of an Earth-like reality that they had actually begun to believe that this illusion was reality. Ironically, this is precisely what is done by Black and his crew. And it kills them.
Since by this time the Earthmen had become completely vulnerable to the seductiveness of this world of security and stasis, they now unreservedly accept "Grandma Lustig's" claim that "'all we know is here we are, alive again, and no questions asked. A second chance'." At this point the action moves rapidly. The remainder of the crew abandons ship and joins in a "homecoming" celebration. At first Black is furious at this breach of discipline, but soon loses his last trace of skepticism when he meets Edward, his long-dead "brother." Quickly, he is taken back to his childhood home, "the old house on Oak Knoll Avenue," where he is greeted by an archetypal set of midwestern parents: "In the doorway, Mom, pink, plump, and bright. Behind her, pepper-gray, Dad, his pipe in his hand." Joyfully the Captain runs "like a child" to meet them. But later, in the apparent security of the pennant-draped bedroom of his youth, Black's doubts arise anew. He begins to realize that all of this could be an elaborate reconstruction, culled from his psyche by some sophisticated Martian telepathy, created for the sole purpose of isolating the sixteen members of the Third Expedition. Recognizing the truth too late, the Captain is killed by his Martian brother as he leaves his boyhood "home" to return to the safety of the rocket ship.
Bradbury's point here is clear: Black and his men met their deaths because of their inability to forget, or at least resist, the past. Thus, the story of this Third Expedition acts as a metaphor for the book as a whole. Again and again the Earthmen make the fatal mistake of trying to recreate an Earth-like past rather than accept the fact that this is Mars—a different, unique new land in which they must be ready to make personal adjustments. Hauling Oregon lumber through space, then, merely to provide houses for nostalgic colonists exceeds folly; it is only one manifestation of a psychosis which leads to the destruction not only of Earth, but, with the exception of a few families, of Mars as well.
As a genre, science fiction . . . must deal with the future and with technological progress. This is its lifeblood and what gives it its distinctiveness. In order to enter the future, however, if only in a theoretical, purely speculative sense, one is forced to come to grips with the past. Change and progress call for a rejection and a sloughing off. This places a great stress upon the science fiction writer, for perhaps more than any other literary genre, science fiction is dependent upon traditions—its own conventions of character, plot, setting, "special effects," even ideas. It is as stylized an art form as one can find today in America. It is therefore ironic that such a conventionalized genre should be called upon to be concerned with the unconventional—with the unpredictability of change and process. In other words, this stasis-change conflict, besides being a function of Bradbury's own history and personality, also seems to be built into the art form itself. What distinguishes Bradbury and gives his works their depth is that he seems to be aware that a denial of the past demands a denial of that part of the self which is the past. As an examination of I Sing the Body Electric, his latest collection of short stories, will show, he has not been able to come to any lasting conclusion. Instead, he has come to recognize the ambiguity, the complexity, and the irony within this theme.
Of the stories in I Sing the Body Electric which develop the idea that the past is destructive and must be rejected before peace can be achieved, the most intense and suggestive is "Night Call Collect." In this grim little tale, eighty-year-old Emil Barton has been living for the past sixty years as the last man on Mars when he is shocked to receive a telephone call from, of all people, himself. In the depths of his loneliness Barton had tinkered with the possibilities of creating a disembodied voice which might autonomously carry on conversations. Now suddenly in the year 2097, long after he had forgotten about this youthful diversion, his past, in the form of his younger self, contacts him. Finding himself in a world peopled only by the permutations of his own self, the "elder" Barton tries desperately to break out of this electronic solipsism. He fails, however, and begins to feel "the past drowning him." Soon his younger self even becomes bold enough to warn him, "'All right, old man, its war! Between us. Between me'." Bradbury has obviously added a new twist to his theme. Instead of the future denying the past, it is reversed. Now the past, in order to maintain its existence, must kill off the present. Young Barton now tells his "future" self that he "'had to eliminate you some way, so I could live, if you call a transcription living'." As the old man dies, it is obvious that Bradbury has restated his belief that the past, if held on to too tightly, can destroy. But there is an added dimension here. At the end of the story it is no longer clear which is the past, which is the present, and which is the future. Is the past the transcribed voice of the "younger" twenty-four-year-old, or is it the old man living at a later date in time? Or perhaps they are but two manifestations of the same temporal reality, both the "present" and the "future" being forgotten?
Of the stories in this collection one contradicts "Night Call Collect" by developing the idea that the past can be a positive, creative force. "I Sing the Body Electric" opens with the death of a mother. But, as in so many of Bradbury's writings, there is a possibility of a second chance. "Fantocinni, Ltd." offers "the first humanoid-genre minicircuited, rechargeable AC-DC Mark V Electrical Grandmother." This time the second chance succeeds: the electric grandmother is the realization of a child's fantasy. She can gratify all desires and pay everyone in the family all the attention he or she wants. Appropriately, the grandmother arrives at the house packed in a "sarcophagus," as if it were a mummy. Despite the pun, the machine is indeed a mummy, as the narrator makes clear:
We knew that all our days were stored in her, and that any time we felt we might want to know what we said at x hour at x second at x afternoon, we just named that x and with amiable promptitude . . . she should deliver forth x incident.
The sarcophagus in which this relic was packed was covered with "hieroglyphics of the future." At first this seems to be only another of those gratuitous "special effects" for which science fiction writers are so notorious. After further consideration, however, those arcane markings can be seen a symbol for the kind of ultra-sophisticated technology of which the grandmother is an example. Thus, both the future and the past are incarnated within the body of this machine. The relationship between the two is important, for what the story seems to suggest is that what the future (here seen as technological progress) will bring is the static, familiar, secure world of the past.
There is one other story in this collection which is important because in it is found one of Bradbury's most sophisticated expositions of the subtle complexities of this theme. "Downwind from Gettysburg" is, once again, a tale about a second chance. Using the well-known Disneyland machine as his model, Bradbury's story concerns a mechanical reproduction of Abraham Lincoln. In itself, this Lincoln-robot is a good thing. The past has been successfully captured and the beloved President lives again, if only in facsimile. Within this limited framework, then, the "past" is a positive force. But there are complications, for just as Lincoln gets a second chance, so does his murderer. Just as John Wilkes Booth assassinated a Lincoln, so does Norman Llewellyn Booth. Thus, as Bradbury had discovered through his years of working with this theme, the past is not one-dimensional. It is at once creative and destructive. It can give comfort, and it can unsettle and threaten. Clearly, then, this story is an important one within Bradbury's canon, for it is just this set of realizations which he had been steadily coming to during two decades of writing.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5968
SOURCE: "The Invasion Stories of Ray Bradbury," in Critical Encounters, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1978, pp. 23-40.
[In this excerpt, Johnson discusses the principal themes of Bradbury's invasion stories, noting that they fall into one of two categories: those involving the destruction of Earthlings by Martian forces and those concerning the destruction of Martians by alien Earth creatures.]
Seven-year-old Mink bursts into the house and begins snatching up kitchen utensils and apparently random bits of junk to be hauled outside for use in some mysterious game. "What's the name of the game?" inquires her mother. "Invasion!" the girl replies. Mink's mother goes on about her housework unaware that her daughter is telling the literal truth, and that what appears to be an innocent children's game is actually the prelude to an invasion of Earth by creatures from another world—Ray Bradbury style.
The theme of invasion is one of the oldest in science fiction. The early idea that other planets might be inhabited quite naturally suggested the possibility of eventual contact between our world and another. If the theory of evolution were correct, then it was conceivable that life forms on other planets had begun evolving thousands, even millions of years before those on Earth. Intelligent beings on Mars, for instance, might already be technologically advanced enough to visit Earth. Should they decide to do so, wouldn't their very advancement prove a threat to us?
H. G. Wells's book The War of the Worlds (1898) answered the question with a very dramatic yes. Wells's Martians—cold, emotionless, octopuslike horrors—fled their own dying planet and sought to conquer Earth, exterminating most of the human race in the process. The elements of the story were classic, and formed the basis for countless Earth vs. Alien tales. Science fiction pulp magazines entered a phase of greatly increased popularity during the first half of the twentieth century. The two World Wars, with their immense firepower and destructiveness, created an atmosphere quite sympathetic to stories of interplanetary invasion and warfare. In America, Orson Welles's 1938 documentary-style radio version of The War of the Worlds was so realistic it caused a panic, and brought the idea of interplanetary invasion to general public consciousness.
Because of the dramatic possibilities of the subject, invasion became a popular theme in science fiction film and television productions. For instance, when Bradbury's short story "The Fog Horn" was made into a film, it was drastically altered to include an invasion motif. Thus Bradbury's rather touching story of a lonely ocean-dwelling dinosaur who mistakes a lighthouse foghorn for the cry of a long-lost mate became The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, in which a typical Hollywood monster charges ashore and demolishes large sections of New York City.
Bradbury has written a number of real invasion stories, of course, and these fall into two main groups: those that involve the invasion of Earth by aliens, and those that involve the invasion of Mars by Earthmen. The story about Mink and her mother belongs in the first group. It's called "Zero Hour," and comes from the collection of Bradbury's stories entitled The Illustrated Man. "Zero Hour" is essentially a suspense story. Mink's mother, Mrs. Morris, watches her daughter and the other young children in the neighborhood as they dart about playing their little game. As the day progresses, the game takes on some disturbing overtones. Mink and her friends appear to be talking to an unseen playmate in the rose bush, whom they address as Drill. When Mrs. Morris questions her daughter about this, the girl freely admits that Drill is an alien being from another dimension who is telepathically instructing the children. The aliens are teaching the children to build machines that will allow them to break through from their dimension into ours. The aliens know that no adult will take the children's game seriously until it is too late. This, of course, includes Mrs. Morris. Mink complains that some of the older boys have been teasing her and her friends: "They're so snooty, 'cause they're growing up. You'd think they'd know better. They were little only a coupla years ago. I hate them worst. We'll kill them first." To this Mrs. Morris is mildly patronizing. Half jokingly she asks if parents are to be killed too. Without hesitation, Mink answers that they are: "Drill says you're dangerous. Know why? 'Cause you don't believe in Martians. They're going to let us run the world. Well, not just us, but kids over in the next block too. I might be queen."
Our realization that Mink means business comes early in the story. We wait to see how long it will take Mrs. Morris to catch on, but we know the mother is essentially a helpless figure. What Mink says about her and other adults is true. Even if Mrs. Morris could accept her daughter's story, we know she would not be able to convince other adults. In any case, the idea is just too fantastic. At five o'clock, the previously announced "zero hour," Mr. Morris arrives home from work. Suddenly there is a loud buzzing outside, followed by explosions. Mrs. Morris realizes the truth. She drags her astonished husband up into the attic and locks the door. Heavy footsteps mount the stairs, the lock on the attic door melts and the door swings open. A smiling Mink peers in, tall blue shadows visible behind her, and ends the story by saying "Peekaboo."
"Zero Hour" derives much of its impact from its quiet suburban setting. Mrs. Morris's life is calm, well-ordered, secure. There is considerable irony in the fact that it is not the child's imagination that dominates the scene, but rather Mrs. Morris's fantasy of her own secure suburban life. This fantasy is so strong that the mother weaves all of her daughter's increasingly threatening remarks into it. Mink is only playing a game as all children do—isn't that reassuring? Mink, on the other hand, is not imagining things at all. She sees the facts quite clearly and, at least as far as Drill allows her to, she sees through her mother's illusions.
Aliens take advantage of a quiet suburban setting again in "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!" from the collection The Machineries of Joy. This time the protagonist is one Hugh Fortnum. Fortnum looks out his window one bright Saturday morning and notices his next door neighbor, Mrs. Goodbody, spraying great clouds of insecticide in all directions. He asks her what the trouble is.
"What would you say," she asks, "if I told you I was the first line of defense concerning flying saucers?"
Fortnum humors her. "Fine . . . There'll be rockets between the worlds any year now."
"There already are!' She pumped, aiming the spray under the hedge. There! Take that!'"
A few minutes later, a special delivery package arrives for Fortnum's son Tom. Inspired by an ad in Popular Mechanics, Tom had sent away for a box of "Sylvan Glade Jumbo-Giant Guaranteed Growth Raise-Them-in-Your-Cellar-for-Big-Profit Mushrooms." Almost immediately, Tom disappears down into the cellar to begin raising his crop. In a plot essentially the same as "Zero Hour," it is Hugh Fortnum's fate to have an invasion plot unfold before his eyes while we wait to see if he will put the pieces of the puzzle together in time. The development of the story is more diffuse than in "Zero Hour," because, for one thing, Fortnum is not alone in uncovering the invasion. There is Mrs. Goodbody—though she does not seem aware of events outside her own garden—and there is Roger Willis. Willis flags down Fortnum later in the morning when Fortnum is driving to the store. Once in the car, Willis immediately begins complaining of an unexplainable feeling he has that "something's wrong with the world." Willis has no hard evidence to pin his anxiety on: "Maybe there's something wrong with the way the wind blows these weeds there in the lot. Maybe it's the sun up on those telephone wires or the cicadas singing in the elm trees. If only we could stop, look, listen, a few days, a few nights, and compare notes."
Fortnum asks what they should be looking for, and Willis replies, "You'll know. You've got to know. Or we're done for, all of us."
By evening, Fortnum has guessed that the Earth is being invaded and that the mushrooms are somehow involved. When he tells this to his wife, she laughs. How, she asks, could mushrooms without even arms or legs take over the world? Fortnum has no answer. After his wife has gone upstairs to bed, Fortnum goes to the refrigerator for a snack: There, on a shelf in the refrigerator, is a bowl of freshly cut mushrooms. At last comes the crucial realization: The mushrooms infiltrate the human body through the stomach; once he has eaten a mushroom, a human being becomes an alien.
Fortnum hears his son working down in the cellar. He calls out to the boy and asks if by any chance he has eaten any of the mushrooms. In a cold, faint voice, Tom replies that he has. Tom then asks his father to come down into the cellar to view the crop. Fortnum knows that by now millions of boys have raised billions of mushrooms around the world. As he stands at the top of the cellar stairs, Fortnum struggles with the incredibility of what he knows to be true: "He looked back at the stair leading up to his wife. I suppose, he thought, I should go say goodbye to Cynthia. But why should I think that! Why, in God's name, should I think that at all? No reason, is there?" Fortnum then steps down into the darkened cellar, closing the door behind him.
Since "Zero Hour" and "Mushrooms" are both primarily suspense stories, they share a number of structural traits common to such stories. For instance, the secret of the invasion is revealed to the reader almost at once. Real-life invasions usually depend heavily upon the element of surprise—such as in the attack on Pearl Harbor or in the invasion of Normandy. But in a story it is difficult to sustain reader interest if the main point is concealed until the very end. By revealing the invaders' intentions at the beginning of the story, Bradbury keeps us in constant suspense, wondering if and when the protagonists will catch on. In both stories, the method of invasion is rather improbable. This is necessary because the main character must be teasingly slow in putting the pieces of the puzzle together—but without coming off as an idiot. Because the invaders' plans are quite far-fetched, we can understand it when the main characters rationalize away the threat on the basis of its incredibility and their own need to live in a safe world where such things do not happen.
Both "Zero Hour" and "Mushrooms" focus on a small area. Though the invasions are on a world-wide scale, we see little of what is happening outside the neighborhood of the main characters. An even tighter focus is maintained in the story "Fever Dream" from A Medicine for Melancholy. Here again an invasion of Earth by mysterious creatures is taking place. But this time only one person knows, and there is no way he can tell anyone else about it, for the invasion is taking place within his own body.
Thirteen-year-old Charles has been put to bed with what seems to be a bad cold. From the outside, it seems like nothing more. But Charles has begun to experience strange symptoms, which he tries to communicate to his doctor: "My hand, it doesn't belong to me any more. This morning it changed into something else. I want you to change it back. Doctor, Doctor!" Charles's hand shows no external signs of change, and the doctor treats the matter lightly—"You just had a little fever dream." He gives Charles a pill and leaves.
At four o'clock his other hand changed. It seemed almost to become a fever. It pulsed and shifted, cell by cell. It beat like a warm heart. The fingernails turned blue and then red. It took about an hour for it to change and when it was finished, it looked just like any ordinary hand. But it was not ordinary. It no longer was him any more.
Cut off from his disbelieving parents and the doctor, Charles tries to understand what is happening to him. He recalls how, in a book he once read, ancient trees became petrified as their wood cells were replaced by minerals. On the outside they still looked like trees, but in reality they had changed to stone.
"What would happen," Charles later asks the doctor, if "a lot of microbes got together and wanted to make a bunch, and reproduced and made more. . . . And they decided to take over a person!" Indeed, Charles has hit upon the truth, but even as he speaks his hands—possessed of a life of their own—crawl up his chest to his throat and begin to strangle him.
Later, alone again, and with his hands strapped to his legs, Charles submits to the progressive take-over of his body. He is trapped more completely than if surrounded by a whole army of soldiers. In a macabre parody of the old wives' cure for insomnia—wherein one relaxes his hands, then feet, then arms, then legs, until theoretically the entire body is relaxed—Charles's body is taken away from him bit by bit. Finally only his head is left, and in silent panic he feels his ears go deaf, his eyes go blind, and "his brain fill with a boiling mercury."
This story is a reversal of the previous stories in which the invaders were, at least in the beginning, external to the victims and brought about an internal psychological struggle. In "Fever Dream," the invasion begins within one person, and after it has conquered him, it moves out into the world at large. Bradbury only touches upon this second phase as Charles, suddenly appearing well again, goes to great lengths to get into physical contact with his parents, the doctor, even his pet parakeet. We realize that Charles is now one of the invaders—a carrier—and is eagerly involved in spreading the invasion. We know too that there will be no clash of armies or weaponry, just the futile struggle of one individual after another with his or her fever dream. . . .
It will be noted that children play important roles in the stories covered so far and in several of those to follow. Bradbury's use of children in general in his stories is too large a subject to treat here. But with respect to stories about invasion, Bradbury seems to agree with the popular concept that children live in a world of their own. Though they occupy the same space as adults do, their perception of it is, in many ways, radically different. They are, in a sense, aliens in their own world. In a story (not about invasion) from the book Dark Carnival, Bradbury has a rather paranoid school teacher say to his class, "Sometimes I actually believe that children are invaders from another dimension. . . . You are another race entirely, your motives, your beliefs, your disobediences. You are not human. You are—children." It may not be realistic to view the place of children in the world as in any way sinister, but in Bradbury's hands, it can certainly result in a good story.
Another common element in Bradbury's invasion stories is the theme of metamorphosis. In many stories, such as "Mushrooms" or "Fever Dream," the victim of the invasion undergoes—or prepares to undergo—a change in which he himself becomes one of the invaders. Bradbury frequently plays off of the ambiguity of the relationship between the invader and the invaded. At the moment an invasion succeeds, the invader becomes defender—capable himself of being invaded. In some of the stories about Mars, Earthmen who have begun living on Mars are faced with the fact that they are becoming, naturally enough, Martians. In some cases, the metamorphosis is literal, as in "Fever Dream," but behind this is the metaphorical truth that an invasion may be less of a change of circumstance than a change of mind.
Invasions succeed as often by the demoralization of the invaded as by the simple strength of the invaders. The means by which an invader travels can provide him with an important psychological advantage. In "Mushrooms" and "Fever Dream," Bradbury uses covert, Trojan Horse-type devices in which the invaders arrive in disguise and are not recognized for what they are until it is too late. In other stories, involving Mars and Earth, the invasion device is usually the commonplace but inevitable rocket ship. . . .
Sometimes the mere presence of an alien force is enough to destroy a people's will to resist. In "Perhaps We Are Going Away," from The Machineries of Joy, an Indian boy, Ho-Awi, awakens to a day that is "evil for no reason." Ho-Awi belongs to a tribe named after a bird that lives near a mountain range named after the shadows of owls. Like the birds that are featured symbolically in their myths, the Indians of the tribe are sensitive to subtle disturbances in natural events.
In the hours before dawn, Ho-Awi joins his grandfather to hunt down the cause of the ominous feeling that pervades the air. They search for evidence that something is amiss in the natural world: "They scanned the prairies, but found only the winds which played there like tribal children all day." At length they approach the shore of the great eastern ocean and Ho-Awi's grandfather catches sight of something that confirms his worst fears. He tells Ho-Awi that a great change is coming, like a change of season. Though it is just the beginning of summer, birds that cannot be seen are flying south. "I feel them pass south in my blood. Summer goes. We may go with it." Ho-Awi asks if this course of things can be stopped or reversed, but the old man, who has already spotted the first encampment of white men on the beach, knows it cannot: "Not you or me or our people can stay this weather. It is a season changed, come to live on the land for all time."
Ho-Awi then sees the white men's camp himself, and realizes his grandfather is right. Not that there is much to see, just the glint of firelight on armor, a few faces, and out on the water "a great dark canoe with things like torn clouds hung on poles over it." But the metal and the ship are evidence of a vast technological gap. So intimidating is this gap that the two Indians who have seen the modest vanguard of the white man's invasion feel their entire world vanishing. There is no warning they can give that will prepare their tribe for what is to come. Physical resistance may eventually follow, but this will be to no avail, because the psychological battle has already been lost.
Hundreds of years later, in August of 1999, the planet Mars seems enveloped by a similarly disturbing atmosphere. In "The Summer Night," from The Martian Chronicles, strange thoughts pop into Martian heads as if from nowhere. In a theater, a Martian woman begins to sing words that are utterly alien to her: "She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies . . ." All over the planet, similar things occur. Children sing strange rhymes, lovers awaken humming unknown melodies. Women awake from violent nightmares and declare, "Something terrible will happen in the morning." The Martians try to reassure one another before settling into an uneasy sleep. The story ends with a lone night watchman patrolling empty streets and humming a very strange song.
