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Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

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(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Douglas Spaulding and Leonard Spaulding) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, playwright, essayist, and author of children's books.

See also Ray Bradbury Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 10, 15, 53.

Regarded as an important figure in the development of science fiction, Bradbury is noted as one of the first authors to employ a cerebral, elevated writing style—rather than the more common sensational style—in works dealing with science fiction concepts. 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 that 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. It has been noted, however, that Bradbury, perceives life, even at its most mundane, with a childlike wonder and awe that charges his work with a fervent affirmation of humanity.

Biographical Information

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, he 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, his macabre tales regularly appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask Amazing Stories, and Weird Tales. Weird Tales 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 house 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 stories; the resulting book, Dark Carnival (1947), collects Bradbury's early fantasy tales. Due to the success of this first collection, his stories were soon published in such mainstream periodicals as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Yorker; in these publications, his work reached a wider audience. A prolific author, Bradbury has published numerous short story collections, 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 fiction writer. Sometimes his works cross literary forms. 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 (1955)—have been compared to those of Edgar Allan Poe because of their grotesque and sometimes horrific story lines. “Skeleton,” 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 are 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. Most of Bradbury's fiction is issue-oriented as he frequently addresses such thematic concerns as racism, censorship, religion, and technology, often infusing the text with authorial commentary.

Critical Reception

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 science fiction, often reflect poor scientific knowledge and, at times, an aversion toward technology. Other commentators defended Bradbury's perspective, asserting that he was more interested in the consequences of technology on human beings than the technology itself. Some of his detractors have pointed to inconsistencies within Bradbury's text. More forgiving reviewers have excused any oddities in Bradbury's short stories as imaginative and inventive. Yet by far the greatest complaint of Bradbury is that his fiction is overly sentimental and didactic. Despite this charge, most critics have expressed appreciation for Bradbury's poetic prose that underscores basic human values and questions the wisdom of purely technological progress.

Principal Works

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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

A Memory of Murder 1984

The Toynbee Convector 1988

*Quicker Than the Eye 1996

Driving Blind 1997

#Ray Bradbury: Collected Stories [illustrated by Rob Court] 2001

One More for the Road: A New Story Collection 2002

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [adaptor; from his story “The Foghorn”] (screenplay) 1953

It Came from Outer Space (screenplay) 1953

Switch on the Night (juvenilia) 1955

Moby Dick [adaptor; from the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville] (screenplay) 1956

Icarus Montgolfier Wright [with George C. Johnson] (screenplay) 1962

Something Wicked This Way Comes (novel) 1962

Something Wicked his Way Comes [adaptor; from his novel of the same title] (play) 1962

Way in the Middle of the Air (play) 1962

The Anthem Sprinters and Other Antics (play) 1963

The World of Ray Bradbury (play) 1964

The Day It Rained Forever (play) 1966

Leviathan 99 (play) 1966

The Pedestrian (play) 1966

Dandelion Wine [adaptor; from his short story collection of