Earthmen, who of course are on the way, do not appear at all in this story. But their presence has already invaded the minds of the telepathic Martians. The outcome of the coming invasion by Earthmen is not stated, but the fact that the Martians are already speaking our language, and find themselves frightened and dismayed by that fact implies that their fate will not be a happy one. The technological level of the Martians is not clear. They seem somewhat like ancient Greeks, attending concerts in marble amphitheaters while children play in torchlit alleys. There is mention of boats "as delicate as bronze flowers" drifting through canals, and of meals cooked on tables "where lava bubbled silvery and hushed." So the Martians obviously have some technological advancement. But the Martians seem to have made a decision about machinery, consigning it to a modest role in their society as an art form, a toy, and an unobtrusive support for a pastoral life style. Though it does not appear in this story, the very existence of a rocket ship en route from Earth to Mars suggests a technology out of sympathy with, and potentially destructive to, the Martian way of life.
We have come to the second major group of Ray Bradbury's invasion stories, those involving the invasion of Mars by Earthmen. Of course, in the tradition of invaders throughout history, when we are doing the invading, it is called "colonization." By having the first Earthmen arrive on Mars in a succession of solitary rockets, Bradbury is able to stage the initial contact of Earthman and Martian several times. Since many of these stories were intended to be read singly, outside the context of a book, the character of the Martians changes to suit the requirements of a particular situation. Thus sometimes the Martians are jealous and brutal, other times they are helpless and complacent. There even seem to be several different intelligent life forms on Mars, each of whom responds to the invaders from Earth in a different way.
The creature in "The One Who Waits," from The Machineries of Joy, tells its own story: "I live in a well. I live like smoke in the well. Like vapor in a stone throat . . . I am mist and moonlight and memory . . . I wait in cool silence and there will be a day when I no longer wait." This strange creature has the power, like the giant mushrooms, or the microbes of "Fever Dream" to take possession of other life forms. But this time we experience the story from the creature's point of view.
A rocket lands not far from the well the Martian calls home. Several men approach the well and begin testing the water. The vapor creature allows itself to be inhaled by one of the men:
Now I know who I am.
My name is Stephen Leonard Jones and I am twenty-five years old and I have just come in a rocket from a planet called Earth and I am standing with my good friends Regent and Shaw by an old well on the planet Mars.
I look down at my golden fingers, tan and strong. I look at my long legs and at my silver uniform and at my friends.
"What's wrong, Jones?" they say.
"Nothing," I say, looking at them. "Nothing at all."
The tables have been turned; the invader has been invaded. One by one, the creature takes over the bodies and minds of the crewmen from the spaceship. It tries each one out as we might try on a new glove. It enjoys the new sensations the men provide it with of touch, taste, smell. It even has one of the crewmen it is possessing shoot himself so that it can temporarily experience death. Like the boy Charles in "Fever Dream," some of the men try to resist the creature:
I hear . . . a voice calling deep within me, tiny and afraid. And the voice cries, Let me go, let me go, and there is a feeling as if something is trying to get free, a pounding of labyrinthine doors, a rushing down dark corridors and up passages, echoing and screaming.
When it finally tires of its game, the creature kills the remaining crewmen by possessing all of them at once and forcing them to throw themselves into the well. The creature then resumes its post, and quietly waits for the centuries to pass.
One reason the first Earthmen are not very successful invaders is that they make no secret about their coming. There is no secret business in Martian cellars, no exploitation of Martian children. The Earthmen swoop down in noisy rocket ships in broad daylight. To make matters worse, the Martians of The Martian Chronicles are telepathic, so they can read the Earthmen's minds before a rocket is even sighted. Thus the Martians have plenty of time to prepare a reception. When the first rocket lands in Chronicles, the crew is simply shot to death by a jealous Martian who fears his wife may fall in love with an Earthman. Another expedition lands on what appears to be the outskirts of a small American town. The crew is welcomed by their own mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends—many long thought to be dead. The Martians have, of course, recreated the town and its inhabitants by reading the crewmen's minds. The crew gradually becomes separated as each member is lured off to what he believes to be his old home. Then, one by one, they are killed.
Actual warfare never does break out between men and Martians. By the time Earthmen arrive in force, most of the Martians have succumbed to diseases from Earth against which they had no immunity. The few Martians remaining abandon their cities and seek refuge in the mountains. The invasion of Mars now goes into full swing. More and more rockets arrive. Lumber and supplies are shipped in, towns are built, and roads are laid connecting them. Benjamin Driscoll, a futuristic Johnny Appleseed, stalks about the planet planting Earth trees. The plains, mountains, and canals of Mars are given new names in honor of rocket pilots, explorers, and remembered places on Earth. The first stage of the invasion is successful: A new population has settled in, and the old population has been driven out. Once the physical invasion has been completed, the more subtle invasion of culture takes place. The Earthmen, like pioneers before them, carry their art, religion, and customs with them. One of the first things an invader does once he has settled on foreign soil is to make his new environment as much like his former home as possible.
In "The Off Season," from The Martian Chronicles, the new culture confronts the old. Sam Parkhill opens up a hot dog stand—complete with neon lights and juke box—next to a road he expects will soon be heavily travelled. Parkhill is the personification of the Ugly Earthman: loud, crude, out for the fast buck. One evening a Martian calls on Parkhill. The Martian—a fragile creature, seemingly less substantial than the glass mask and silken robes it wears—has come on a peaceful mission. But the Earthman misunderstands, believing the Martian is attempting to lay claim to the land the hot dog stand occupies. With the arrogance of the conqueror, Parkhill presents the Martian with a few facts of life:
Look here . . . I'm from New York City. Where I come from there's ten million others just like me. You Martians are a couple dozen left, got no cities, you wander around in the hills, no leaders, no laws, and now you come tell me about this land. Well, the old got to give way to the new. That's the law of give and take. I got a gun here . . .
Before Earthmen completely settle on Mars, nuclear war breaks out on Earth. Most of the Earth people on Mars decide to return to the home planet in its time of need. In a very short time, the Earth settlements on Mars are crumbling ghost towns. Bradbury devotes a number of stories to the fate of the few Earthmen left behind on Mars, or the even smaller number who arrive fleeing the war on Earth. Most interesting are those in which the Earthmen undergo the inevitable metamorphosis and become Martians. The last story in The Martian Chronicles, "The Million Year Picnic," treats this theme in a matter-of-fact way. The Thomas family—mother, father, and three sons—learn that the Earth has been all but completely destroyed. They symbolically burn a map of the Earth and, gazing at their reflections in a canal, accept their new identities as Martians.
A more poetic treatment of the metamorphosis theme is found in "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed," from A Medicine for Melancholy. Harry and Cora Bittering and their children Dan, Laura, and David arrive with a number of other families to set up a town on Mars. Harry immediately senses something strange about the atmosphere on Mars. "He felt submerged in a chemical that could dissolve his intellect and burn away his past." Harry expresses his misgivings to his wife: "I feel like a salt crystal in a mountain stream, being washed away. We don't belong here."
The Bitterlings and their neighbors build cottages and plant gardens. Each day the rocket from Earth brings the newspaper. Harry reassures himself that all is well: "Why in ten years there'll be a million Earthmen on Mars. Big cities, everything! They said we'd fail. Said the Martians would resent our invasion. But did we find any Martians? Not a living soul! Oh, we found their empty cities, but no one in them. Right?" News of the war on Earth reaches them, and with it the realization that there will be no more rockets for a very long time—that they are in fact trapped on Mars.
Changes slowly begin to occur. The blossoms shaken down from Bitterling's peach tree are not peach blossoms. The vegetables from the garden begin to taste subtly different. When Harry visits his friend Sam he begins to notice other things.
"Sam," Bittering said. "Your eyes—"
"What about them, Harry?"
"Didn't they used to be grey?"
"Well now, I don't remember."
"They were, weren't they?"
"Why do you ask, Harry?"
"Because now they're kind of yellow-colored."
"Is that so, Harry?" Sam said, casually.
Harry is experiencing a phenomenon common to invaders, that of assimilation. Invasion is not merely an intrusion, unless primarily a military operation. When one culture moves in on another, some sort of mixture will probably occur. All cultures need reinforcement to remain alive. When one population invades another and is then cut off from home, the influence of the host culture strengthens. Harry Bitterling is not the first colonial to watch his friends "go native"—but the effect rarely involves a complete transformation into the native species. But this is Mars, and Ray Bradbury's Mars at that. This is a place created by, and subject to, the laws of imagination.
Bitterling's family and friends grow taller, their eyes grow more and more golden. Though they've never been taught it, they begin to use Martian words in their conversations. Harry's son Dan declares he is changing his name to Linnl. Laura and David soon become Ttil and Werr. The transformation takes over all of them like some sweet disease. There is no force, no coercion. As they become Martians, they become more relaxed, more at peace with themselves.
Eventually the former Earthmen abandon their town and move up into the Martian hills. The former Bitterlings occupy a villa in the Pillan Mountains (formerly the Rockefeller Range, formerly the Pillan Mountains). Months later, Bitterling and his wife gaze down at the abandoned Earth settlement in the valley. "Such odd, ridiculous houses the Earth people built," says Harry. His wife answers, "They didn't know any better . . . Such ugly people. I'm glad they've gone."
So the invasion of Mars is over. Bradbury carries his theme of metamorphosis to its ultimate extreme. As in "Fever Dream," and "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms . . ." the invader and his victim have become one in the same. Bradbury portrays various life forms—microbe, plant, or human being—moving out from their home worlds to fulfill the need to perpetuate themselves. But he suggests that the price of success might be an ultimate loss of identity. To survive on an alien world, the invader must unite with his victim. Both learn that in order for life to go on, any particular species is expendable, and that the invader's act of aggression may become an act of submission to the higher purpose of life itself.
Bradbury has written only one story in which Martians attempt a military invasion of Earth à la H. G. Wells. But the result of the invasion in "The Concrete Mixer" (from the collection The Illustrated Man) is quite a bit different from any imagined by Wells. Of course, Wells never saw American pop culture in full flower. Ettil is a peace-loving Martian who only wishes to sit home and read. His fellow Martians are getting ready to invade Earth. Ettil's father-in-law is outraged at Ettil's pacifism: "Who ever heard of a Martian not invading? Who!"
Ettil is thrown into prison for draft-dodging. There he is confronted with evidence that he has been reading contraband science fiction magazines from Earth. Ettil readily admits that his sole literary diet has been such fare as Wonder Stories, Scientific Tales, and Fantastic Stories. He insists that the magazines furnish proof that a Martian invasion of Earth will fail. "The Earthmen know they can't fail. It is in them like blood beating in their veins . . .
Their youth of reading just such fiction as this has given them a faith we cannot equal." Ettil is willing to be thrown into a fire along with his beloved magazines rather than join the army, but seeing the disappointment in the eyes of his son, he finally relents.
The Martians are prepared for the worst weapons the Earth might throw at them, but they are quite taken aback by the reception they actually receive. Nurtured on thousands of science fiction stories about invaders from Mars, the Earthmen regard the Martians as superstars. The first rocket to land outside Green Town, is welcomed by the Mayor, by Miss California, a former Miss America, Mr. Biggest Grapefruit in San Fernando Valley, and a brass band playing "California, Here I Come." The rout of the Martian army begins at once. Scarcely have they gotten over being violently ill following helpings of free beer, popcorn, and hot dogs, when they are whisked off to picture shows by amorous women, or pursued by evangelical preachers seeking to save their souls. Ettil is cornered by a Hollywood producer, plied with Manhattans, talked into being technical director for a science fiction film about a wildly improbable Martian invasion. Ettil sinks into a profound depression as he realizes that his fellow Martians are doomed to be lulled by the noisy pleasures of Earth until, one by one, they die in freeway accidents, or of Earthtype afflictions such as cirrhosis of the liver, bad kidneys, high blood pressure, and suicide. Worse, he realizes Earth culture will soon be exported to Mars, and that his quiet home planet will be overwhelmed with night clubs, gambling casinos, and race tracks. One can almost sympathize with poor Ettil when, having stepped into the path of a speeding car being driven by thrill-crazed teenagers, he decides not to get out of the way.
It is not surprising that Ray Bradbury should have written a number of stories about the common science fiction theme of invasion. What is notable is the consistent quality and variety his work exhibits.
Bradbury's stories, like many of his aliens, enter our minds and leave us, perhaps, subtly different from the way we were before.
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SOURCE: A review of The Stories of Ray Bradbury, in The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1980, pp. 14, 32-4.
[In the following review, Disch attacks Bradbury's collected stories as unimaginative and poorly written, asserting that "Mr. Bradbury's failures outnumber his successes. "]
Ray Bradbury is America's Official Science Fiction Writer, the one most likely to be trotted out on state occasions to give a salute to, as he puts it, "our wild future in space." In 1964 he was hired to "conceptualize" the part of the United States Pavilion at the World's Fair devoted to the Future. From there he went on "to help plan the dreams that went into Spaceship Earth"—the latest Disney fairground now under construction. Last year a film clip of the author was the Delegate for Science Fiction at the first TABA Awards ceremony.
To those familiar with the field, Ray Bradbury's figurehead status may seem hard to account for, if only because, as he himself notes, so small a part of his output may be called science fiction. If the flagbearer's role were to be assigned to the Oldest Veteran, then by rights Jack Williamson should lead the parade. If a poll of science fiction readers were to be taken, top honors would probably go to Robert Heinlein. Even the art of self-promotion cannot account for Mr. Bradbury's eminence, for Isaac Asimov has been beating the drum of his own reputation with more vigor and persistence for decades. Yet for brandname recognition, Mr. Bradbury has them all licked.
Could the answer be sheer literary excellence? No. Only readers who would profess Rod McKuen to be America's greatest poet, or Kahlil Gibran its noblest philosopher, could unblushingly commend Mr. Bradbury's stories as literature. If there is any difference between art and kitsch, between steak and bologna, into which category would you place the following prose specimen?
"There are a million small towns like this all over the world. Each as dark, as lonely, each as removed, as full of shuddering and wonder. The reedy playing of minor-key violins is the small towns' music, with no lights but many shadows. Oh the vast swelling loneliness of them. The secret damp ravines of them. Life is a horror lived in them at night, when at all sides sanity, marriage, children, happiness, are threatened by an ogre called Death."
That comes from "The Night," the first of 100 tales collected in The Stories of Ray Bradbury. Though published early in his career (1946), the vein of schmaltz evident in "The Night" recurs in Mr. Bradbury's work as regularly as he reaches for the unattainable. Early and late are meaningless distinctions in his output. Indeed, the secret of his success may well be that, like Peter Pan, he won't grow up. What's more, he knows it. This is from his Introduction:
"I was not embarrassed at circuses. Some people are. Circuses are loud, vulgar, and smell in the sun. By the time many people are fourteen or fifteen, they have been divested of their loves, their ancient and intuitive tastes, one by one, until when they reach maturity there is no fun left, no zest, no gusto, no flavor. Others have criticized, and they have criticized themselves, into embarrassment."
There's the choice—love Ray Bradbury, out there beyond embarrassment, or be enrolled among those loveless, zestless critics who never go to the circus. My own experience suggests other possibilities. I've been to the circus from time to time, invariably enjoyed the show, gasped, applauded, and even so, my ancient and intuitive taste tells me that Ray Bradbury's stories are meretricious more often than not. Because he's risked being loud, vulgar and smelly? No, because his imagination so regularly becomes mired in genteel gush and self-pity, because his environing clichés have made him nearly oblivious to new data from any source.
Consider this description (from "The Night"): "You smell roses in blossom; fallen apples lying crushed and odorous in the deep grass." Ordinarily apples don't fall when roses blossom, but in Mr. Bradbury's stories it's always Any-month in Everywhereville. His dry-ice machine covers the bare stage of his story with a fog of breathy approximations. He means to be evocative and incantatory; he achieves vagueness and prolixity.
Perhaps it is élitist, these days, to discuss the prose style of any very popular writer. A readership in the millions proves that some sort of message is getting through. At a recent symposium of secondary-school teachers, I was assured that no s.f. writer is so teachable as Mr. Bradbury: even the least-skilled readers are able to turn his sentences into pictures in their heads. Inattentive, artless and very young readers are probably better able to construct agreeable daydreams out of Mr. Bradbury's approximative prose than if they were required to exercise their reading muscles more strenuously.
The Defense might argue that broad outlines, bright colors and stereotypical characters don't preclude the possibility of art, or at least of well-engineered amusement. Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell have endeared themselves to large audiences by such means. Indeed, there are other points of comparison even more pertinent. Like Disney, Mr. Bradbury has a knack of taming and sanitizing fairytales and myths so that even fauns and centaurs may be welcomed into the nursery. Like Rockwell, Mr. Bradbury celebrates the virtues and flavors of an idyllic, small-town American Way of Life, the myth on which a thousand suburbs have been founded.
Myths can serve various purposes: they can be decorative, a kind of literary Fourth of July bunting (as in Mr. Bradbury's "A Scent of Sarsaparilla"); they can be obfuscatory, a stop-gap lie to tell children before they're ready for the truth (Mr. Bradbury's tales of life in funny old warm-hearted Mexico achieve this purpose); or they can order complex emotional experience in the manner so well described by Bruno Bettelheim in his study of fairytales, "The Uses of Enchantment." Some of Mr. Bradbury's more memorable tales achieve this last and largest purpose of myth-making—offering symbolically effective ways of thinking about the unthinkable.
Even as mythmaker, however, Mr. Bradbury's failures outnumber his successes. He summons spirits from the vasty deep, but they don't come. "The Black Ferris," one of only six stories collected for the first time in this volume, is representative of Mr. Bradbury at his worst.
"The Black Ferris" begins with a great gust from the fog machine—"The carnival had come to town like an October wind, like a dark bat flying over the cold lake, bones rattling in the night, mourning, sighing, whispering up the tents in the dark rain"—and goes on to recount how two small boys, Peter and Hank, discover that Mr. Cooger, the 35-year-old manager of the visiting carnival, has transformed himself into the "li'l orphan boy" who has been taken into the household of poor rich Mrs. Foley. He does this by riding the black ferris of the title 25 times in reverse. The two boys immediately apprehend the purpose of this imposture and go to Mrs. Foley to warn her:
"He's from the carnival, and he ain't a boy, he's a man, and he's planning on living with you until he finds where your money is and then run off with it some night, and people will look for him but because they'll be looking for a little ten-year-old boy they won't recognize him when he walks by a thirty-five-year-old man, named Mr. Cooger!"
Mrs. Foley refuses to heed this word to the wise, and there's nothing our little heroes can do but chase the false orphan back to the carnival. Too late to prevent him from getting back into the time-defying ferris, they assault the blind hunchback at the controls. The ferris spins, unchecked, until . . . what do you think?
"'Look,' everybody said. The policeman turned and the carnival people turned and the fishermen turned and they all looked at the occupant in the blackpainted seat at the bottom of the ride. The wind touched and moved the black wooden seat in a gentle rocking rhythm, crooning over the occupant in the dim carnival light.
"A skeleton sat there, a paper bag of money in its hands, a brown derby hat on its head."
If that tickles your sense of wonder, then there are 99 other stories in the book just as good or even better.
There can be charm in art of such systematically false naïveté, and some few writers have managed to have it both ways, writing stories that are amusing to grown-ups and exciting to children: Hans Christian Andersen, A. A. Milne, Maurice Sendak. But Mr. Bradbury is not in their league.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1179
SOURCE: "From the Dark Carnival to the Machineries of Joy," in The Washington Post Book World, Vol. X, No. 44, November 2, 1980, pp. 4-5.
[In his review of Bradbury's collected Stories, Card briefly discusses the author's subject matter, noting that his short fiction exceeds the boundaries of the science fiction genre.]
Fifteen or 20 years ago, high school and college English teachers seized upon the work of Ray Bradbury. Ah! they cried in unison. Here is a science fiction writer whose work is good! Remarkably enough, however, the appeal of Bradbury's short stories has even survived the process of "required reading." Bradbury is that odd thing: a mid-20th-century writer whose literary output has been almost entirely short stories. Of his so-called novels, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes were cobbled together from short stories; Fahrenheit 451 was an unfortunate expansion of a fine novelette.
In recent years Bradbury seems to have contented himself with writing unprepossessing poetry and the odd article here and there. It takes a book like The Stories of Ray Bradbury to remind us that in his writing career he has already given us a body of work comparable to Poe's, to O. Henry's, to de Maupassant's. What's more, rereading these hundred stories also causes me to wonder why the illusion continues, even among science fiction readers, that Ray Bradbury is or ever has been a science fiction writer.
True, his early stories first appeared in the pulps during the late 1940s. But that was not because they belonged there—Bradbury was writing neither space opera not nuts-and-bolts science fiction. In any reasonable world, the main stream of American letters would have seized instantly upon his work as a fresh voice, a new vision. Unfortunately, Bradbury began writing when the American short story establishment was already in the grip of the hardening of the arteries that would quickly lead to the paralysis we politely overlook today.
Ray Bradbury wrote about Mars, but even when he wrote the stories that later became The Martian Chronicles he knew that there never could be such a planet as he described. Rather he was setting his stories in the world of the dreams of a child growing up on Buck Rogers and John Carter. He was not writing science fiction. He was writing Ray Bradbury's childlike world:
It is a world of terrors, both named and nameless, that at once attract and repel.
It is a world of parents who are competent and kind, siblings who are eager to plunge into danger as long as you are close behind, tennis shoes that have miraculous powers.
It is a world where hope is the only possible philosophy, and is not disappointed.
Indeed, it is that very optimism, and not some imaginary genre, that sets off Bradbury's stories from most others. His ebullience borders on sentimentality, and if you do not read his stories in the correct frame of mind you are likely to detect cliche here and there, and mawkishness seeping through almost every tale.
For instance, the characters in "I Sing the Body Electric" are not particularly well-drawn. They are simply a boy and his siblings who have lost their mother. Their father arranges for them to choose a robot grandmother who is everything they want her to be. They become emotionally attached to the convincing fraud of an old lady. And then one day she, too, is "killed." This time, however, the machine they love can be resurrected easily—the faith of the children is restored, for their loved one can never be taken from them now. And more: when they are old, she will be able to come back to them and care for them as they retreat into a second childhood.
Maudlin? Yes, if you read it with emotional detachment, analyzing as you go. But Bradbury's stories resist such a reading.
It is not the characters he expects you to identify with. Rather, he means to capture you in his own voice, expects you to see through his eyes. And his eyes see, not the cliché plot, but the whole meaning of the events; not the scenes or the individual people, but yourself and your own fears and your own family and the answer, at last, to the isolation that had seemed inevitable to you. In short, if you will let him, Bradbury will give you a much better childhood than you ever had. He will name all your nameless fears and bring them home and make you like them.
In the introduction to The Stories of Ray Bradbury, the author states his belief that he can clearly remember all the events of his infancy, even the moment of his birth, the doctor and scalpel at his circumcision. It is perhaps too tempting to use this to explain Bradbury's unique voice: Could he not be giving us stories that see the world as an infant sees it, with unindividuated parts that cannot be named, and yet with feelings that are inextricably linked with the events that swirl around him?
Bradbury's stories do not all succeed, of course. His tributes to Hemingway only work if you feel toward Papa as too many people feel toward Elvis. Some of his stories are little more than an idea—what if the sea were a woman that coveted a man and regarded his wife as her rival? What, if a dinosaur were still alive in the sea and thought a fog horn was a mating call? Other stories gush too much even for me.
But where he succeeds, where his voice and his subject matter and this particular reader find harmony, I find the stories have lived in me ever since that first reading:
The hilarious story, "Invisible Boy," which is the perfect expression of a parent's hopeless longing to possess a child forever.
"The Tombling Day," in which an old woman looks at the exhumed body of her old lover and learns that she is still young; another old woman in "There Was an Old Woman" who refuses to die and demands to have her body back.
The macabre group of people, always the same people, who endlessly gather at grisly accidents to partake of the pain and the death in "The Crowd."
A story of a dignified old couple who, through their sheer grace, forestall the ruin of their home in "The Terrible Conflagration up at the Place."
The monster children of "The Small Assassin" and "Tomorrow's Child."
And most of all, the story Bradbury chose to lead off the collection of his own favorites among his work: "The Night," which perhaps means so much to me because I'm just learning how much a parent is lost when a child is lost.
Indeed, that is Bradbury's magic: far more often than you will think possible, he will find the inexpressible things you most deeply know, and from then on the name of that thing will be his story. He will give you dandelion wine laced with wormwood, and you'll drink deep and regret that there are only a hundred draughts.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2852
SOURCE: "Ray Bradbury and the Gothic Tradition," in Ray Bradbury, Paul Harris Publishing, 1980, pp. 165-85.
[In the following examination of the stories collected in The October Country, Pierce connects Bradbury to the Gothic literary tradition.]
Anyone seeking to connect a contemporary author with any established literary tradition must heed Coleridge's prefatory remarks to "Christabel" in 1798. To protect himself from charges of "servile imitation," Coleridge came right to the point:
For there is amongst us a set of critics, who seem to hold that every possible thought or image is traditional; who have no notion that there are such things as fountains in the world, small as well as great; and who would therefore charitably derive every rill they behold flowing, from a perforation made in some other man's tank.
Coleridge did admit an alternative when in "Kubla Khan" he described a fountain which "flung up momently the sacred river," creating a tumult in which could be heard voices. After tapping the ancient source and tossing its elements into new life, the fountain returns them, energized, to enrich the original flow.
Similarly, an author can tap a literary tradition and, in playing his own variations on its themes and conventions, leave it richer for the diversion. In an interview in 1976, Ray Bradbury faced a question that touches close to that of Coleridge: are authors inventors of ideas or trappers of independent sources? [Robert Jacobs, "Bradbury," Writer's Digest, February 1976]. Bradbury rejected both the idea of invention and that of borrowing. For him, the author's purpose is to find fresh ways of presenting basic truths. In the interview Bradbury did not discuss the forms in which writers might embody these fresh insights; but close reading of certain short stories and novels reveals that he has not rejected traditional modes when they fit his purposes. . . . In these stories and novels we find Bradbury's use of the conventions, themes, and mood of the Gothic tradition, as well as the changes he has made, thus giving it fresh energy and new range. . . .
In the early short stories, especially those collected in The October Country, Bradbury exercises his fancy on the grotesque. He reminds us in a short prefatory comment that most of these stories were written before he was 26 and are unique to this early period of his work. Some date back to 1943. Being close to the time of Bradbury's initial introduction to and absorption in Poe's stories, these tales could well show the influence of Poe. Certainly they exhibit a sensitive use of the Gothic mode in general.
The title, The October Country, immediately attracts our attention. In an epigraph Bradbury describes this country as gloomy, more used to fogs and mists than to sunlight, more comfortable at dusk and night than at dawn and day. There one could easily suffer a day such as Poe describes in "The Fall of the House of Usher": "a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens." Bradbury's October country is compartmentalized into small dark areas, the hidden places of human deprivation and depravation. His autumn people are void of hope or optimism. Occasionally one of them rouses himself for a cruel joke or last-ditch effort. But for the most part, they live static, sterile lives.
In these early stories Bradbury has heeded, intuitively or intentionally, one of Poe's often quoted lessons to those who would write prose narratives. Poe discussed the importance of unity in a review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales, emphasizing that the short tale which dwell on terror, passion, or horror can benefit from the "certain unique or single effect" To avail himself of this "immense force derivable from totality," an author must choose his incidents with care.
Bradbury has added a footnote to Poe's advice, given not as a bit of literary credo but in the casual remark of one of his characters. In "The Next in Line" Marie stands looking at a pile of disjointed bones and skulls and remarks: ". . . for a thing to be horrible it has to suffer a change you can recognize." Bradbury has followed his own advice and Poe's dictum. In The October Country he has placed his changes against a background of familiar people, places, and activities. Many of the old Gothic conventions are present, albeit in unfamiliar guises. This perversion of accustomed twentieth-century patterns of life allow an exquisite but immense force to excite feelings of awe and dread.
[Horace] Walpole's "subterraneous" regions [in The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, 1764] have spawned many variations: escapeways underground, dungeons, secret vaults, catacombs with their store of ancient dead. What is more natural for a couple vacationing in Mexico than to visit one of the tourist attractions, the mummies in the local catacombs? Wired to the walls of the cavernous hall are the skeletons of those whose families could not pay the fee of a conventional burial. Joseph, a stereotyped tourist, busies himself with snapping pictures and making crude remarks about Mr. Gape and Mrs. Grimace. He even tries to buy one of the skeletons from the caretaker for a few pesos. Meanwhile, his wife Marie is responding to the human drama implicit in each "screaming" skull. When car trouble forces them to stay longer in the town, the experience works morbidly on her mind. She becomes catatonic and finally dies. Marie is a likely candidate for the "next in line." Using the familiar events of tourist travel, Bradbury has achieved low-key terror by forcing us to witness Marie's steady, seemingly inevitable disintegration into death.
Death and catacombs have become clichés in the literature of terror. Bradbury gives the cliché a fresh twist in "The Cistern," evoking a romantic melancholy instead of horror. The cistern of the title is the far-flung sewer system of a town of some 30,000 people, a town large enough to allow some of its citizens to be misplaced or go unnoticed. Because the town lies near the sea, the tides and rains flow through the system. One evening a spinster muses aloud to her sister that the cistern is actually a vast underground city. A man long dead lives there, periodically enlivened by the tides, ennobled by the waters. Anna sees him joined by a woman who has died only recently, the two forever clean and loving in their watery world. When she identifies the man as her long-lost lover, we feel a deep sadness for those whom love and gentleness have passed by. That a figure should slip out of the house later in the night and that a manhole cover should slam down seems the only melancholy solution.
Atmospheric effects, which are vital to Gothic moods, take on great importance in The October Country. "The Dwarf' begins on "one of those motionless hot summer nights" and ends with "large drops of hot rain" heralding a storm. "Touched with Fire" glows with heat from beginning to end: 92 degrees Fahrenheit—the temperature at which the most murders occur, the heat that sunburns, drenches with sweat, and touches off ragged tempers. The thing in "The Jar" goes with "the noiselessness of late night, and only the crickets chirping, the frogs off sobbing in the moist swamplands." The gathering of the weird clan in "Homecoming" occasions a host of meteorological phenomena: lightning, thunder, clammy fog, crashing rain. When Grandmama and Grandpapa arrive from the old country, they travel in a "probing, sucking tornado, funneling and nuzzling the moist night earth." Such aberrations, in the more placid weather one anticipates, adds to the mystery of the human turmoil taking place.
In "The Wind," Bradbury works atmospheric effects in an unusual way. As a central character, the wind effectively combines ancient and modern Romance. Common sense tells us that wind blows under doors, rattles windows, and slams shutters. In a high-intensity storm it can also blow down power lines and cause great property damage and human tragedy. But Bradbury's wind is born of ancient Romance, too; it is a compendium of all the winds of the Earth, with a personality and purpose of its own.
Like Roderick Usher, "enchained by certain superstitious impressions" of his own home, in Bradbury's story Allin is enthralled by the sentience of the wind that pursues him. It laughs and whispers, then slams and crashes. It sucks and nuzzles at his house, seeking revenge on this mere mortal who dares trespass on its secret breeding and dying place in the Himalayas. Finally, it corners Allin in the house. He is isolated except for telephone contact with Herb, a rather pedestrian friend who tries to understand the situation, but cannot. When the wind turns into a feral creature with a voice compounded of the voices of the thousands killed in typhoons and hurricanes, Herb can only listen helplessly as Allin says: "It's a killer, Herb, the biggest, damnedest prehistoric killer that ever hunted prey." A primal force, the wind sucks not only at Allin's house but at his very intellect and ego.
Not all of Bradbury's houses are places in which to hide, however. Sometimes they are fragile shells to break out of. In "Jack-in-the-Box" a young boy lives in a four-storied house effectively sealed from the world by a natural barrier (a dense grove of trees) and an artificial barrier (a mother's unnatural fear of the world). The boy exists in this four-level universe in the company of his mother and Teacher, a bespectacled, gray-gloved person dressed in a cowled robe. From Teacher he learns a story of Creation, with a dead father as God and a future role for him as son and successor. His flight to safety is through a tunnel of trees to the strange sanctuary of the world of lampposts and friendly policemen on the beat. Only when he "dies" to his old artificial world and is "reborn" in this world of the beetles that killed Father can he throw his arms aloft and be free like the jack-in-the-box.
One refreshing difference between Bradbury's use of the Gothic mode and that of many other authors is evident in his choice of characters. When one reads a considerable number of Gothic tales, the Isabellas, Adelines, and Eleanoras tend to flow together and become that abstract entity, Beauty in Distress. She remains in our minds as a whiteclothed, wraith-like figure perpetually in flight, pursued by a cruel and tyrannical male. It matters little whether his name is Manfred or Montoni, Lucifer or Death. On the other hand, Bradbury's people are personalities, believable people we can care about. Not limited by sex or age, they represent Innocence in Distress, though each is unique in his innocence.
Bradbury's people do not flee, for autumn people tend to seal themselves off until a point is reached when they must act. Often their act is so aggressive and unexpected that it tinges with dismay our sympathy for their plight. We may judge their actions, but not by any conventional moral yardstick. Instead, like Poe's prisoner in "The Pit and the Pendulum," we accept them as victims of "that surprise, or entrapment into torment, [which] formed an important portion of these dungeon deaths." Like the prisoner, Bradbury's characters suffer in the dungeons of spiritual darkness where one fights against the death of spirit. The struggle may end grotesquely, even in death, though the death is often that of the tormentor rather than the tormented.
Surprise into the grotesquerie of death? What else but surprise can we feel with 11-year-old Douglas in "The Man Upstairs" when he discovers that Grandma's new boarder has a collection of triangles, chains, and pyramids instead of the standard heart, lungs, and stomach? Evidently something unhuman, more used to sleeping all day in a coffin in a dark basement, now sleeps in Grandma's upper floor. A strangeness threatens the warmth of Grandma's kitchen where she teaches the basic facts of human physiology to Douglas as she deftly stuffs a fowl for the evening meal. Bradbury inveigles us into sharing the ever-expanding curiosity of the small boy, from his initial discovery to the end. Then he jolts us into ancient Romance when we find the boarder, dechained and depyramided, neatly trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, stuffed with six dollars and fifty cents in silver coins.
Entrapment into torment? Take Charlie of "The Jar." Living in a shack in the Louisiana back country, Charlie has his own personal dungeon—a narrow social group where he is ridiculed and ignored. The "thing" in the jar brings him sorely needed social attention. When his wife Thedy threatens to strip it of its mystique in front of the neighbors, Charlie is trapped by a torment; he can neither face it nor flee it. Instead, he acts decisively. Later, along with his rival, Tom Carmody, a reader may shiver as he too looks at the new thing in the jar. Grotesque though it is, we grudgingly accept Thedy's end, given the menace of her vicious tongue.
Sometimes we accomplish our dungeon deaths by our own frantic efforts. What else is hypochondria but self-entrapment into torment? We flee from our dis-ease, grabbing at any proffered relief. In "Skeleton," Mr. Harris suffers acutely from aches in his bones. Gradually he becomes aware of and is then obsessed by the unwelcome skeleton that his muscles carry around day in and day out. It becomes his enemy, forcing itself out in hideous protrusions of teeth and nails. Harris's family doctor treats his problem with veiled mockery. Finally, in desperation he turns to a M. Munigant, a small dark man with glittering eyes and a sibilant voice that seems to rise in a shrill whistle. Relief at any cost, asks Mr. Harris, even that provided by M. Munigant who deftly extracts the bones from his body, leaving only a live human jellyfish.
Bradbury can turn a stock situation inside out, even invest it with a degree of humor. A standard Gothic convention is the confrontation with a supernatural force. It may be a shadowy form of a long-dead love or an ancient ancestor stepping out of his gold frame. It can appear in a mirror instead of the expected human reflection. In some tales, Satan or Death may appear in human form. With such occurrences the author is usually trying to strike a chill in the reader, as well as the character involved.
It comes as gentle relief when an author turns the tables on such apparitions. Poe did it in "Bon-Bon," when the devil rejects the soul of a gourmet-restaurateur, indicating delicately that he cannot take advantage of Bon-Bon in his drunken condition. Like Poe, Bradbury twists the classic formula. In "There Was an Old Woman" he gives us Aunt Tildy, a spry old lady with years of knitting left in her fingers. When a polite, dark young man with his four helpers carrying a long wicker basket come to her house, she becomes quite vexed with him. Losing the first part of the battle, she watches as they carry her body away to the mortuary. By dint of a will stronger than death, she forces her spirit to follow them to the mortuary where she commands it to merge with the body, to think, and then to force the body to sit up. Polite to the end, she leaves only after thanking the amazed mortician. With her homespun, no-nonsense mannerisms Aunt Tildy is a far cry from the emaciated Madeleine Usher inching her way from the tomb to the room where Roderick awaits her.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7180
SOURCE: "The Expedition of the Planet of Paranoia," in Extrapolation, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1981, pp. 171-85.
[In this excerpted essay, Plank offers a variety of interpretations of Bradbury's "April 2000: The Third Expedition," lending insight into other stories collected in The Martian Chronicles.]
Ray Bradbury's most famous book is not a book; The Martian Chronicles (1950) are chronicles in outward appearance only. Rather they are individual stories strung on a chronological line, glued together here and there with smudges of connective tissue. They were clearly written independently, and many of them were originally published separately. The book purports to relate events that took place between January 1999 and October 2026, but many of them could have taken place—as far as they could have taken place at all—at different times and in a different sequence. This is particularly true of the first three expeditions from Earth to Mars. All three of them are wiped out, each in an unconventional manner, and each of them quite differently. Each expedition anticipates a certain type of Mars inhabitant, but there is little similarity between them.
None of the survivors, Martian or Terran, learn anything from their experience. None of these expeditions leaves a trace of itself, except that when the fourth expedition arrives fourteen months after the third, its members find a town full of Martians who have been dead ten days from chicken pox (the author's device, perhaps, to make sure they will not repeat their tricks?). It is concluded that the Martians have been infected unintentionally by members of the third expedition—"and as quickly as that it was forgotten." All that Earthmen can know, or care, is that the men of the third expedition landed on Mars and were never heard from again. Although some geographical features are named for the more eminent among them, these expeditions might as well never have taken place. Or, of course, they could have occurred in a different order. It is justified, therefore, to talk about "April 2000: The Third Expedition" as if it were an independent work, with not more than an occasional glance at the rest of the book.
"The Third Expedition" is a short (sixteen pages in the Bantam edition) and compact story. It observes the three classical unities of place (in and around the landed spaceship), of time (from one morning to the next), and of action. Plucking many chords of emotion, it moves deftly from utter bewilderment to revelation of conflict and swiftly to catastrophe. It is a masterpiece of its type. Later, we shall consider what that type is. The story divides itself naturally into three phases: (1) the idyll—from the landing to nightfall. The pace is leisurely, and this phase takes up the bulk of the tale, about thirteen pages. (2) the murders during the night. (3) the funeral in the morning. The last two are compressed into barely three pages.
Phase One. The spaceship is arriving on Mars. It carries a crew of seventeen, but one person has died en route. We are introduced to three of the survivors: John Black, captain; Samuel Hinkston, archaeologist; Lustig, navigator (perhaps Jews will not have first names in 2000 A.D.? No, it later turns out that it is David). The other men are neither named nor otherwise individualized. Black is eighty years old, but looks like forty—science in the second half of our century has rejuvenated him. Hinkston is forty-five; Lustig fifty. The spaceship has landed on a lawn in the middle of a town that down to the last small detail (a sheet of music entitled "Beautiful Ohio" sits on a piano) looks exactly like Green Bluff, Illinois (where Captain Black was raised), of long ago. They are later informed that the town is Green Bluff, Illinois, that it was founded in 1868, and that the year is 1926 (when Black was six years old).
The minds of the three men, understandably reeling, race through all sorts of theories to comprehend the incomprehensible. Have they, through an unexpected quirk of space travel, landed on Earth instead of Mars and thereby gone back in time? Have members of the first or second expedition survived and built—in an incredibly short time—a replica of an American town? Were space travel and the colonization of Mars secretly initiated before World War I? Has a super-clever and super-powerful psychiatrist then combatted nostalgia among the colonists by "rearranging the civilization" so that it increasingly resembles Earth, until "by some vast crowd hypnosis" he has convinced everyone that it really is Earth?
Naturally, none of these hypotheses seems in the least plausible. The men are left in a state of stupefied bewilderment until a shattering experience provides the straw of an explanation—each encounters some aspect from his past. Lustig sees his grandparents. Hinkston espies his old house and runs to it. Black encounters his brother Edward, who conducts him to their parents. The other men, who were left behind in the ship with orders to man the guns, have meanwhile forgotten their duty, abandoned the ship, and mingled with a crowd of Martians who have festively assembled on the lawn. "Then each member of the crew, with a mother on one arm, a father or sister on the other, was spirited off down the street into little cottages or big mansions." And so an "explanation" of the awesome mystery is offered—through the grace of God, these deceased relatives have been given a second life, in a town on Mars that exactly duplicates their environment on Earth. By implication, the space trip has been providentially arranged to grant the sixteen Earthmen a reunion with their loved ones. The men are still confused, but they readily submit to their elders' admonitions not to question the Lord's infinite wisdom and mercy. The festivities come to an end; night falls. Groggy with happiness, the men lie down to sleep.
At this point it is perhaps appropriate to interrupt the narrative for some preliminary remarks on Phase One, be it only to note several features of the story that do not quite fit into its general sweep. No discrepancies appear at first reading, but on closer scrutiny they cannot be ignored. Though they may seem minor, they turn out to have great significance. I do not mean to say that the story as such is incredible. Of course it is. What I want to point out is that even if we accept the author's premises and treat the work as though it were a credible tale, there are still some things in the natural course of events that would have gone differently. It is for this reason that one must wonder why Bradbury placed his emphases in the curious way that he did.
When Lustig meets his grandparents, who have been dead for thirty years (in other words, they died when he was twenty) he "sounded as if at any moment he might go quite insane with happiness." He "sobbed . . . turned . . . kissed . . . hugged . . . held." That the men are overjoyed is natural. But is it natural for that joy to be so all-pervasive? Would anyone, suddenly coming face to face with the dead returned to life, feel nothing else? No admixture of horror, no trace of awe? No fleeting moment of resurgent animosity, no quick pang of guilt? Would a person touch the body that he saw buried years ago, without the least hesitation? Yet, in the story as told, there is not the slightest element of ambivalence. The negative feelings are totally absent. In the events that swiftly follow, however, these pent-up feelings break out with the elemental force of murderous fury.
Though the space travelers are grown, even old, men, they do not meet dead children or wives. Their reunion is with parents, grandparents, siblings—persons who died when the spacemen were young—representing ascending rather than descending relationships. Ed Black, the only sibling whose age is given, was seven years John's senior. When he died at twenty-six, John was nineteen.
They do not even think of others who may have died, or who were left behind on Earth, except for Captain Black, who fleetingly thinks of "Marilyn" (not otherwise identified). After a brief hesitation, Ed tells him that she is out of town, but will be back in the morning. The dead have not aged. They are all exactly as they were at the moment of their deaths. The same motif occurs in an even weirder form in another of the stones, "April 2026: The Long Years."
There is a similar tendency to extend time backward in the description of the town. All that nostalgia would associate with a small American town of 1926 is here: an iron deer on the lawn, popular songs of the period, Victorian architecture, a robin singing in an apple tree, a grandfather clock, a brass band, front porches, and a turkey dinner. There is a "victrola," but no radio, no telephone, no automobile. It is an old-fashioned town remembered from childhood, more quintessentially so than a town ever truly was. Furthermore, we are given to understand that all the astronauts hail from places like Green Bluff, Illinois. Of course, no one knows what the distribution of the population of the United States will be in 2000. These men, however, must have been born in our own time, and we know that now some 80 percent of the population comes from cities or suburbs.
Another motif, mental influence, is only hinted at here and will be revealed in all its devastating import in Phase Two. Seeing the town, Black finds it so similar to Green Bluff that it frightens him. Then he is informed that it is Green Bluff. Yet, Hinkston, the archaeologist, makes the professional judgment that no artifact there is older than 1927. Two pages later, a stranger tells them that the year they have come to is 1926. Do the men discover these things because they are sharp enough to recognize the truth, or do they become true because the men think they are true? And it is Hinkston who spins out the fantastic theory about it all being the work of a master psychiatrist who influenced minds sufficiently to create an entire culture. It is the measure of Bradbury's skill that all these motifs are muted, unobtrusive. If the reader notices them at all, he does so subliminally. It also raises a question as to whether the author's skill may have operated more unconsciously than consciously.
Phase Two. Consummate skill characterizes Bradbury's transition from Phase One to Phase Two. Day and night, life and death are not in sharper contrast than these two, but one phrase bridges the abyss between them. Captain Black shares a bed with his brother Ed, the same brass bed they had shared in life, in the same room with the college pennants and such. They lie down, "side by side, as in the days how many decades ago?" They talk a little, then fall silent.
The room was square and quiet except for their breathing.
"Good night, Ed."
A pause. "Good night, John."
It is that phrase, "a pause," that makes the transition. The tumbling from one joyful surprise to the next is over; the time has come to think. The shift is abrupt and complete. Phase Two has begun.
To prepare for the tremendous acceleration of his narrative, Bradbury skillfully narrows the focus. Of the sixteen men, only three are singled out for individual consideration. Then two of the three, Hinkston and Lustig drop away. The last part of Phase One is exclusively concerned with Black and his dead relatives (a residue, perhaps, of the hierarchic-patriarchic orientation so predominant in the science fiction of somewhat earlier days—if you can have the captain, why bother with lesser men?).
Phase Two consists almost entirely of Black's internal monologue. A quite new realization suddenly hits him: what if all he has lived in during this day has been a phantom world called into being by the Martians in order to destroy the invaders? That would mean that after taking all they needed to know from his mind, the Martians had conjured up the image of Green Bluff in 1926 and altered themselves to appear as the dead relatives. With their sixteen enemies safely bedded down, the Martians will spring a trap. In the night they will change back into their real selves and kill their guests.
At first Black naturally shrinks from these thoughts, but as he thinks through them, the theory becomes distressingly convincing. All the pieces fall into place, and the puzzling events assume a new, menacing meaning. He must act at once to rescue himself, for there is not a moment to lose. Unarmed, he cannot hope to subdue his pursuers, so he tries to sneak out. But what seemed to be his brother sleeping peacefully by his side has now become a Martian—wide awake, challenging him: "Captain John Black broke and ran across the room. He screamed. He screamed twice. He never reached the door." The long, leisurely spell of blissful illusion has been broken in one devastating moment. Like lightning, terrible and brief, truth has struck; it has brightly illuminated the scene, making everything clear in a flash, only to be extinguished by the stabs of death. But in what sense can we speak here of truth?
Any interpretation of an imaginative work like "The Third Expedition" is hazardous because it is bound to be subjective. Still, it is hard to see how anybody could read it any other way than to accept Black's last theory as the correct one; the outcome proves it. The various explanations that the men tentatively put together before they met their beloved dead are, of course, to be discarded. But even the theory that Mars is the abode of departed souls, which they dazedly accepted from their relatives, does not stand up. It was only make-believe in the purest sense of the word; the Martians made the Earthmen believe. It cannot explain why Black and his fifteen companions are murdered. Black's theory does.
To say that the theory is "correct" means that it is correct within the framework of the story. It is the premise of the story that the reunion with the dead really happened, and if we accept this, we must also accept the explanation. In other words, if we willingly accept that the astronauts landing on Mars had the experiences described in the story, then we must also accept Black's final theory. Bradbury's art has compelled us to silence the voices of critical judgment within ourselves. However, Black's theory is in fact built on several large assumptions: (1) that the Martians are able, instantaneously and without any resources but their telepathic power, to probe Black's memories, drain his mind, and know everything he has ever known; (2) that the Martians have the power to compel their victims to perceive as real an entire world around them which does not in fact exist, and to blank out most genuine reality (though they still perceive each other, they fail to perceive the bleak Martian soil where they see green lawns, etc.); (3) that though they appear as loving relatives, the Martians are, in truth, malevolent, bent on killing. These are the assumptions that form the typical world picture of the paranoiac.
Phase Three. The story could have ended with John Black never reaching the door, but instead there is a brief coda. The reader's first impression is that the conclusion is simple and fitting. The Martians have murdered the sixteen strangers, and now they bury them with appropriate rites, except that the rites are not appropriate. The only purpose of the whole phantasmagoria was to lure the Earthmen to their deaths. Having achieved this, the Martians are by themselves. There is no discernible reason for them to maintain the macabre masquerade. Yet, to some extent they do. They weep; they pretend to mourn. For what? No one is left alive whom they could want to deceive.
This "effort aimed at a void" has worried science fiction critic Jörg Hienger, who in his book Literarische Zukunftsphantastik  devotes several pages to Phase Three. If everything on Mars that resembles Earth, he asks, is but illusion—images telepathically extracted from the minds of the astronauts and hypnotically projected back into them—who has the illusion after the men are dead? He finds the question unanswerable. Given this fact and the even weightier observation that the entire ceremony serves no purpose for the Martians—and they, after all, are the ones who have arranged it—he concludes that Bradbury here postulates an end of rationality per se, thus achieving a powerful effect of the uncanny dissolving into the comical.
Hienger's analysis has the redoubtable advantage of that rigorous logic that is the pride of German philosophy, but he applies the criterion of consistency to external events when it would be more fittingly applied to the mental processes of the author (more of that later). Bradbury may simply have felt, as his readers appear to feel, that the burial is a proper and soothing ending, with its comic relief welcome after a night of horror. Phase One offered the fulfillment in fantasy of deep longings, Phase Two of deep fears. We have come to identify with the hero, to whom these were vouchsafed; now we would want for him what we would want for ourselves should tragic death overtake us—a decent burial. How many people are there who have not drawn satisfaction from imagining their own funeral, with all those who in life offended them among the mourners—"when it's too late, you'll be sorry." This is an infinitely more banal interpretation than Hienger's, but that is no reason to reject it. The reader's first impression may not have been so far off after all.
From here there are two roads to an understanding of what "The Third Expedition" is all about. We can (1) analyze the mental processes in the characters as though these were actual persons, that is, as though Bradbury had written a case history, or a tale of people who could possibly exist and the situations to which they are compelled to react could possibly arise. Or, we can (2) consider the events as projections of the author's mind. We will take route 1 first.
Bradbury deals with three types of deviant mental functioning: illusions, defined as misinterpretations of actual perceptions (trivial optical illusions are the best-known examples); hallucinations, defined as perceptions subjectively experienced without appropriate objective stimulus (such as seeing somebody who is not there); and delusions, defined as false judgments without rational basis (the belief of a psychotic that he is Jesus Christ is a popular example). The hallucinating person may be aware to various degrees that his senses deceive him. The hallucination raises a question, though no answer may be forthcoming. Delusions provide answers, though there may have been no obvious question. The men, faced with the hallucinations that provide the foundation of Phase One, look frantically for an answer. In Phase Two, they find one.
The lines between these three types of malfunctioning are fluid, and there are mixed forms. There is also an infinite variety in degree of firmness and impact, from the hardly noticeable to the overpowering. In fact, illusions, hallucinations, and delusions can only be called deviations or malfunctions in the sense that an ideally operating mental apparatus would be free of them. But nobody's is. They occur fleetingly in normal life. They may be provoked in more substantial form by various kinds of illness, by drugs, or by any stress. Only in their more malignant forms do they become indicative of physical or mental illness.
Phase One is saturated with hallucinations. A web so complete that it covers the entire scene and blots out almost all normal perception does not exist in reality, so it is unavoidable that the men look for an agent beyond human experience to have caused the phenomenon. Two questions arise. Why do the men shift from their original attitude of thinking of the cause as a benevolent agent (Hinkston proclaims at an early stage that "certainly a town like this could not occur without divine intervention") to the assumption of a radically malevolent agent? And why is the "good" agent seen as supernatural ("divine intervention") while the evil one ("incredibly brilliant" Martians) is not?
In deciding that his experiences are the work of a superhuman power, Black follows, though unaware, a hoary tradition. Primitive men attributed all extraordinary events to the action of superhuman beings—spirits, demons, gods. The external appearance of these imagined beings was an unequivocal revelation of their nature; the inimical ones among them were of ghastly ugliness. We have only to look at idols that men did not adore, but rather tried to propitiate to find proof. These idols entered Christianity and the tradition of Western civilization condensed in the form of the Devil. He is still surpassingly ugly. His suspect exterior has rubbed off on literature and the arts. The villain in many popular nineteenth-century novels and plays is invariably recognizable for what he is. The young girl he wants to seduce, exploit, and ruin is incarnate innocence. Modern audiences wonder how she can be so naïve that she is not immediately warned by his black moustache and shifty eyes. But we have not always done much better. The beings that have replaced the Devil are still monsters. J.R.R. Tolkien, who consciously harks back to the Middle Ages, holds a middle line: the good are not necessarily the beautiful, but those on the side of Sauron are, as the saying has it, ugly as Hell.
Growing sophistication has wrought a fundamental change in another respect. Men, now believing that they have a soul that matters more than the body, are no longer annihilated by brute force. The frontal assault is detoured through their minds. The Devil, who in the medieval version wrung Dr. Faustus' neck as though he were killing a chicken, now works by seduction. He is not only the Prince of Darkness but also the Father of Lies. His principal "lie" is his ability to deceive his victims by setting all they desire before their eyes—by making them hallucinate. Legends are full of such instances.
It is a wide jump in time, but not much of a leap in substance from here to "The Third Expedition." What has happened is that the poor Devil has been secularized. In our enlightened age, we find it easier to believe in malignant octopuses on Mars than in him. God has also been secularized (in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, for instance, His role has been reassigned to the slabs and their masters), but not as completely. Belief in Him is still widespread and respectable. So, it does not jar that Black believes in God, but not in the Devil; that when he needs to postulate a benign influence he resorts to the idea of divine intervention, and when he needs to postulate an evil one, he turns to the Martians. But why does he have to switch from good to evil at all? Here it is instructive to consider Bradbury's immediate forerunners.
To postulate alien intelligences endowed with the hallucinogenic power that earlier ages reserved for the Devil and his cohorts is commonplace in science fiction; so much so that Hienger goes as far as to think that any alert reader versed in science fiction will have anticipated the solution long before Black proclaims it (which would be a pity, since suspense would be gone). In Seekers of Tomorrow, Sam Moskowitz cites two more direct precursors, both strikingly similar to Bradbury's tale: Campbell's Brain Stealers of Mars (1936) and especially Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" (1934). Weinbaum's desert octopus (or whatever it is—he refers to it as "the Dream-Beast" or simply "the black horror") has undisputably the same hallucinogenic powers that make Captain Black's adversaries so formidable and uses them to similar sinister ends. It is more enlightening, though, to review the differences in Bradbury's and Weinbaum's treatment of the same motif.
Weinbaum uses it in one of many equally incredible adventures. He does not seem to know what jewel he holds in his hands, giving it away so lightly. The event remains without consequence. The loyal Martian "ostrich" protects the hero from succumbing to the lure, as in effect this intended victim remains indestructible through all his harrowing experiences. With Bradbury, the hallucinogenic power is squarely the core of the plot, and it is victorious. Resistance is impossible. Far from being inconsequential, the stratagem is decisive. The hallucination is less complete in Weinbaum's tale—the baiting apparition stands in an otherwise unaffected Martian landscape—while in Bradbury's the hallucination is all-embracing. Weinbaum has the alien power more or less reveal itself in defeat, but with Bradbury it remains, in victory, beyond perception. Its lack of shape and the absence of hints as to its nature enhance the uncanny atmosphere in "The Third Expedition."
There is a more fundamental difference: the role of the hallucinated person in the life of the victim. Weinbaum's character, Jarvis, thinks of Fancy Long, a New York entertainer on the as yet uninvented television, who is evidently a flirt. He may have had an affair with her, but all he will say is, "I know her pretty well—just friends, get me?" Do we get him? That was published in 1934. In any event, she clearly represents normal, conventional, adult heterosexual attraction. Things are totally different on Bradbury's Mars. Overt sexuality is absent and is kept out by the incest barrier: since all the beloved dead are blood relatives, there are no friends or "just friends." Rather, the relationship is anchored in the victim's childhood, long before adult love relationships could emerge. Moreover, the relatives are all dead, while Fancy Long is very much alive.
The comparison with Weinbaum's story makes the core of Phase One even clearer than the oddities we noted earlier. Phase One is a regression to childhood. The ambivalence of childhood was absent, having been repressed in passage to adolescence. Such ambivalence, however much of it there may have been in actual childhood, has no place in remembered childhood. Time has come to a standstill—as it always does in the unconscious. When we dream of a person we have not seen since childhood, we see him as he was then, not as we know he is now. The mental influencing, too, fits more naturally into the outlook of a child, since so much of his experience is of being manipulated by beings more powerful and of more penetrating intelligence than he is.
We are now in a position to see why the shift from the benign to the malign was unavoidable. It was the reaction to the fling beyond human limits that is embodied in Phase One. The dynamics of human development do not permit going backwards. But in Phase One the men have gone back, have indulged in regression. The overwhelming bliss they feel stems from their being allowed to wallow without restraint in regression. E. P. Bernabeu, author of one of the few psychological studies on science fiction stresses [in "Science Fiction: A New Mythos," Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1957] this point in a passage devoted to "The Third Expedition": "The reliving of his 'happiest moments' is evidently in the author's plot a form of autistic gratification for which the condign punishment of the 'explorers' is their destruction." This somewhat theoretical formulation is supplemented by observation on actual behavior. People love to "go back to childhood," certainly, but it has to be a prettified childhood. Disneyland and its numberless imitations are huge successes. They reconstruct childhood fantasies. When it comes to a more real reliving of childhood, people hesitate. They shy away from psychoanalysis, but also from more mundane endeavors. The newspapers reported in June, 1977, that the inventor of Kitty Litter had developed Jones, Michigan, into a replica, as faithful as possible, of a typical town of some years ago (Green Bluff, Illinois, circa 1926?). However, the expected tourists did not come. Everything had to be auctioned off. He had invested $1,500,000 and retrieved $190,000.
The punishment for Black and his crew had to be more severe. They had "drunk the milk of paradise." Their "condign punishment" must be death. Therefore, the shift from divine intervention to the infernal machinations of Martians logically follows. It sets the tone for Phase Two. Moreover, it unifies the two very different phases. We can now take a closer look at outstanding problems that run through both phases: the subject of mental influencing and the question of the identity of the "relatives."
That somebody mistakes a person he encounters for a close relative, or sees a relative who is not there, is of course not an everyday occurrence, but it is not particularly rare. It is invariably a relative of deep emotional significance for the viewer. The experience is always surprising and often has a great impact. Many examples from both fiction and nonfiction could be given, but a few will suffice. The interest in extraordinary experiences around the moment of death has brought a spate of testimonials. Several years ago, McCall's related the story [Mary Ann O'Rourke, "I Have Never Again Been Afraid of Death," November 1976] of a woman who had been given up by her doctors:
As I lay in my bed I opened my eyes—and there, standing around my bed, were both sets of my grandparents, whom I had loved very much and who had died years before. I saw them as vividly as I am looking at you now . . . they looked just as I knew them when I was a girl. . . . I wanted to go with them . . . I felt such peace and love from their presence . . . and I have never again been afraid of death.
Winston Smith, in George Orwell's 1984 (1948), under a stress that approaches or even surpasses that of imminent death, thinks he recognizes his mother in a fellow prisoner. The idea is not as unreasonable as it may seem because his mother had disappeared many years ago, and he has no way of knowing whether she is still alive or what she might be like now. On the other hand, he has no reason to think that she would be in the same prison as he at the same time or that she would look like that other woman.
The use of this motif in literature sometimes approaches the metaphorical. Heinrich Lersch, a German pacifist poet who wrote shortly after World War I, relates in a poem how he saw a dead soldier entangled in the barbed wire in front of his trench and how from day to day he became more convinced that it was his brother (of course, he was not). Similar episodes are found in autobiographical writings of former mental patients. For example, Fritz Peters relates in The World Next Door (1949) how he thought, for no manifest reason, that an elderly fellow patient was his father. An encounter that does not involve clearcut mistaken identity but is relevant to our study because of the abrupt shift of feeling and roles is found in Arthur Schnitzler's Flight into Darkness . The protagonist develops paranoia. As his brother, who is trying to lead him back to human companionship, embraces him, the sick man feels attacked by a hostile force and stabs him through the heart.
The idea of being influenced or indeed dominated by powerful enemies who exert a mysterious influence on the mind has, of course, long been recognized as a characteristic symptom of paranoia and related conditions. Especially since Viktor Tausk's pioneering study On the Origin of the "Influencing Machine" in Schizophrenia (1919), the mechanism of this delusion and its role in the development of the disease have been better understood. Psychiatric practice considers it, rightly, a symptom of clear and ominous meaning.
This is not the place to discuss the lamentable phenomenon, with its overtones of credulity combined with surrender of autonomy, that nowadays more people who are not themselves paranoid will accept this special delusion than ever before. We must also forego examining whether the latest technological "progress" has in fact made such an assumption more credible than it was in earlier times. The increased willingness to believe in mental influencing is no doubt part of the general loss of certainty resulting from the fact that so much that used to be impossible has become possible, and so it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything is possible. It is also partly due to the increased empathy with the mentally ill, praiseworthy where it means greater tolerance, questionable where it tends toward apotheosis.
It is not inappropriate here, perhaps, to invoke the noble shade of the knight of the sad countenance, who has for centuries served as the paradigm of the man who lives by his illusions, hallucinations, and delusions: Don Quixote. His nobility is predicated on his world of the imagination being nobler than the shabby reality around him, and on his willingness to give everything except his honor to prove that his fantasies have a deeper reality than that of the commonplace real, and that he could live up to these standards. Can the same be said of Black and his companions?
We have now traveled along route 1 for a considerable stretch. We have come quite close to our goal, but it has proved a longwinded road. How about the second route? We will now consider the content of the story as a projection of contents in the author's mind. We can do so for a simple and basic reason: the characters in the story do not exist except in the author's mind. This is true of all fiction, though to different degrees; least of all in historical fiction, moreso in realistic fiction, and to the highest degree in tales like "The Third Expedition." The characters' minds have no independent existence, because the characters themselves are only creatures of the author. They see, feel, think, and act the way they do because the author makes them see, feel, think, and act in that way, not because it is their nature.
This does not mean, of course, that an author necessarily shares his characters' perceptions and emotions. No writer worth his salt is limited to portraying himself. For instance, he may describe a man committing a crime, without ever having done so himself. Nevertheless, the thought of the crime must be in the writer; his mind must encompass the potential. He may fight it within himself, and the struggle may be the very reason why he describes it. To realize this is of particular importance for understanding delusions in literature. If John Black were living in a normal world, the idea of his brother changing into a Martian and killing him would clearly be a delusion, but he lives in an abnormal world. The truth of his idea is confirmed by events, so technically it is not a delusion. But the point is irrelevant. The author knows that the world into which Black has been flung is itself but a figment. He knows that Black's theory is delusion.
This can perhaps be made clearer if we look at the phenomenon from a morphological viewpoint. Whatever the character's perceptions, emotions, and reasoning in relation to reality—be it genuine reality or the "reality" of the story—they are illusions, hallucinations, and delusions in form. And just as a move in a game derives its significance only from the rules of the game, so here the form is what matters, because the reality has been rigged by the author. He has set the rules of the game. Because an author has stacked the cards against his characters, his work is resonant with irony. Eric Rabkin misses—or ignores— the point when in The Fantastic in Literature he speaks of "the sweetly lyrical romanticism of Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles." The sweetness is only skin-deep. The flesh underneath writhes with horror.
The author's role may be obscured rather than elucidated by taking it for granted that "The Third Expedition" is science fiction, as is often done, merely because Bradbury is a science fiction writer. It is true, of course, that he is. But while it is convenient to pigeonhole an author in a specific genre, it is equally obvious that this is an over-simplification. Some of the finest science fiction stories are the work of celebrated "mainstream" writers (R. Kipling, E. M. Forster, E. B. White, and A. France come to mind), and science fiction writers have written nonscience fiction. We cannot say, "It's called science fiction, so it is science fiction." We must measure "The Third Expedition" against the criteria of a rational definition.
L. Sprague De Camp, in his Science Fiction Handbook (1953), offers this: "fiction based on scientific or pseudo-scientific assumptions (space travel, robots, telepathy, earthly immortality, etc.) or laid in a patently unreal although not supernatural setting (the future, another world, and so forth). . . ." Even though De Camp cast his net wide, works like "The Third Expedition" would be caught. But that was a generation ago. Since then the genre has grown, branched out, matured. Sharper differentiation has become a necessity. There is consensus nowadays that science fiction should be distinguished from such adjacent types as fantasy, weird fiction, and the Gothic story. Even Utopian fiction, long in eclipse, has recovered sufficiently to claim much of the territory that by default had gone to science fiction. The classical definition that H. Bruce Franklin gave in Future Perfect (1966) represents the prevailing modern thinking:
Science fiction seeks to describe reality in terms of a credible hypothetical invention—past, present, or, most usually, future—extrapolated from that reality; fantasy seeks to describe present reality in terms of an impossible alternative to that reality. . . . Science fiction views what is by projecting what not inconceivably could be; fantasy views what is by projecting what could not be.
"The Third Expedition" makes "pseudo-scientific assumptions," uses a "patently unreal setting," "projects what could not be." It is science fiction by criteria of times past, not by current criteria. This is important because it sheds light on the author's intentions, or at least on what intentions he does not have. He does not care to explore scientific developments or future human societies. He does not contribute to any of the educational or uplifting effects ascribed to science fiction: better understanding of the world we live in through better understanding of science, enthusiasm for the marvels that the future holds in store for the human race, etc. He carefully leaves such opportunities unexploited. For example, we hear next to nothing about the actual space trip, nothing about the real Mars, and nothing about the spacemen's equipment (except that they have "guns" and "atomic weapons"). Moreover, the density of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is one-thousandth of what it is in ours. Although this was learned only through recent space probes and earlier estimates were much higher—as much as one-hundredth of ours—still, it was evident that men would not be able to breathe on Mars without special apparatus. Bradbury must have known this, yet, he chose to ignore it. He is not interested in the air the men breathe, the soil under their feet, or the ship they came in. He is interested in what goes on inside them.
The key is in his method. His technique of projecting his characters' inner life, of making it visible to his readers, is to describe events that happen in the characters' minds as though they were happening in the outside world. Obversely, what he presents as occurring on the outside—in the "reality" of his tale—is actually what goes on in the minds of his characters, and nothing else. "Out of sight, out of mind" has been reversed into "out of mind, out of sight." This method has not been much studied and does not seem to have a name yet, perhaps because it seems to be an innovation of the post-realistic era, although it is actually quite old. We find it in ancient fairy tales, in works of the Romantics, and in such modern writers as Hermann Hesse (who experimented with it brilliantly in Demian and Steppenwolf) and Franz Kafka. We are not told, for instance, that Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis thinks he is a cockroach; we are told that he is changed into a cockroach (or whatever species of "vermin" best fits Kafka's description). The claim that this is the specific method of these writers, and that the Bradbury of "The Third Expedition" is one of them, is admittedly bold. It is based on nothing more solid than subjective impression, but it proves its worth by providing the foundation for a coherent interpretation. I know of no other approach that can.
What does the writer really do? What makes him do it? What gift does he have? These questions are of great interest to psychologists, but for a long time they were leery of tackling them. Without the concept of the unconscious, the questions could not even be approached. Freud had too much respect for the Muses to be hasty about studying them. When the collapse of the seemingly stable European civilization in World War I compelled psychology to look at problems beyond individual scope, Paul Federn, a "first generation" psychoanalyst, coined this formulation in a book published in 1919 [Zur Psychologie der Revolution: die vaterlose Gesellschaft]: "What we can observe in early childhood as contents of fantasies and objects of anxiety works as unconscious forces hidden in the adult, to come to light misshapen in the delusion of the ill or wellformed in the work of the artist." Much exploration has been done since then, but Federn's terse pronouncement has stood up. It fits "The Third Expedition" amazingly well.
Pertinent observations could, of course, be made before. When Goethe was unhappy in love and Charlotte married another man, he did not shoot himself. He wrote the story of Werther, who did. Charles Morice, a French art critic, wrote an article in 1885 ["La Semaine," Petite Tribune Républicaine, April 2, 1885] reviewing the work of Odilon Redon who had produced astounding graphics, the counterpart in art of what works like The Martian Chronicles represent in literature (the best science fiction art is not necessarily found in illustrations of science fiction stories). Morice speaks of the double meaning of the word "dream." (Obviously it means one thing when we think of what we dreamt last night and when Martin Luther King, Jr., says, "I have a dream.") Morice says: "The meaning we must give the word "dream" is neither that of colloquial speech and prose (involuntary visions in sleep), nor the rare and poetic one (voluntary visions while awake). It is this and it is that, it is waking and sleeping. It is in truth the dream of a dream, the voluntary ordering of involuntary vision." It is this ordering of the disordered that makes the art we are dealing with what it is.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711
SOURCE: "Horror Fiction," in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, Berkley Books, 1981, pp. 241-360.
[In the excerpt below, King places Bradbury's fantasy fiction in the tradition of American naturalism, adding that the early collection Dark Carnival contains the author's best horror stories.]
It might be worth remembering that Theodore Dreiser, the author of Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, was, like Bradbury, sometimes his own worst enemy . . . mostly because Dreiser never knew when to stop. "When you open your mouth, Stevie," my grandfather once said to me in despair, "all your guts fall out." I had no reply to that then, but I suppose if he were alive today, I would reply: That's 'cause I want to be Theodore Dreiser when I grow up. Well, Dreiser was a great writer, and Bradbury seems to be the fantasy genre's version of Dreiser, although Bradbury's line-by-line writing is better and his touch is lighter. Still, the two of them share a remarkable commonality.
On the minus side, both show a tendency to not so much write about a subject as to bulldoze it into the ground . . . and once so bulldozed, both have a tendency to bludgeon the subject until all signs of movement have ceased. On the plus side, both Dreiser and Bradbury are American naturalists of a dark persuasion, and in a crazy sort of way they seem to bookend Sherwood Anderson, the American champ of naturalism. Both of them wrote of American people living in the heartland (although Dreiser's heart-land people come to the city while Bradbury's stay to home), of innocence coming heartbreakingly to experience (although Dreiser's people usually break, while Bradbury's people remain, although changed, whole), and both speak in voices which are uniquely, even startlingly American. Both narrate in a clear English which remains informal while mostly eschewing idiom—when Bradbury lapses occasionally into slang it startles us so much that he seems almost vulgar. Their voices are unmistakably American voices.
The easiest difference to point out, and maybe the most unimportant, is that Dreiser is called a realist while Bradbury is known as a fantasist. Even worse, Bradbury's paperback publisher insists tiresomely on calling him "The World's Greatest Living Science Fiction Writer" (making him sound like one of the freaks in the shows he writes about so often), when Bradbury has never written anything but the most nominal science fiction. Even in his space stories, he is not interested in negative-ion drives or relativity converters. There are rockets, he says in the connected stories which form The Martian Chronicles, R Is for Rocket, and S Is for Space. That is all you need to know and is, therefore, all I am going to tell you.
To this I would add that if you want to know how the rockets are going to work in any hypothetical future, turn to Larry Niven or Robert Heinlein; if you want literature—stories, to use Jack Finney's word—about what the future might hold, you must go to Ray Bradbury or perhaps to Kurt Vonnegut. What powers the rockets is Popular Mechanics stuff. The province of the writer is what powers the people. . . .
Bradbury's . . . best work, from the beginning, has been his fantasy . . . and his best fantasy has been his horror stories. . . . The best of the early Bradbury was collected in the marvelous Arkham House collection Dark Carnival. No easily obtainable edition of this work, the Dubliners of American fantasy fiction, is available. Many of the stories originally published in Dark Carnival can be found in a later collection, The October Country, which is available in paper. Included are such short Bradbury classics of gut-chilling horror as "The Jar," "The Crowd," and the unforgettable "Small Assassin." Other Bradbury stories published in the forties were so horrible that the author now repudiates them (some were adapted as comics stories and published, with a younger Bradbury's permission, in E.C.'s The Crypt of Terror). One of these involves an undertaker who performs hideous but curiously moral atrocities upon his "clients"—for instance, when three old biddies who loved to gossip maliciously are killed in an accident, the undertaker chops off their heads and buries these three heads together, mouth to ear and ear to mouth, so they can enjoy a hideous kaffeeklatsch throughout eternity.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7981
SOURCE: "Entering the Space Frontier: Quests Mundane, Profane, and Divine," in Ray Bradbury, Twayne Publishers, 1986, pp. 63-81.
[In the following essay, Mogen explores mythopoetic elements in Bradbury's space-frontier fiction.]
Bradbury's space-colonization fiction integrates two major myth systems to express the significance of mankind entering unearthly new environments: the biblical myths of the Garden and the Promised Land, and the American myth of the frontier. In fusing these myth systems Bradbury participates in an American literary tradition extending from contemporary science fiction back to initial responses to the New World of America. Since the first ambivalent Puritan accounts of their errand into the wilderness, American writing about frontier experience has evoked, explicitly or implicitly, these biblical analogies. And, given the strength of this tradition of frontier writing, it was only natural for Bradbury and other American science-fiction writers to dramatize the romance of space travel in terms of this central culture myth. Thus, American visions of the future often portray the frontier spirit revitalized by new challenges, in the fiction of scientifically oriented writers such as Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov as well as in Bradbury's science-fiction fables.
Paradoxically, Bradbury's treatment of the science-fiction wilderness theme struck his initial audience as original and unsettling precisely because it is so deeply traditional. Essentially, Bradbury incorporates the dominant sciencefiction theme of wilderness conquest into a central mythopoeic tradition of American frontier literature, extending from ironic American Renaissance writers such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Thoreau into the present. Because of his flamboyantly metaphorical style, Bradbury's fiction makes overt the frontier analogies implicit in other magazine fiction of the forties and fifties, but he also restores the potentially theological overtones and ironies of the wilderness symbol. If the New World of Mars is imaginatively linked to earlier visions of America as a New World, both images of the "New World" can also evoke biblical images of the Garden and the Promised Land. Bradbury's characteristic irony illustrates the ambiguous implications of mankind's quest into these new "New Worlds."
Overtly integrating the prevailing science-fiction myth with this central tradition of mythopoeic American writing—a tradition at once visionary and highly ironic—Bradbury's space-colonization fiction dramatizes both the spiritual and the tragic dimensions of the theme, placing the drama of the survival quest within the larger context of a struggle to fulfill essentially religious aspirations. Fundamentally, Bradbury utilizes the ironic potential in the biblical origins of the frontier myth to warn about the tragic potential of our frontier heritage, as well as to evoke from it a stirring appeal to fulfill a manifest destiny among the stars. Though Bradbury has expressed this underlying mythos in nonfiction writing throughout his career, the first critic to articulate the full range of his meaning was Willis McNelly, who in 1969 perceived the central importance of the analogy between the myth of wilderness conquest and the myth of space colonization, and who also emphasized the spiritual dimension of Bradbury's treatment of the theme:
For Bradbury, the final, inexhaustible wilderness is the wilderness of space. In that wilderness, man will find himself, renew himself, and there, as atoms of God, he will live forever. Ultimately, then, the conquest of space becomes a religious quest. . . . Ultimately the religious theme is the end product of Bradbury's vision of man, implicit in man's nature.
["Bradbury Revisited," CEA Critic, Vol. 31, March 1969]
Because of the ironic power of this wilderness fiction, because his irony played against the prevailing traditions of magazine fiction in the forties and fifties, Bradbury's space-colonization fiction has often been misinterpreted. A visionary who believes the human race will conquer death through spiritual rebirth in unearthly new frontiers, he has been misconstrued as a pessimist who despairs of the future. And indeed, his best fiction is filled with warnings, depicting the danger of reenacting old tragedies through ignoring the dark side of history and of human nature. If the science-fiction myth invites us back into the Garden, we must reenter with knowledge gained from the old story. For we will again encounter the serpent, in the form of the "wilderness in man himself: "Man's other half, yes the hairy mammoth, the sabre-tooth, the blind spider fiddling in the venomous dark, dreaming mushroom-cloud dreams" ["Marvels and Miracles—Pass It On!", New York Times Magazine, March 20, 1955].
Bradbury's ambivalent wilderness imagery, evoking dreams of Paradise regained as well as of the Great Loneliness, is mirrored in his portrayal of human nature itself, which can be both the sensory consciousness of God and the spirit of the "dark brute" within, wreaking destruction with increasingly lethal machines ["Marvels and Miracles . . ."] . Though his visions of our future in space are charged with irony, their ambiguous implications are finally resolved through the theme of metamorphosis. For ultimately Bradbury's space-colonization fiction suggests that we will learn from our past and meet the challenges of the new frontier. Just as settlers from the Old World painfully—with tragic consequences for the natives—formed a new civilization in America, so too the struggle to make this "final, inexhaustible wilderness" home will ultimately transform earthbound man into a being at home in its celestial dwelling places.
THE LURE OF THE SPACE FRONTIER
Bradbury's reactions to a scene in John Steinbeck's The Red Pony illustrate the continuity between myths of the Old West and those about the space frontier (which Bradbury helped shape). In one of Steinbeck's most moving scenes in "The Leader of the People," last story in the cycle, an old man, once a wagon-train leader, sadly explains to his grandson Jody that the spirit of "westering" that impelled him and his people across the continent has died out. There on the California coast, where the grandfather's westward quest was halted by the sea, the boy feels the sadness of the old man's vision as he reminisces about a journey "as big as God." At night Jody dreams of the heroic past, so unlike the seemingly mundane present in which he lives. Apparently unnoticed by his grandfather, however, the boy suggests that perhaps, somehow, there might be challenges as great in his own lifetime.
Steinbeck's stance in The Red Pony is that of the modern western, focusing on the bittersweet memories of the grandfather, who has lived beyond his time to see the westward quest trivialized and forgotten as he interminably attempts to express what made it all so grand. But Bradbury, highly moved by the scene, saw the unrealized dramatic possibilities in Jody and his ranchhand friend Billy Buck, visualizing a new kind of frontier story in which they might embody the spirit of "westering" just as the old wagon train leader did before them: "From now on there is no East and West, only up. Because the West is the westering thing, which was written of in The Red Pony by Steinbeck, of course, so beautifully—Billy Buck standing at the shore of the Pacific with nowhere to go. Except when I read that when I was young I said, 'Hey, Billy, I got news for you. We've got a frontier and we're gonna take it!' A lot of things were influenced by my encounter with Billy Buck and Steinbeck that year. He helped shape my thinking in The Martian Chronicles" [unpublished interview with the author, 1980].
Indeed, transported into the not-too-distant future, Steinbeck's yearning young boy, Jody, might well be the hero of "King of the Grey Spaces," which Bradbury feels was his breakthrough story in science fiction, the story in which he first defined his distinctive approach to the subject of space. "When I made the turn from becoming an imitative writer to becoming a truly creative writer . . . I began to do stories about myself and about the kind of boy I would be if I lived in the future. I wrote stories like 'King of the Grey Spaces,' which is no more than the story of a group of boys who want to be astronauts" [interview]. A quiet drama about adolescent boys of the future dreaming of going to the stars, the story's chief effect is to communicate the lure of the space frontier [reprinted as "R is for Rocket," in R is for Rocket].
Though the story captures through a boy's perspective the thrill of entering the space frontier, it also emphasizes the personal sacrifice such pioneering requires. When he prepares for the frontier, the hero must relinquish his role on earth, his boyhood. The boys and their "gang" spend their free time hanging around the rocket base, conversing in space age lingo, and watching rocket launches. They all dream of being selected for astronaut training school, which selectively enlists only the brightest and most fit. When the narrator is selected his mother tells him she will adopt his best friend Ralph to take his place, news which delights the hero yet also dramatizes the poignant underside of his success, that by fulfilling his dream of space he gives up the comfort and security of his earthbound life. This effect is foreshadowed by the attitude of his teacher who, knowing he will be one of the "chosen," watches him taking an examination with "envy and admiration and pity all in one," expressing the ambiguous implications of the honor.
But if there is some sadness in the hero's success, the story nevertheless affirms that the dream he pursues is ennobling and enthralling. Though his mother is sad to lose him to the Board, she also speaks to him of his dead father, a chemist, who worked in an underground laboratory where "he never saw the stars." Thus, by pursuing the quest into space the hero not only fulfills his father's deepest dreams, he also sacrifices his personal life for all humanity to fulfill the spiritual potential of the species. The underlying analogy that informs the story is religious, as the boy's intense last talk with his mother makes clear: "We held to each other and whispered and talked and she said many things, how good this was going to be for us, but especially for me, how fine, what an honor it was, like the old days when men fasted and took vows and joined churches and stopped up their tongues and were silent and prayed to be worthy and to live well as monks and priests of many churches in far places. . . . This was a greater priesthood, in a way, she said . . . and I was to be some small part of it. . . . I would belong to all the worlds."
"The Rocket Man" dramatizes the lure of the space frontier more painfully from a boy's perspective. The key roles in the earlier family drama are reversed: now the astronaut hero is the father; the point-of-view character, again, is a sensitive boy; and the mother, rather than a spokesman for the values of the new frontier, is cast in the more traditional role of helplessly opposing her husband's wanderlust, a role that the boy, with some reluctance, helps her play. Suspended in the middle of his parents' tragic marriage, the boy feels the emotional claims of both—of his mother and his father, of the home and of far places, of earth and of space. Like his mother, he longs for his father to remain home, and he fears for his father's life. But he also shares his father's overwhelming attraction to the mysteries of space; he is receptive to an enchanted aura about objects which have traveled to distant worlds: "And from the opened case spilled his black uniform, like a black nebula, stars glittering here or there, distantly, in the material. I kneaded the dark stuff in my warm hands; I smelled the planet Mars, an iron smell, and the planet Venus, a green ivy smell, and the planet Mercury, a scene of sulphur and fire, and I could smell the milky moon and the hardness of the stars" [ The Illustrated Man ].
Because his attraction to the space frontier is irreconcilable with his life as an earthbound family man, the rocket man's powerful loves are a source of tragedy. Like many frontier heroes before him, he is caught between two worlds, unable to reconcile their opposing claims. "Don't ever be a rocket man," he warns his son, suspecting the boy's passion for space. "Because when you're out there you want to be here, and when you're here you want to be out there." Trying to maintain a foothold in two opposing worlds, he is at home in neither.
Bradbury uses light imagery to express the emotional conflicts of "The Rocket Man." Within the terms of the story light is celestial and otherworldly, exercising an influence that the mother opposes with the absorbent warmth of the earth. A sympathetically portrayed though helplessly manipulative character, she cannot abide the sky. She especially fears starlight because she knows it casts a spell on her husband and son, luring them away from her. Because of the danger of her husband's job, she also perceives the night sky as a potential graveyard, so when he is gone she barricades herself behind heavy green shutters to shut out the starlight. But the news of his death establishes the final irony. He died in the sun itself, not among the stars, so she and the boy become burrowing night creatures: "The only days we ever went out to walk were the days when it was raining and there was no sun." Initially battling the lure of starlight, the mother finally must retreat even from the light of day.
In "The Rocket Man" light represents the overwhelming power of the myth of space, a myth whose origins are ultimately religious but which fuses a religious "sense of wonder" with an evolutionary perspective on man's destiny. "The End of the Beginning," another quiet Green Town drama in which two older parents contemplate the significance of their astronaut son leaving earth, dramatizes this sweeping evolutionary perspective. As in many of these essentially philosophical space age tales, the protagonist's reverie about the meaning of space travel provides the story's climax. The theological overtones of the quest are evoked for him by words from the old spiritual, "A wheel in a wheel. Way in the middle of the air" [A Medicine for Melancholy]. But he also integrates his sense that the trip is essentially a holy mission with an evolutionary interpretation of its meaning. The step into space ushers in an awesome new era, not merely from a human perspective but from a cosmic perspective as well, a perspective from which all previous human history appears as merely the final stage of life's bondage to earth. Indeed, when the father thinks of manifest destiny here he identifies mankind struggling to enter space with the first seaborne life to grope onto land:
All I know is its really the end of the beginning. The Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age: from now on we'll lump all those together under one big name for when we walked on Earth and heard the birds at morning and cried with envy. Maybe we'll call it the Earth Age, or maybe the Age of Gravity. Millions of years we fought gravity. When we were amoebas and fish we struggled to get out of the sea without gravity crushing us. Once safe on the shore we fought to stand upright without breaking our new invention, the spine. . . . A billion years Gravity kept us home, mocked us with wind and clouds, cabbage moths and locusts. That's what's so god-awful big about tonight . . .it's the end of old man Gravity and the age we'll remember him by, once and for all.
The story ends by counterpoising two images—the son's rocket lights a new spot in the sky, while the father philosophically mows his lawn, caught up in the magical whirr of rotating blades and falling grass as he relishes the moment, feeling like "all mankind bathing at last in the fresh water of the fountain of youth." As this final New World image suggests, man enters the space frontier to be reborn, ultimately to be transformed by his new environment.
If Bradbury identifies man entering space with life moving from sea to land, he also dramatizes this transition through comparison to specifically American frontier experience, frequently evoking an analogy which is made manifest in an early story entitled "The Wilderness," a story that is essentially a poetic reverie about the analogy itself [The Golden Apples of the Sun]. The plot is so simple it merely provides a vehicle with which to contemplate this central comparison between the Old West and space: a woman on Earth waits for her lover's call from outer space and tells him she has decided to homestead with him in his new home. Most of the story consists of the woman's thoughts before and after the call, stream-of-consciousness reflections that associate the challenges posed by the new frontier with heroic myths about the frontier past.
The story's central theme is manifest in the protagonist's contemplation of the setting. The phone call takes place at a rocket base in Independence, Missouri, 2003, which establishes the initial analogy to the wagon-train era of American development. "Long, long ago, 1849" the setting was oddly similar, filled with apprehensive but hopeful settlers waiting to depart with "their wagons, their indiscriminate destinies, and their dreams." Later, she generalizes this frontier metaphor to encompass all of American history, from the initial discovery of the New World to her own destiny, emphasizing at the same time the continuity of the traditional woman's role in this mythology (a role that a new generation of writers has altered significantly)—reluctantly following her man as he pursues his dreams into the wilderness: "'1492? 1612?' Lenora sighed and the wind in the trees sighed with her, moving away. 'It's always Columbus Day or Plymouth Rock Day, and I'll be damned if I know what one woman can do about it'." And her final reflections as she falls asleep generalize the American frontier experience to an essentially cosmic perspective: "On the rim of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff of stars. In their time the smell of the buffalo, and in our time the smell of the Rocket," she reflects. "This was as it had been and would forever continue to be."
A poetic revery about the relationship between our frontier heritage and our space age future, "The Wilderness" anticipates a more bookish kind of story Bradbury developed in later years, in which he transports the spirits of his favorite authors out into the space frontier to witness the wonders of the new wilderness and to articulate its significance. Thus, the spirit of George Bernard Shaw speaks through a robot on board a rocket ship in "G.B.S., Mark V," and in "Forever and the Earth" a time machine transports Thomas Wolfe from his deathbed to the future, where he composes an epic account of man's entry into space [Long after Midnight]. Because their protagonists so dramatically link the future to the past, such stories emphasize both the thrill of entering the unknown and the continuity of human experience.
"The Golden Apples of the Sun" develops the wilderness quest motif more actively. The kind of story that throughout Bradbury's career has generated debate about where to separate science fiction from fantasy, "The Golden Apples of the Sun" combines a dense fabric of mythological allusions with fanciful technology. A rocket descends to the sun's surface to retrieve a "cup" (in a mechanical scoop) of the sun's plasma, both for scientific study and simply to meet the challenge of entering the space frontier's living heart. To survive in this environment the rocket is equipped with giant refrigeration units which encase it in ice, an idea that appears to originate in boyhood memories of watching icicles melt in spring sun [The Golden Apples of the Sun]. When the auxiliary pump of the refrigeration unit breaks down the captain and the crew, like frantic plumbers, fix the unit by hand in time to ward off disaster.
But if the story's technology is essentially whimsical, it is rich in mythology and literary allusions. The rocket itself has not one but three mythological names—Capa de Oro, Prometheus, and Icarus—a device through which Bradbury identifies the quest into space with heroic myths of the past, as he also does in the tripartite name titling a similarly conceived story, "Icarus Montgolfier Wright." Indeed, the story is a bit self-conscious about its mythological and literary origins, opening with the captain explicating to his crew the numerous literary allusions invoked by their quest—from the reference to Yeats in the story's title, to Shakespeare's "Fear no more the heat of the day," to titles of twentieth-century novels that seem to echo the theme.
The mythological center of the story is made manifest in the captain's reflections as they complete their mission: the sun's plasma is "the flesh of God, the blood of the universe" [The Golden Apples of the Sun]. Like their mythological ancestors, though they now possess dazzling new technologies, they enter divine realms to possess new knowledge for their tribe. As in much of Bradbury's space-frontier fiction, man's quest for excitement and knowledge serves purposes articulated only by the inspired talkers who populate his tales. The lure of the frontier in his fiction is—to adopt the words of Steinbeck's wagon-train leader—"as big as God," inspiring a "westering" impulse which, like the American frontier experience itself, brings out the best and the worst in human nature.
"THE GARDENS OF SPACE": IRONIES, VISIONS, AND TRANSFORMATIONS
In 1965 Bradbury published a credo in Playboy (where it was complemented by an off-color cartoon). Articulating the mythos that informs his space-frontier fiction, "Remembrances of Things Future" begins by describing the future rushing upon us, its mysteries represented in symbols we must read with "prescience" to realize our destiny. Referring to "the rockets of earthmen writing fresh Columbian history upon tideless seas," Bradbury compares the New World of space with the New World of the Americas as they first appeared to European explorers—a comparison that informs much of his fiction, especially The Martian Chronicles. Only by utilizing sufficient vision, he argues, can we realize our unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the goals of "three searches": the "search for national purpose," the "search for peace," and the "search for a new image of God."
As the range of motivations he alludes to suggests, Bradbury sees the "westering" impulse as a combination of various, sometimes conflicting motives, ranging from tribalism and materialism to an urge inherent in life to fulfill a spiritual destiny. Seeking larger profits, we wander into fresh pastures. And if the emphasis on the word "search" suggests we are embarked on an epic quest, the emphasis on the "search for a new image of God" emphasizes the continuity between this fabulous future and fables of the past. Ultimately, the "westering" spirit that will take us to the stars utilizes our most advanced technologies to pursue our most ancient dreams. For we enter the new frontier seeking "wonders that will bloom for us in the gardens of space." Ironically, by leaving the world of our birth, we seek to recover Eden, where man will be "back at the center of the universe, where he once began, and from which he fell away at the beginning of knowledge, and to which he must return" ["Remembrances of Things Future"].
Though his essays unequivocally celebrate our entrance into the gardens of space, Bradbury's fiction presents more disturbing and complex images of the frontier process. Just as the biblical Garden is a complex image representing the bliss of the Unfallen, the ambivalent attractions of knowledge, and the origin of evil, so Bradbury's fictional gardens are both alluring and destructive. Space itself has ambivalent associations, for as it opens up new vistas of wonder and beauty it also separates man from his roots. Thus, space appears both as a natural cathedral of God and as a void where men's souls self-destruct.
The unearthly environment of space brings out both the best and the worst in the space pioneers who enter it, as is evident in "Kaleidoscope," in which the survivors of a rocket's collision with a meteor are "thrown into space like a dozen wriggling silverfish" [The Illustrated Man] to die slowly as their life support systems wear down. Falling through the void "as pebbles fall down wells," they remain in radio contact. In part, the story is a character study, revealing how different personality types cope with the knowledge of imminent death: one goes mad; La Spere, the most contented in life, goes to his death with spirited good will; Applegate and Hollis, after a vicious exchange, finally reconcile their differences, realizing that their meanness in the end only reflects their frustrations in life; and Stone, filled with wonder, drifts into an asteroid cloud, evoking the story's central poetic aside, which captures both the beauty and the terror of space:
There were only the great diamonds and sapphires and emerald mists and velvet inks of space, with God's voice mingling among the crystal fires. There was a kind of wonder . . . in the thought of Stone going off in the meteor swarm, out past Mars for years and coming in toward Earth every five years, passing in and out of the planet's ken for the next million centuries. Stone and the Myrmidone cluster eternal and unending, shifting and shaping like the kaleidoscope colors when you were a child and held the long tube to the sun and gave it a twirl.
The story's title, "Kaleidoscope," expresses both this central image and another underlying theme of Bradbury's space-frontier stories, the interdependent relationship between inner and outer states, between the pioneer and his environment. Just as to some extent the beauty of a kaleidoscope is in the eye of the beholder, which finds form in random patterns, so attitudes toward the space frontier shape basic perceptions. One man's garden of delight is another's desert of desolation (a theme mirroring an earlier American debate about whether the area west of the Mississippi was a new Garden or the Great American Desert). For if there is a divine presence in space in Bradbury's fiction, it is a presence paradoxically dependent upon its observer, since to Bradbury humanity in its divine aspect is God witnessing His creation, and "without us God would be dead another billion years or forever" [Interview].
Bradbury frequently portrays "God"—sometimes referred to as the "Life Force," a concept he adopted from George Bernard Shaw—as an interaction between an intrinsically "dead" universe and a spiritual potential embodied in man's consciousness. Thus, when the astronauts in "Kaleidoscope" lose radio contact their voices die out "like the echoes of the words of God spoken and vibrating in the starred deep." Interacting with the celestial environment, the crew fragments to reveal man in all his aspects, profane and divine. As they drift into oblivion they express madness, pettiness, and vengefulness, but ultimately they also express spiritual delight and a kind of innocent reverence as well. Hollis, reflecting philosophically on his wasted, fearful life, returns to his origins where he appears as a "falling star" to a small boy on Earth.
"No Particular Night or Morning" dramatizes the frightening and destructive aspects of space pioneering. The story's theme, expressed in the title, is that space travel and the frontier process itself can encourage and exacerbate escapism. Hitchcock, the central character, seeks to retreat in space from the frustrations of his life—ultimately, to retreat from reality itself. As the story opens he has already developed a psychotic logic for denying his past, visualizing his past experiences as those of corpses who no longer exist, who have nothing to do with his present self. "You're cutting yourself off that way," observes a fellow astronaut, defining a psychological strategy of withdrawal which culminates when Hitchcock launches from the rocket into space itself, where his own retreat from identity is mirrored in the void. The story develops a common motif of frontier fiction, that the frontier process attracts not only the boldest and most enterprising, but the most desperate and unstable as well. Hitchcock is not drawn to the frontier to build anew, but precisely to lose his past and ultimately his self: "Space, thought Clemens. The space that Hitchcock loved so well. Space, with nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, a lot of empty nothings in between, and Hitchcock falling in the middle of nothing, on his way to no particular night and no particular morning . . ." [ The Illustrated Man].
The divine aspect of space, however, is described in "The Gift," a short vignette in which customs requires a couple and their young boy, launching into space on Christmas Eve, to leave their meager Christmas decorations behind. The father waits until midnight to take the disconsolate boy to a cabin with a panoramic view, where the boy looks entranced "out into space and the deep night at the burning and burning of ten billion billion white and lovely candles" while passengers sing "the old, the familiar carols" [A Medicine for Melancholy]. If "No Particular Night or Morning" dramatizes the psychic dislocation created by the frontier experience, "The Gift" communicates Bradbury's basic faith that we can adapt our central rituals and symbols to help make space our home, that we can rediscover old meanings in new metaphors: "I think the metaphors the Space Age has given us can transcend the old metaphors. And we take Christ along with us, we take Moses along, we take all the Old and New Testament, but we find new ways of speaking from the midst of our technologies" ["Remembrances of Things Past"].
Though space itself evokes both ironic and paradisiacal imagery in Bradbury's fiction, the phrase "gardens in space" refers even more obviously to the "new worlds" discovered there. Mars, his most fully-realized and frequently utilized setting, highlights both the diverse motives of the settlers and the ambivalent promise of a new Garden. But Bradbury's treatment of Venus emphasizes a different source of frontier tragedy—the effects of a truly inhumane environment, whose relentless rain destroys even the most hardy frontier spirits outside the protection of artificial, earthlike havens. "The Long Rain" submerges the reader in this Venusian atmosphere, accompanying survivors of a rocket accident on a wilderness trek as they endure the "Chinese water cure" exposure on Venus entails: "We're not made for water. You can't sleep, you can't breathe right, and you're crazy from being soggy" [The Illustrated Man ].
Bradbury's vivid imagery generates a nightmarish atmosphere. The men themselves have become "as white as mushrooms"; a jungle storm is "a monster supported upon a thousand electric blue legs", a river "boiled out of the earth, suddenly, like a mortal wound." Counterpoised against the hallucinatory horror of the jungle is the tantalizing dream of reaching a sun-dome, one of the artificial havens men have built to survive on this world. Indeed, the story's climax simply captures the ecstasy of dry air and sunlight after torturous immersion in the endless rain.
"All Summer in a Day" presents the Hell-world of Venus from children's point of view, evoking a more subtle and poignant sense of tragedy. In a frontier schoolroom on Venus children eagerly await the sun's appearance, an event approximately equivalent in frequency to an eclipse on Earth. Bradbury's description of the children identifies them with the riotous vegetation of the planet: "The children pressed to each other like so many roses, so many weeds, intermixed, peering out for a look at the hidden sun" [A Medicine for Melancholy]. Starved for sunshine and open space, though they don't realize it, they romp in wild-eyed ecstasy in the sunlight, seeing clearly for the first time a landscape they cannot even recognize as alien to what they need: "It was the color of rubber and ash, this jungle, from the many years without sun. It was the color of stones and white cheeses and ink, and it was the color of the moon."
But etched in against the general tragedy implicit in the children's short-lived ecstasy in the sun is the haunting figure of Margot, whose simple poem sketches her personal tragedy: "I think the sun is a flower / That blooms for just one hour." A frail, sickly immigrant from Earth, she endures the hate of the other children because she remembers days of sunlight. Until the Venusian rains return, the children forget that they maliciously placed her in the closet when the great event began. When they return to the closet there is no sound inside. A haunting fable about the destructive side of human nature, "All Summer in a Day" reveals the snake from the Garden in the hearts of deprived children.
Science-fiction versions of the serpent appear in more obvious forms in other stories. In "The One Who Waits" [Long after Midnight], for instance, destructiveness is embodied (actually, disembodied) in the malevolent consciousness of an alien, a psychic entity living in a Martian "Soul Well" which possesses the bodies of a group of human visitors, destroys them one by one, then waits for new victims. "The City" presents another version of evil working in unexpected places. A rocket crew exploring an abandoned city on a relatively unknown planet becomes an instrument for the city's revenge. Thousands of years earlier the planet's inhabitants, betrayed and defeated in war, programmed the city to redress the injury. With a bit of surgical alteration and psychic programming, performed by the city's underground machinery, the crew is returned to earth carrying "golden bombs of disease culture" [The Illustrated Man] with which to infect the home planet, after which the city, animated through the centuries exclusively by this high-tech curse, enjoys "the luxury of dying." "The Lost City of Mars" presents a more ambiguous version of this theme, in which the live city is programmed to fulfill fantasies, rather than to exact revenge [I Sing the Body Electric!]. As does the carnival in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the story's setting reveals the inner qualities of the characters exposed to it, strengthening some and taking possession of others.
Many of Bradbury's space-colonization stories explore the ironic possibilities in the biblical and frontier analogies to the "gardens in space." But even in the tragic and ironic stories irony derives from the contrast between grim realities and the ideal images Bradbury's characters pursue. And in some stories the spiritual aspects of the quest into space are overt rather than implied. "The Man" treats the spiritual theme ironically, highlighting a paradox implicit in the frontier quest—that it can easily become a frantic and self-defeating pursuit of "happiness," substituting possession of external things for development of internal qualities [The Illustrated Man]. A somewhat comic version of Melville's Ahab, Captain Hart, initially a wheeling and dealing trader obsessed with defeating his competition, lights out in breakneck pursuit of the Saviour, "the man," when he hastily concludes he just missed his latest visitation. His crew-member Martin, the story's Ishmael-figure, visualizes the captain careening throughout the galaxy, doomed to just miss the next coming at every landing. As the captain departs, Martin and the local mayor return to the local village where He has been waiting, of course, all along. Like Ahab, Captain Hart does have moments of self-reflection, during which he almost slows down long enough to perceive the disparity between his obsessive mission and his true goals. His reflections become an ironic statement about the contradictory images that lure men into space:
"Why do we do it, Martin? This space travel, I mean. Always on the go. Always searching. Our insides always tight, never any rest."
"Maybe we're looking for peace and quiet. Certainly there's none on earth," said Martin.
"No, there's not, is there?" Captain Hart was thoughtful. "Not since Darwin, eh? Not since everything went by the board, everything we used to believe in, eh? Divine power and all that. And so you think maybe that's why we're going out to the stars, eh Martin? Looking for lost souls, is that it? Try to get away from our evil planet to a good one?"
"Perhaps, sir. Certainly we're looking for something."
Ironically, Captain Hart's decision to pursue "the Man" rather than his own profit only intensifies his obsessive superficiality. He seeks for his "lost soul" everywhere except within himself. If he ever truly encountered the Man he would request "a little—peace and quiet." But since he pursues spiritual enlightenment with the same driven avariciousness with which he pursued trading contracts, he never notices the contradiction between his methods and his ends. Nevertheless, his tragi-comic destiny illustrates the essentially spiritual origins of man's "search" in space: even the most mundane profiteers participate, however foolishly and self-destructively, in the quest for spiritual fulfillment.
Most of Bradbury's spiritual quest-figures are more humble and self-aware than Captain Hart. In its purest form—which simply generates a different system of ironies—Bradbury represents this spiritual quest through Catholic priests, who enter space eagerly seeking spiritual challenges and visitations. One of the most delightful early Mars stories, "The Fire Balloons," reveals "the Man's" presence in a new form, that of the blue globes that hover in the Martian hills. Because of his somewhat suspect "flexibility," the church selects Father Peregrine, possessed of an adventurous frontier spirit eager to adapt traditional orthodoxy to new environments, to lead a group of missionaries to the wild and wooly settlements on Mars. Conceiving of their quest as a search for new forms of sin in a new environment, Father Peregrine cannot resist the greatest challenge posed by his mission—determining if the curious "fire balloons" are indeed sentient beings possessed of souls, and designing an appropriate strategy for "saving" them if they are. When he determines that the curious beings are sentient, he proceeds, in a most enlightened and unorthodox spirit of missionary dedication, to adapt the church doctrine to the native culture. In a speech that represents Bradbury's own views on how traditional symbols can be adapted to new contexts, he justifies altering the central symbols of his faith: "We deal with symbols here. Christ is no less Christ, you must admit, in being represented by a circle or a square. For centuries the cross has symbolized his love and agony. So this circle will be the Martian Christ. This is how we will bring Him to Mars" [The Illustrated Man].
But if Father Peregrine seeks to bring Christ to Mars, he finds instead that Mars restores to humans the living spiritual presence represented in Christian symbols. Father Peregrine's experience ironically parallels relationships between Christian missionaries and Native American cultures. And, whether or not Bradbury was consciously utilizing the parallel, Peregrine's substitution of the circle for the cross nicely resolves an historical conflict between the hierarchical models of Christianity (dividing the "saved" from the "fallen," "spirit" from "matter," etc.) and the "sacred hoop" that structures Native American ritual and belief. But just as too few Christian missionaries, perhaps, realized they were "bringing religion" to profoundly spiritual cultures, so even Father Peregrine's flexible alterations of tradition ironically miss the point, as he is the first to perceive. For when the "old ones" finally come to his new ceremony and reveal their true nature he realizes his missionary impulse in this context is not merely inappropriate but fundamentally blasphemous. The old ones do not need new symbols to represent Christ since they, in fact, are Him, as even the very orthodox and rather dense Father Stone comes to recognize: "Father Peregrine, that globe there—. . . . It is Him, after all." Having embarked on an adventurous mission to save souls, Father Peregrine returns to the frontier outpost strengthened in his true mission, knowing he has had a personal visitation from the spirit of Christ to assist in helping fallen humanity.
Other of Bradbury's overtly theological stories also dramatize conflicts inherent in adapting traditional symbols to the radically new contexts of the Space Age. "The Messiah" [Long after Midnight] presents another fervent Martian missionary whose dream of seeing "the Man" is satisfied more ambiguously. A telepathic Martian, trapped by the power of the missionary's fantasy, appears to him in his Éaster devotion as the crucified Christ. Finally realizing he is fulfilling his spiritual quest by victimizing another sentient being, the priest ultimately releases the Martian after extracting a promise that he will represent Christ to him every year at Easter. Though the priest possesses admirable spiritual intensity, his "pact" parallels the ironic theme of The Martian Chronicles, in which settlers impose their own fantasies on their new environment, often with destructive consequences.
In "The Machineries of Joy," technically a realist story, Father Vittorini outrages his Irish peers both with his flamboyant Italian personality and with his enthusiasm for speculating about the impact of rockets on their faith[ The Machineries of Joy]. Presenting them to their dismay with Pope Pius XII's statement that "man has to make the effort to put himself in a new orientation with God and his universe," Vittorini turns an ongoing battle into a full-scale war, which ultimately is resolved when the Irish priests grudgingly accept both his colorful style and the modern age: settling down in front of a hitherto suspect television to watch the latest rocket blast-off, they contemplate whether these things are indeed God's new "machineries of joy." Pastor Sheldon, the most flexible of the Irish brethren, states the story's moral, both for spiritual leaders and for all mankind: "Why don't we climb on that rocket, father, and learn from it?"
All of Bradbury's space fiction dramatizes in some form the conflicts and possibilities created by adapting to new environments. In its purest form this adaptation process becomes metamorphosis. "Chrysalis" presents a literal version of this theme, in which a man overexposed to radiation is transformed physically through "delayed hereditary mutation" [ S is for Space] into "the next evolutionary structure of man," which is biologically equipped to subsist in space. First published in Amazing Stories in 1946, "Chrysalis" is one of the few collected early stories whose melodramatic exposition illustrates Bradbury's early pulp style; but despite the awkward execution, the story does present a striking image of the metamorphosis theme implicit in much of Bradbury's more sophisticated fiction. Enclosed inside a hard shell Smith's body, like larval forms of insects in the chrysalis stage, transforms utterly, emerging finally as a being physically similar to humans but fundamentally altered. After escaping from the hospital the new man walks out under the desert sky, finishes a last cigarette which he grinds out "precisely under one heel," then gracefully soars off into his new home in space.
This metamorphosis theme is most often simply an extreme version of the adaptation process in new frontiers. In "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" Mr. Bittering, alone among the Martian settlers, observes with horror that the frontier process has somehow reversed. Rather than adapting their environment to suit themselves, as they initially had every intention of doing, the settlers slowly transform into "Martians." Though they begin by naming their surroundings with their own names imported from Earth (the story was originally entitled "The Naming of Names"), they slowly revert to the old Martian names. Bickering points out indignantly that the peaches no longer look like peaches, but on one else cares. They all tan dark, their eyes turn golden, and they migrate to the hills. Finally accepting the transformation that the rest of the settlement has accepted peacefully, Bickering lies in a Martian canal contemplating the metamorphosis process, in lines that echo the song "Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies" in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Just as the underwater body changes to something "rich and strange" in the Shakespearean song, so the settlers are changed in the "river" of the Martian atmosphere:
If I lie here long enough, he thought, the water will work and eat away my flesh until the bones show like coral. Just my skeleton left. And then the water can build on that skeleton—green things, deep water things, yellow things. Change. Change. Change. Slow deep silent change. . . .
He saw the sky submerged above him, the sun made Martian by atmosphere and time and place.
Up there, a big river, he thought, a Martian river, all of us lying deep in it, in our pebble houses, in our summer boulder houses, like crayfish hidden, and the water washing away our old bodies and lengthening the bones.
[A Medicine for Melancholy]
When new settlers come from Earth they find only natives in the hills and the abandoned frontier town. Perplexed, they begin industriously planning to transform the environment, assigning new names to their surroundings, noticing occasionally that their concentration is unaccountably distracted. . . . But as they begin work on the planet, the planet is already exercising its subtle influence on them. Though they are not aware of it, the exploitative frontier psychology that brought them there is being transformed by the idyllic atmosphere of the Garden into which they have wandered.
Implicit in all the individual tragedies and revelations in Bradbury's space-colonization stories is a central drama about the settlers' relationship to the New World, a powerful theme derived from the central frontier metaphors of American writing: in space and Mars, as in American frontier mythology, conquering new frontiers wreaks tragedy, yet ultimately shapes a distinctively new and hardy culture. If the biblical myths of Eden and the Promised Land are evoked in this drama, so too is the world-view of conquered tribal cultures here on Earth—the concept of the New World not just as property but as Mother Earth, a living presence which alternately suffers, destroys, and shapes those who come to colonize.
Bradbury's most literal treatment of this "live planet" theme, "Here There Be Tygers," presents a planet that is a seductress, a conscious Garden who envelops explorers in her pastoral embrace. As in many of these stories, two characters represent the extremes of the frontier mentality, while a wise father-figure captain attempts to reconcile their opposing points of view: Chatterton, the developer, eagerly explains how men have to control planets or be controlled by them, an attitude which the captain describes as a prescription for "rape or ruin" [ R is for Rocket]. Chatterton gives the sexual metaphor a new twist when he explains that the planet's essence, that which he must dominate, is male, the feminine beauty only an alluring surface: "All hard underneath, all male iron, copper, uranium, black sod. Don't let cosmetics fool you." Ultimately, the planet destroys Chatterton (who is devoured by tigers) and the rest of the crew, aware that they are being seduced by a loving embrace, decide to complete their mission, then return to settle down. But as they leave the planet erupts in volcanic fury, the fury of a woman scorned, and they realize they left the Garden of their own choice, and can never return. Only Driscoll, Chatterton's opposite, remains, whistling happily as he wanders among the fine wine streams and luxurious forests, blissfully at peace, restored to the Garden by the direct simplicity of his nature.
Though Bradbury's space-colonization fiction dramatizes tragedy and irony, it nevertheless projects powerful images of recovered Eden as well, which express his fervent conviction that, however problematic the process, mankind will in the end have the imagination and grace to be reborn in flesh and spirit in the "inexhaustible wilderness" of space. With George Bernard Shaw he visualizes humanity as the Godhead realizing itself, through the very intensity of memory and desire that drives us into new frontiers. We go "beyond Eden" to discover and create new gardens. Bradbury's metaphorical theology places faith in a new model of divinity: "God. Man. Machine. A strange, but certainly not an unholy trinity." But at the end of the search, ironically, we return to our fondest myths of our origins: "Tossed out of Eden, we now go to replant our Garden on God's own lawn" ["Beyond Eden," Omni, April 1980].
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4452
SOURCE: "Run Fast, Stand Still, or The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts from Old Minds," in How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, & Science Fiction, Writer's Digest Books, 1987, pp. 11-19.
[In this essay, Bradbury explains how he wrote many of his short stories, claiming that they evolved out of personal experiences and fears.]
Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost any survival creature, you see the same. Jump, run, freeze. In the ability to flick like an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the next—life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing to escape, it is playing statues to do the same. See the hummingbird, there, not there. As thought arises and blinks off, so this thing of summer vapor; the clearing of a cosmic throat, the fall of a leaf. And where it was—a whisper.
What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.
In between the scurries and flights, what? Be a chameleon, ink-blend, chromosome change with the landscape. Be a pet rock, lie with the dust, rest in the rain-water in the filled-barrel by the drainspout outside your grandparents' window long ago. Be dandelion wine in the ketchup bottle capped and placed with an inked inscription: June morn, first day of Summer, 1923. Summer 1926, Fireworks Night. 1927: Last Day of Summer. LAST OF THE DANDELIONS, Oct. 1st.
And out of all this, wind up with your first success as a writer, at $20 a story, in Weird Tales.
How do you commence to start to begin an almost new kind of writing, to terrify and scare?
You stumble into it, mostly. You don't know what you're doing, and suddenly, it's done. You don't set out to reform a certain kind of writing. It evolves out of your own life and night scares. Suddenly you look around and see that you have done something almost fresh.
The problem for any writer in any field is being circumscribed by what has gone before or what is being printed that very day in books and magazines.
I grew up reading and loving the traditional ghost stories of Dickens, Lovecraft, Poe, and later, Kuttner, Bloch, and Clark Ashton Smith. I tried to write stories heavily influenced by various of these writers, and succeeded in making quadruple-layered mudpies, all language and style, that would not float, and sank without a trace. I was too young to identify my problem, I was so busy imitating.
I almost blundered into my creative self in my last year in high school, when I wrote a kind of long remembrance of the deep ravine in my home town, and my fear of it at night. But I had no story to go with the ravine, so my discovering the true source of my future writing was put off for some few years.
I wrote at least a thousand words a day every day from the age of twelve on. For years Poe was looking over one shoulder, while Wells, Burroughs, and just about every writer in Astounding and Weird Tales looked over the other.
I loved them, and they smothered me. I hadn't learned how to look away and in the process look not at myself but at what went on behind my face.
It was only when I began to discover the treats and tricks that came with word association that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation. I finally figured out that if you are going to step on a live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.
I began to put down brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates. All during my twentieth and twenty-first years I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.
I finally found it one afternoon when I was twenty-two years old. I wrote the title "The Lake" on the first page of a story that finished itself two hours later. Two hours after that I was sitting at my typewriter out on a porch in the sun, with tears running off the tip of my nose, and the hair on my neck standing up.
Why the arousal of hair and the dripping nose?
I realized I had at last written a really fine story. The first, in ten years of writing. And not only was it a fine story, but it was some sort of hybrid, something verging on the new. Not a traditional ghost story at all, but a story about love, time, remembrance, and drowning.
I sent it off to Julie Schwartz, my pulp agent, who liked it, but said it was not a traditional tale and might be hard to sell. Weird Tales walked around it, touched it with a ten-foot pole, and finally decided, what the hey, to publish it, even though it didn't fit their magazine. But I must promise, next time, to write a good old-fashioned ghost story! I promised. They gave me twenty dollars, and everyone was happy.
Well, some of you know the rest. "The Lake" has been reprinted dozens of times in the 44 years since. And it was the story that first got various editors of other magazines to sit up and notice the guy with the aroused hair and the wet nose.
Did I learn a hard, fast, or even an easy lesson from "The Lake"? I did not. I went back to writing the old-fashioned ghost story. For I was far too young to understand much about writing at all, and my discoveries went unnoticed by me for years. I was wandering all over the place and writing poorly much of the time.
During my early twenties, if my weird fiction was imitative, with an occasional surprise of a concept and a further surprise in execution, my science fiction writing was abysmal, and my detective fiction verged on the ludicrous. I was deeply under the influence of my loving friend, Leigh Brackett, whom I used to meet every Sunday at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California, there to read her superior Stark on Mars tales, or to envy and try to emulate her Flynn's Detective stories.
But along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trap door on the top of my skull.
The lists ran something like this:
THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAP DOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.
I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds.
Glancing over the list, I discovered my old love and fright having to do with circuses and carnivals. I remembered, and then forgot, and then remembered again, how terrified I had been when my mother took me for my first ride on a merry-go-round. With the calliope screaming and the world spinning and the terrible horses leaping, I added my shrieks to the din. I did not go near the carousel again for years. When I really did, decades later, it rode me into the midst of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
But long before that, I went on making the lists. THE MEADOW. THE TOY CHEST. THE MONSTER. TYRANNOSAURUS REX. THE TOWN CLOCK. THE OLD MAN. THE OLD WOMAN. THE TELEPHONE. THE SIDEWALKS. THE COFFIN. THE ELECTRIC CHAIR. THE MAGICIAN.
Out on the margin of these nouns, I blundered into a science-fiction story that was not a science-fiction story. My title was "R is For Rocket." The published title was "King of the Grey Spaces," the story of two boys, great friends, one elected to go off to the Space Academy, the other staying home. The tale was rejected by every science-fiction magazine because, after all, it was only a story about friendship being tested by circumstance, even though the circumstance was space travel. Mary Gnaedinger, at Famous Fantastic Mysteries, took one look at my story and published it. But, again, I was too young to see that "R is For Rocket" would be the kind of story that would make me as a science-fiction writer, admired by some, and criticized by many who observed that I was no writer of science fictions, I was a "people" writer, and to hell with that!
I went on making lists, having to do not only with night, nightmares, darkness, and objects in attics, but the toys that men play with in space, and the ideas I found in detective magazines. Most of the detective material I published in my twenty-fourth year in Detective Tales and Dime Detective is not worth rereading. Here and there, I fell over my own shoelaces and did a nearly good job of remembering Mexico, which scared me, or downtown Los Angeles during the Pachucho riots. But it would take me the better part of forty years to assimilate the detective/mystery/suspense genre and make it work for me in my latest novel, Death Is a Lonely Business.
But back to my lists. And why go back to them? Where am I leading you? Well, if you are a writer, or would hope to be one, similar lists, dredged out of the lopside of your brain, might well help you discover you, even as I flopped around and finally found me.
I began to run through those lists, pick a noun, and then sit down to write a long prose-poem-essay on it.
Somewhere along about the middle of the page, or perhaps on the second page, the prose poem would turn into a story. Which is to say that a character suddenly appeared and said, "That's me"; or, "That's an idea I like!" And the character would then finish the tale for me.
It began to be obvious that I was learning from my lists of nouns, and that I was further learning that my characters would do my work for me, if I let them alone, if I gave them their heads, which is to say, their fantasies, their frights.
I looked at my list, saw SKELETON, and remembered the first artworks of my childhood. I drew skeletons to scare my girl cousins. I was fascinated with those unclothed medical displays of skulls and ribs and pelvic sculptures. My favorite tune was "'Tain't No Sin, To Take Off Your Skin, and Dance Around in Your Bones."
Remembering my early artwork and my favorite tune, I ambled into my doctor's office one day with a sore throat. I touched my Adam's apple, and the tendons on each side of my neck, and asked for his medical advice.
"Know what you're suffering from?" asked the doc.
"Discovery of the larynx!" he crowed. "Take some aspirin. Two dollars, please!"
Discovery of the larynx! My God, how beautiful! I trotted home, feeling my throat, and then my ribs, and then my medulla oblongata, and my kneecaps. Holy Moses! Why not write a story about a man who is terrified to discover that under his skin, inside his flesh, hidden, is a symbol of all the Gothic horrors in history—a skeleton!
The story wrote itself in a few hours.
A perfectly obvious concept, yet no one else in the history of writing weird tales had ever scribbled it down. I fell into my typewriter with it and came up with a brand-new, absolutely original tale, which had been lurking under my skin since I first drew a skull and crossbones, aged six.
I began to gain steam. The ideas came faster now, and all of them from my lists. I prowled up in my grandparents' attics and down in their basements. I listened to the middle-of-the-night locomotives wailing across the northern Illinois landscape, and that was death, a funeral train, taking my loved ones away to some far graveyard. I remembered five o'clock in the morning, pre-dawn arrivals of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, and all the animals parading by before sunrise, heading for the empty meadows where the great tents would rise like incredible mushrooms. I remembered Mr. Electrico and his traveling electric chair. I remembered Blackstone the Magician dancing magical handkerchiefs and vanishing elephants on my hometown stage. I remembered my grandfather, my sister, and various aunts and cousins, in their coffins and gone forever in the tombyards where the butterflies settled like flowers on the graves and where the flowers blew away like butterflies over the stones. I remembered my dog, lost for days, coming home late on a winter night with snow and mud and leaves in his pelt. And the stories began to burst, to explode from those memories, hidden in the nouns, lost in the lists.
My remembrance of my dog, and his winter pelt, became "The Emissary," the story of a boy, sick in bed, who sends his dog out to gather the seasons in his fur, and report back. And then, one night, the dog comes back from a journey to the graveyard, and brings "company" with him.
My listed title THE OLD WOMAN became two stories, one "There Was an Old Woman," about a lady who refuses to die and demands her body back from the undertakers, defying Death, and a second tale, "Season of Disbelief," about some children who refuse to believe that a very old woman was ever young, was ever a girl, a child. The first story appeared in my first collection, Dark Carnival The second became part of a further word-association test I gave myself, called Dandelion Wine.
We can surely see now, can't we, that it is the personal observation, the odd fancy, the strange conceit, that pays off. I was fascinated by old people. I tried to solve their mystery with my eyes and young mind but was continually astounded to realize that once upon a time they had been me, and some day up ahead I would be them. Absolutely impossible! Yet there the boys and girls were, locked in old bodies, a dreadful situation, a terrible trick, right before my gaze.
Pilfering from my list, again, I seized out the title THE JAR, the result of my being stunned at an encounter with a series of embryos on display in a carnival when I was twelve and again when I was fourteen. In those long-gone days of 1932 and 1934, we children knew nothing, of course, absolutely nothing about sex and procreation. So you can imagine how astounded I was when I prowled through a free carnival exhibit and saw all those fetuses of humans and cats and dogs, displayed in labeled jars. I was shocked by the look of the unborn dead, and the new mysteries of life they caused to rise up in my head later that night and all through the years. I never mentioned the jars and the formaldehyde fetuses to my parents. I knew I had stumbled on some truths which were better not discussed.
All of this surfaced, of course, when I wrote "The Jar," and the carnival and the fetal displays and all the old terrors poured out of my fingertips into my typewriter. The old mystery had finally found a resting place, in a story.
I found another title in my list, THE CROWD. And, typing furiously, I recalled a terrible concussion when I was fifteen and ran from a friend's house at the sound, to be confronted by a car that had hit an obstruction in the street and rocketed into a telephone pole. The car was split in half. Two people lay dead on the pavement, another woman died just as I reached her, her face ruined. Another man died a minute later. Still another died the next day.
I had never seen anything like it. I walked home, bumping into trees, in shock. It took me months to get over the horror of that scene.
Years later, with my list before me, I remembered a number of peculiar things about that night. The accident had occurred at an intersection surrounded on one side by empty factories and a deserted schoolyard, and on the opposite side, by a graveyard. I had come running from the nearest house, a hundred yards away, yet, within moments, it seemed, a crowd had gathered. Where had they all come from? Later on in time, I could only imagine that some came, in some strange fashion, out of the empty factories, or even more strangely, out of the graveyard. After typing for only a few minutes, it came to me that, yes, this crowd was always the same crowd, that it gathered at all accidents. These were victims from accidents years ago, doomed to come back and haunt the scene of new accidents as they occurred.
Once I hit on this idea, the story finished itself in a single afternoon.
Meanwhile, the carnival artifacts were gathering closer, their great bones starting to thrust up through my skin. I was making longer and longer prose poem excursions about circuses that arrived long after midnight. During those years, in my early twenties, prowling a Mirror Maze on the old Venice Pier with my friends Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, Ed suddenly cried, "Let's get out of here, before Ray writes a story about a dwarf who pays his way in here every night so he can stand and make himself tall in the big stretch mirror!" "That's it!" I shouted, and ran home to write "The Dwarf." "That'll teach me to shoot off my mouth," said Ed, when he read the story the next week.
THE BABY on that list was, of course, me.
I remembered an old nightmare. It was about being born. I remembered lying in my crib, three days old, wailing with the knowledge of being thrust out into the world; the pressure, the cold, the shrieking into life. I remembered my mother's breast. I remembered the doctor, on the fourth day of my life, bending over me with a scalpel to perform circumcision. I remembered, I remembered.
I changed the title from THE BABY to "The Small> Assassin." That story has been anthologized dozens of times. And I had lived the story, or part of it, from my first hour of life onward, and only truly remembered and nailed it down in my twenties.
Did I write stories based on every single noun in my pages and pages of lists?
Not all. But most. THE TRAPDOOR, listed way back in 1942 or '43, didn't surface until three years ago, as a story in Omni.
Another story about me and my dog took more than fifty years to surface. In "Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned," I went back in time to relive a beating I had given my dog when I was twelve, and for which I had never forgiven myself. I wrote the story to at least examine that cruel, sad boy and put his ghost, and the ghost of my much-loved dog, to rest forever. It was the same dog, incidentally, who brought "company" back from the graveyard in "The Emissary."
During these years, Henry Kuttner, along with Leigh, was my teacher. He suggested authors—Katherine Anne Porter, John Collier, Eudora Welty—and books—The Lost Weekend, One Man's Meat, Rain in the Doorway—to be read and learned from. Along the way, he gave me a copy of Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson. Finishing the book, I said to myself, "Someday I would like to write a novel laid on the planet Mars, with somewhat similar people." I immediately jotted down a list of the sorts of folks I would want to plant on Mars, to see what would happen.
I forgot Winesburg, Ohio and my list. Over the years, I wrote a series of stories about the Red Planet. One day, I looked up and the book was finished, the list complete, The Martian Chronicles on its way to publication.
So there you have it. In sum, a series of nouns, some with rare adjectives, which described a territory unknown, an undiscovered country, part of it Death, the rest Life. If I had not made up these prescriptions for Discovery I would never have become the jackdaw archaeologist or anthropologist that I am. That jackdaw who seeks bright objects, odd carapaces and misshapen femurs from the boneheaps of junk inside my head, where lay strewn the remnants of collisions with life as well as Buck Rogers, Tarzan, John Carter, Quasimodo, and all the other creatures who made me want to live forever.
In the words of the old Mikado song, I had a little list, save it was a long one, which led me into Dandelion Wine country and helped me move the Dandelion Wine country up to Mars, and ricocheted me back into dark wine territory as Mr. Dark's night train arrived long before dawn. But the first and most important pileup of nouns was the one filled with leaves whispering along the sidewalks at three a.m. and funerals wheeling by on empty railtracks, following, and crickets that suddenly, for no reason, shut up, so you could hear your own heart, and wish you couldn't.
Which leads us to a final revelation—
One of the nouns on my list in high school was The Thing, or, better yet, The Thing at The Top of The Stairs.
When I was growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, there was only one bathroom; upstairs. You had to climb an unlit hall halfway before you could find and turn on a light. I tried to get my dad to keep the light on all night. But that was expensive stuff. The light stayed off.
Around two or three in the morning, I would have to go to the bathroom. I would lie in bed for half an hour or so, torn between the agonized need for relief, and what I knew was waiting for me in the dark hall leading up to the attic. At last, driven by pain, I would edge out of our dining room into that hall, thinking: run fast, leap up, turn on the light, but whatever you do, don't look up. If you look up before you get the light on, It will be there. The Thing. The terrible Thing waiting at the top of the stairs. So run, blind; don't look.
I ran, I leaped. But always, I couldn't help it, at the last moment, I blinked and stared into the awful darkness. And it was always there. And I screamed and fell back downstairs, waking my parents. My dad would groan and turn over in bed, wondering where this son of his had come from. My mother would get up, find me in a scrambled heap in the hall, and go up to turn on the light. She would wait for me to climb up to the bathroom and come backdown to have my tearstained face kissed and my terrified body tucked in bed.
The next night and the next night and the night after that, the same thing happened. Driven mad by my hysteria, Dad got out the old chamber pot and shoved it under my bed.
But I was never cured. The Thing remained there forever. Only moving West when I was thirteen got me away from that terror.
What have I done, recently, about that nightmare? Well . . .
Now, very late in time, The Thing is standing up at the top of the stairs, still waiting. From 1926 to now, in the spring of 1986, is a long waiting. But at last, gleaning my ever dependable list, I have typed the noun out on paper, adding "The Stairs," and I have finally faced up to the dark climb and the Arctic coldness held in place for sixty years, waiting to be asked to come down through my frozen fingertips and into your bloodstream. The story, associated out of memory, was finished this week, even as I wrote this essay.
I leave you now at the bottom of your own stair, at half after midnight, with a pad, a pen, and a list to be made. Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness. Your own Thing stands waiting 'way up there in the attic shadows. If you speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page . . .
Your Thing at the top of your stairs in your own private night . . . may well come down.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4736
SOURCE: "Short Stories," in Ray Bradbury, Starmont House, 1989, pp. 83-91.
[In the following excerpt, Touponce discusses how psychoanalytic themes, such as "psychosis, hysteria, delirium, neurosis, hypochondria, the death wish, [and] the unconscious," unify the otherwise unrelated stories collected in Bradbury's The October Country.]
Bradbury's first collection of stories was Dark Carnival (1947), but . . . since the book has long been out of print (indeed it is something of a collector's item), I will not be discussing it here. We will be concerned instead with a collection of nineteen stories in the horror/weird/fantasy vein published under the title The October Country (1955). Fifteen of these stories are from Dark Carnival (which originally contained twenty-seven stories), selected, edited, and in some cases rewritten by Bradbury.
The remark made by Mr. Harris, the protagonist of the story "Skeleton" who is deliriously obsessed with protecting his internal organs from an attack by his own skeleton, could well serve as an epigraph for the entire volume: "How is it we never question our bodies and our being?" In reading The October Country, readers feel as if they were discovering their bodies for the first time as the site of the fantastic, as an unfamiliar and frightening territory full of surreal frescoes (the paintings of Dali and Picasso are several times evoked as equivalents to this experience). The body is in fact the subject (which ordinary vision obscures or even represses) and landscape of the book, that which unifies an otherwise disparate collection of stories and that by which the book represents its psychological themes of unconscious desire. Psychosis, hysteria, delirium, neurosis, hypochondria, the death wish, the unconscious—the very vocabulary of the "science" of psychoanalysis—is brought into play by these stories and deconstructed in a manner which I will indicate in a moment.
In "The Jar" the body is an amorphous pale thing from the wet swamps which provokes each character to project his own (sometimes murderous) fantasy. In "The Next in Line," the body is a kind of mummified clay sculpted by Death into grotesque and horrifying shapes (images based on Bradbury's own visit to the cavern of the mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico) that are symbolic of the protagonist's morbid obsession with her own death. In "The Watchful Poker Chip of Henri Matisse," the theme is given a parodistic treatment as an average and ordinary man slowly adds artificial parts to his body, making himself into a work of art celebrated by the avant-garde. In "The Crowd," the desire to look at what happens to a body in a car accident is paranoiacally played with. In "The Man Upstairs," a story which deals humorously with the facts of sexual difference, a young boy eviscerates the alien fantastic body of a vampire-like creature living in his grandmother's boarding house. In "The Homecoming" a girl inhabits the bodies of others, and a boy born normal into a family of supernatural freaks dreams of flying and drinking blood just like them. In "Touched with Fire," a grotesquely fat woman (called Mrs. Death-Wish) is driven by a heat wave into murdering her husband. In "The Lake," which deals with Freudian notion that earliest loves are the strongest and that unconsciously are never given up, only substituted for in adult life, a man visits his home town where a girl's drowned body turns up still having its golden hair (she had drowned years before but her body had never been found), which causes the man to realize that he does not love the woman he intends to marry. "The Small Assassin" deals with the ambivalence of a pregnancy that gives birth to a baby whose body is developed enough to enable him to kill his parents in revenge for bringing him into the world. "Jack-in-the-Box" records with symbolic precision the (phallic) onset of puberty, which is frightening to a boy who has always inhabited a protected Garden World and house dominated only by the presence of his dead father, whose place he is seemingly destined to take. Even his mother, masked at times as his teacher, participates in the Law of the Father, which governs this world.
As to why the themes of psychoanalysis should be the themes of a beginning fantasist, there are ample historical reasons. No one need indulge in amateur psychoanalysis of Bradbury who in any case disavows any direct influence:
Have read little Freud or Jung. All my psychoanalytic education comes from Shakespeare's subconscious haunts that inspired and educated Freud and Jung. The creative artist always, I repeat, always precedes the analytical one. Shakespeare the father intuitionist, taught sons Freud and Jung. I always return to the original Artist. Old Will continues to teach me, late in life, along with G. B. Shaw.
(Bradbury, personal letter to me, Aug 18, 1981)
Tzvetan Todorov points out in The Fantastic, which is largely confined to the nineteenth century, that in the twentieth-century psychoanalysis has replaced (and thereby made useless) the literature of the fantastic. He argues that there is no need today to resort to the devil to speak of an excessive sexual desire and none to resort to vampires to designate the attraction exerted by corpses. Psychoanalysis and the literature which is directly or indirectly inspired by it deal with these matters in undisguised terms: "The themes of fantastic literature have become, literally, the very themes of the psychological investigations of the last fifty years" [Todorov]. Despite Bradbury's disclaimer, The October Country can be read as an attempt to reverse this situation and to determine how the fantastic can be written after Freud.
Freud's ideas have been so widely disseminated that it need not be a question of direct influence, and Bradbury's fantasy tends to break out of psychoanalytic structures (especially Oedipal triangularity) in such books as Something Wicked This Way Comes. The model text for a study of this kind based on The October Country would be "Jack-in-the-Box," where the fantastic revolves around the question of whether or not the boy will be governed by the Law and Name of the Father, taking his place with the mother, or will he break out in some fashion. But the mother/teacher mysteriously dies before the boy reaches such a decision, and like a jack-in-the-box, he springs outside of the house into a world he has been told is Death. This and other stories could be used to show that fantasy in Bradbury's texts has a complex relationship to psychoanalysis. What in fact sometimes occurs is that psychoanalysis may find itself standing before the court of fantasy; its fantasy of authority unmasked and exposed as a fiction. Two stories in particular, "The Small Assassin" and "The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone," are structured by the Freudian logic of ambivalence, a word prominent in both texts, a word which comes to the English language from the pen of Freud himself (and no fantasy writer before Freud could have used it, though of course literature may manifest its characteristics in any age), "The Wonderful World of Dudley Stone" dealing with the problem literary fame, fortune, and influence, always fertile ground for the psychoanalytic critic interested in a writer's anxieties. Usually, Bradbury's strategy is to include a psychoanalytic explanation of seemingly fantastic events in the story—a small child whose mother thinks it can murder, a famous writer who disappeared at the height of his powers—and then to show that the explanation is insufficient or downright wrong.
Both of these stories and "Jack-in-the-Box" are a bit too long for analysis here, but "The Dwarf," which currently opens the collection (not part of Dark Carnival, originally published in Fantastic, 1954) is brief and interesting enough to be treated as a sort of parable about the fantasy writer's ambiguous relationship to reality. In the classical Freudian view of this relationship, to simplify and to put it very schematically, the artist is a kind of neurotic who cannot confront the frustrations of reality directly. Rather, he has a strong impulse to fantasize about himself in daydreams centering on that exalted personage Freud called "his Majesty the Ego" ["The Relation of the Poet to Daydreaming," On Creativity and the Unconscious, 1958]. If he also happens to have artistic talent, however, he can disguise the obviously egotistical character of these adventurous daydreams by using the formal properties of art. If readers respond in turn to these disguised wishes with their own, the writer may become famous, winning a place of fame and fortune for himself in the real world by a circuitous route.
Now, the dwarf mentioned in the title of Bradbury's story is a writer of pulp detective fiction (probably this is no accident; Bradbury himself was initially a writer of such fiction, and "The Small Assassin" was originally published in Dime Mystery, November 1946) known to the denizens of the seedy hotel he inhabits as Mr. Big! So far the dwarf's stories have not won him much recognition, but one character in the story, Aimee, at least thinks she understands his psyche. The dwarf comes every night after the crowds have dispersed to a cheap seaside carnival show to see himself in the mirror maze, in the thin mirror that makes him appear normal. Ordinarily, the mirror maze is an attraction because it offers grossly misrepresented images of the body. It is a thrill momentarily to see one's body image initially distorted and then returned to normalcy. We know it is an illusion limited by the mirror's frame. But Mr. Big's body is also distorted in reality. He is described as a "dark-eyed, dark-haired, ugly man who has been locked in a winepress, squeezed and wadded down and down, fold on fold, agony on agony, until a bleached, outraged mass is left. . . ." If the mirror distorts reality into grotesque fantasy for most people, it corrects a distorted reality for Mr. Big. It is the object around which the paradoxes of narcissism revolve in the story.
Two other characters are involved in this story, and they represent opposite attitudes toward the human need for fantasy. The owner of the mirror maze, Ralph, is completely cynical about human nature. When asked why people want to ride the roller coaster, he replies that people want to die, and the roller coaster is the handiest thing to dying there is. But Ralph is something of a voyeur, for he spies on his customers. He takes his neighbor Aimee, who runs the hoop circus and whom he has been trying to seduce, back behind a partition where they can see Mr. Big dance and pirouette and wink before the thin mirror. She, however, only feels sorry for the dwarf. And when she finds out to her surprise that he is indeed an author, she reads some passages she especially admires to Frank, who jealously responds by asking her why Mr. Big is not, then, rich and famous. This leads Aimee to speculate that perhaps what Mr. Big needs is something to boost his ego, to give him the courage to try and sell his stories to quality magazines. She speculates about what effect having a private mirror all for himself would have on Mr. Big: "A mirror for your room where you can hide away with the big reflection of yourself, shining, and write stories and stories, never going out into the world unless you had to."
Aimee wonders whether this all-of-a-piece illusion would help his writing or hurt it, and this is the story's connection with the Freudian aesthetic of fantasy. The mirror under such conditions would be an ideal place where narcissistic and pleasurable representations of the ego could be indulged in without shame or disguise, no public need for the softening of fantasy being required. However, the stories that Mr. Big currently writes, of which we are given a small sampling, are stories that have a dwarf and murderer as anti-hero, a victim of his parents' "psychosis" in having raised him in a doll's house until their death, never telling him of the real world outside in which he will be a freak. Would the ideal mirror destroy the need for such fictional disguises or increase them? This is an undecidable question, framed within a frame mirroring an abyss: are Mr. Big's stories really disguises, or are they not really displays of narcissism, since most readers do not in fact know that the author is a dwarf? In essence, the story deconstructs, through repetition and reversal, the central notions of the Freudian theory of art that links authorial fantasy through fiction to reality and the social world. What is fiction and what is reality in the mirror maze anyway? Is this the source of the dwarf's creativity?
While the story frames these questions, it provides no means to answer them, for soon, out of malicious jealousy of the dwarf's stories, which Aimee has read and interpreted to him. Frank meanly switches the thin mirror with one which makes even normal-sized people seem frightfully small. Needless to say, this is a horrible humiliation to the dwarf, who can only scream when he sees himself crushed and wadded down even further in it. His body has become unimaginably fantastic. But fiction seems to mirror reality at the end when the dwarf runs off with a gun stolen from the shooting gallery to become the murderer about which he has written. Our last glimpse of the mirror maze is paradoxically a "true" reflection of Frank grossly distorted in one of his own mirrors, "a horrid ugly little man with a pale squashed face under an ancient straw hat." Ralph, who cruelly wanted to destroy other people's illusions about themselves, is shown to himself as he really is by the illusions of his own mirror maze, an image which cannot help but remind us, incidentally, of the dwarf that sat on Zarathustra's shoulders, mocking him with the spirit of gravity (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Kaufmann, Third Part, "On the Vision and the Riddle").
As a closing and as a kind of summary of Bradbury's fantasy, an early story of his, which is also one of the longest he has written, "Pillar of Fire" (in S is for Space, comprising forty pages, originally published in Planet Stories, 1948), is a good vehicle. In this story the Apollonian sun of rationality and the Dionysian dark side of the mind encounter one another again, only this time the encounter takes the form of a bitter struggle that ends in the death of the imagination. Bradbury deemed this story important enough to rework it into a successful play because of this theme, and indeed the play is something of a warning about the death of the imagination in contemporary technological society, the closest Bradbury ever comes to tragic representation. According to Bradbury, it was a rehearsal for Fahrenheit 451 [Pillar of Fire and Other Plays,] Introduction). But the protagonists are reverse images of each other, of Montag, who is trying to stop burning, and of Lantry, the last dead man "reborn" into an antiseptically clean, Utopian society that has destroyed his grave (and all other graveyards on Earth), who is obsessed to the point of extreme paranoia with burning down this society. It is more of a parallel that both stories still involve the suppression of works of fantastic fiction, but still Bradbury's protagonist in "Pillar of Fire" realizes only belatedly that he is the last person remembering all the old books of fantasy and imagination, and that with his death, they die also. Besides, as we will see in detail in a moment, William Lantry is essentially motivated, until almost the end of the story, by the spirit of revenge, something Nietzsche hoped to deliver man from (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Kaufmann, Second Part, "On the Tarantulas").
The plot is fantastic in construction, made so that readers hesitate between a supernatural and a scientific explanation of the uncanny events that happen when William Lantry is reborn in the year of 2349 A.D. Is Lantry really one of the walking dead, or is he an extraordinary case of suspended animation? Appropriately, the answer to this question (the former) is set in Salem where the last graveyard had been preserved as a tourist attraction by the government as a reminder of a barbaric custom. Now this graveyard is scheduled by the government for destruction as well. The government seeks thereby to make its control over the world of darkness, death, decay (and of all writers whose imaginations are attracted to it) absolute. The society Lantry is reborn into is, therefore, an extreme Apollonian culture, as is evident from the symbolism it employs. It worships the sun of rationality, emblazoned everywhere on public buildings. The dead of this society are burned in "Incinerators," which are warm cozy temples where soothing music plays and the fear of death is abolished through ceremonies that deify fire. As Lantry watches, slowly the golden coffins of the dead roll in covered with sun symbols, and after a brief ceremony, they are cast into a flue. On the altar are written the words "We that are born of the sun return to the sun," a fantastic reversal of the words normally spoken at Christian burials.
It is these gigantic Incinerators as myths of an Apollonian culture that Lantry wants to explode, and does, killing hundreds of people in the surrounding towns. He hopes thereby to effect a revolution, to win converts to his cause by creating more walking dead. But in this rational world the dead remain dead. Because they never believed in vampires while living, they cannot be resurrected by Lantry's magical procedures later (he draws symbols of long-dead sorcerers on the floor of the makeshift morgue and chants his own formulas, to no avail). Eventually, he is picked up by the authorities and is interrogated by a man named McClure who is this century's representative of psychoanalysis and something of a detective as well. McClure tries to analyze Lantry's mortified behavior, his paleness and lack of breath, as a self-induced psychosis but is himself slowly unnerved when he finds that Lantry is the real thing, one of the walking dead. Lantry is a logical impossibility to a mind such as McClure's. Lantry is, therefore, condemned to a second death by the State, a death which is the death of every fantastic writer in history, since only Lantry remembers them. If this were a Christian fantasy in the mode of J. R. R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis, the evident compassion of McClure for his victim would have resulted in his conversion to the imagination at the end, thereby saving it. But no, Bradbury really wants us to feel the shock of seeing the imagination die forever, and on this level of response, the story is quite effective. The second death, the death of the imagination, becomes more terrible than real death.
The ontological and linguistic paradoxes at play in the story echo Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," in which the mesmerized Valdemar awakens at a certain point to proclaim "I am dead," and then quickly decomposes. In Bradbury's story, however, Lantry really is dead but thinks of the people who inhabit this utopia without imagination as completely dead, as deader than he ever was, because they do not know that their culture is founded on the primordial difference between light and dark, between life and death. According to Jacques Derrida, Poe's story can be read as as a deconstruction of the phenomenological notion that I am present to myself in the utterance of meaning, since the subject of the utterance "I am dead," (the "I" that says this sentence) seems to be both self-aware and unaware at the same time, or rather what Valdemar is aware of in stating the sentence is that he is dead and thus paradoxically unaware [Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, The Structuralist Controversy, 1972]. A similar argument could be made about Bradbury's story, since it plays with the idea (foremost in the structuralist study of the fantastic done by Tzvetan Todorov) that fantastic literature arises from the absence of a referent in the real world: "Labels without referents you cry! . . . Frankly, I don't believe in you either," says Lantry with scorn as he thinks of the violence done already to works of the imagination by this society, which has chosen to live without the "silly" word "vampire" and about the violence it wants to do to him.
Yet there is an intensity to this story that goes quite beyond the play of "signifires" (pun intended) and linguistic representations. The fantastic may arise from language, as Todorov argues, but "Pillar of Fire" also provides a good example of the ways in which Bradbury's fantasy direct investments of the social field of the sort Deleuze and Guattari describe in their book on politics and the unconscious [Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 1977]. Polemically, Deleuze and Guattari are concerned with demolishing Freud's representation of the unconscious as a private theatre of dire family secrets, which they claim is absurd, and opening it to what they call the delirium of desiring-machines as the general matrix of all social investments. According to them, this experience of delirium has two major poles of investment: a paranoiac fascisizing (fascisant) type that invests the formation of a central sovereignty, a State, and a second schizo-revolutionary pole that follows the lines of the escape of desire, that invests only in multiplicities or cracks in the walls of the State and that thereby causes flows to move (a perfect illustration of their thesis is the recent fantastic film, Pink Floyd's The Wall ).
Instead of a linguistic structure, Deleuze and Guattari find the unconscious to be a kind of Nietzschean flux, manifesting astonishing oscillations from one pole of delirium to the other. In their view, it is not Oedipal structures, the Name of the Father, which is invested by the unconscious, but every name in history ("I am every name in history," proclaimed Nietzsche in a letter written just before his collapse into madness; see ). Fortunately, they give many literary examples to support their argument, drawing frequently on fantasy and horror writers and on Utopian novels (Bradbury is discussed, but not the story we are analyzing here). They make the interesting assertion that it is the destiny of American literature to be initially a crossing of limits and frontiers, causing deterritorialized flows of desire to circulate, only to recode this flow along the shores of moralizing, Puritan, and familialist territories. The classic case seems to be Jack Kerouac, who initially took such a nomadic voyage out (Cf. On the Road),but who ended by affirming the American flag (against the radicals of the 1970's such as Alan Ginsberg), the dream of a Great America, and the racial superiority of his French Breton ancestors.
However this may be and however much we may want to disagree with them about the political significance of desire in American fiction, Bradbury's "Pillar of Fire" clearly invests the social field in a direct manner and is constituted by a delirious oscillation between the two poles of the unconscious that Deleuze and Guattari describe. But Bradbury's fantasy goes in which a direction opposite to that which they ascribe to American literature, from paranoia to schizophrenia (these terms are not to be understood in the clinical sense, but only designate different investments of the social field). What follows is an instance of the first type, the paranoiac pole, which emerges from what they call, in their often bizarre critical vocabulary, the body without organs. The body without organs is the socius initially inhabited only by molecular desiring-machines on its surface:
Hatred was a blood in him, it went up down around and through, up down around and through. It was a heart in him, not beating, true, but warm. He was—what? Resentment. Envy. They said he could not lie any longer in his coffin in the cemetery. He had wanted to. He had never had any particular desire to get up and walk around. It had been enough, all these centuries, to lie in the deep box and feel, but not feel the ticking of the million insect watches in the earth around, the moves of worms like so many deep thoughts in the soil.
But then they had come and said, "Out you go and into the furnace!" And that is the worst thing you can say to any man. You cannot tell him what to do. . . . They had given birth to him with all their practices and ignorances.
Lantry arises from the catatonic body without organs because a fascisizing and sovereign State apparatus has selected him and subjected him to its will. His delirium, then (which intensifies in the passage I have omitted), begins as a direct investment of the social field. He was perfectly content to remain a body without organs himself, swarming with worms, bacilli, not feeling the ticking of the million insect watches (the desiring-machines) in the earth around him. But the fascisizing machine tears up the body of the earth, divides it up into new territories and structures. And so Lantry becomes a reactive paranoid, and this is exactly how Bradbury directs that the character should be played in the stage version of the story (Pillar of Fire and Other Plays, Introduction). Furthermore, according to Deleuze and Guattari, the political behavior of the paranoid consists in the organizing of masses and packs. He manipulates crowds; he opposes them to one another, maneuvers them. This is clearly what Lantry intends to do, hanging around the makeshift morgue where the dead bodies have been laid out in rows on the surface of the Earth, hoping to resurrect and to mobilize them into an army of the dead against the State which has banished the word dead from the language.
But in the end, when he realizes that his war machine had no hope of ever materializing and when McClure tells him that he will die of loneliness anyway because he is a freak, one of a kind, we pass to the schizophrenic pole. The passage accompanying this transfiguration is too lengthy to quote in full, but after saying that he is Poe and Bierce and a host of other fantastic creatures besides, Lantry goes on to add that
I am a mask, a skull mask behind an oak tree on the last day of October. I am a poison apple bobbing in a water tub for child noses to bump at, for child teeth to snap . . . I am a black candle lighted before an inverted cross. I am a coffin lid, a sheet with eyes, a foot-step on a black stairwell. I am Dunsany and Machen and I am the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I am the Monkey's Paw and I am the Phantom Rickshaw. I am the Cat and the Canary, the Gorilla, the Bat. I am the ghost of Hamlet's father on the castle wall.
The full list contains almost every name in the literary history of the fantastic, and the Name of the Father (Hamlet's father on the castle wall; Bradbury had told us how much he has learned from Shakespeare) is just another name among many. In addition, schizophrenic death affirms a host of depersonalized part-objects and intensities as well which connect the unauthorized flows of desire to organs and desiring-machines (the apple and the child's teeth which bite it). Through his masks, Lantry affirms a multiplicity of identities in the true Dionysian manner of The Halloween Tree. However, Lantry's desire flows outside the structures of the State with no apparent desire to return and be represented in it (as in Bradbury's House of Haunts). As a schizo-revolutionary, Lantry knows that escape is still possible (he had wanted to escape to Mars, where tombs still existed), even at this extreme point. Withdrawal, saying I am not of your kind, of the superior Apollonian race, but one who belongs eternally to the inferior race, the freaks, sweeps away the social covering on leaving, or at least can cause a piece of the system to get lost in the shuffle. What matters is to break through the wall, to make society afraid again (afraid, it seems, of the body without organs, which is, according to Deleuze and Guattari, the model of the death of the imagination, if not the experience of it). In this, Bradbury and his antihero, William Lantry, succeed.
Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608
Greenberg, Martin Harry, and Joseph D. Olander, eds. Ray Bradbury. Edinburgh: Paul Harris Publishing, 1980, 248 p.
Collection of essays by noted critics addressing Bradbury's major works, in addition to his style, themes, influences, and attitudes concerning religion and technology.
Guffey, George R. "The Unconscious, Fantasy, and Science Fiction: Transformations in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Lem's Solaris" In Bridges to Fantasy, pp. 142-59. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.
Compares Bradbury's Martian Chronicles to Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, concluding that "both incorporate significant amounts of dreamlike and mythlike" transformations.
Huntington, John. "An Economy of Reason: The Motives of the Technocratic Hero." In Rationalizing Genius, pp. 69-93. London: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
In a section entitled "Mars Is Heaven!", Huntington considers this Bradbury story atypical of the science fiction genre because of its relaxed treatment of scientific thought, but finds the story's emotional content satisfying.
Jacobs, Robert. "The Writer's Digest Interview: Bradbury." In Writer's Digest 56, No. 2 (February 1976): 18-25.
Insightful interview in which Bradbury discusses why, how, and about what he writes, focusing in particular on his place in the science fiction genre.
Johnson, Wayne L. Ray Bradbury. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1980, 173 p.
Provides a thorough thematic discussion of Bradbury's fiction.
Kagle, Steven E. "Homage to Melville: Ray Bradbury and the Nineteenth-Century American Romance." In The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, pp. 279-89. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Compares Bradbury's writing to that of Herman Melville, asserting that Bradbury's literary method of internal exploration presents a romantic view of the twentieth century.
Miller, Calvin. "Ray Bradbury: Hope in a Doubtful Age." In Reality and the Vision, pp. 92-101. Dallas: World Publishing, 1990.
Noted fantasy author Calvin Miller studies the spiritual aspects of Bradbury's work within a Christian framework, and lays claim to four reasons why he reads Bradbury's short fiction: to celebrate art, to broaden our understanding, to escape the heaviness of the moment, and to believe in a better world.
Mogen, David. Ray Bradbury. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986, 186 p.
Solid introduction to Bradbury's life, career, and major works of fiction.
Moskowitz, Sam. "Ray Bradbury." In Seekers of Tomorrow: Masters of Modern Science Fiction, pp. 352-73. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, Inc., 1966.
Biocritical examination of Bradbury's short fiction.
Sullivan, Anita T. "Ray Bradbury and Fantasy." English Journal 61, No. 9 (December 1972): 1309-314.
Distinguishes between instances of horror and fantasy in Bradbury's short fiction.
Touponce, William F. "The Existential Fabulous: A Reading of Ray Bradbury's The Golden Apples of the Sun'." Mosaic VIII, No. 3-4 (Spring/Summer 1980): 203-18.
Studies mythopoetic elements in Bradbury's "The Golden Apples of the Sun," arguing that "Bradbury has given us a fable of modern consciousness which often forgets . . . its Promethean debt to the unconscious."
——. "Some Aspects of Surrealism in the Work of Ray Bradbury." Extrapolation 25, No. 3 (Fall 1984): 228-38.
Examines surrealist elements in Bradbury's works, particularly in "The Rocket Man."
Valis, Noël M. "The Martian Chronicles and Jorge Luis Borges." Extrapolation 20, No. 1 (Spring 1979): 50-9.
Compares Bradbury's themes of identity, personality, and time in The Martian Chronicles to those of modern Latin American writing as typified by Jorge Luis Borges.
Additional coverage of Bradbury's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Authors & Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 15; Authors in the News, Vols. 1, 2; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1968-1988; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 2, 30; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 3, 10, 15, 42, 98; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 2, 8; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British; Discovering Authors: Canadian; Discovering Authors: Most-Studied Authors Module; Discovering Authors: Novelists Module; Discovering Authors: Popular Fiction and Genre Authors Module; Major 20th-century Writers; Something about the Author, Vols. 11, 64; and World Literature Criticism.
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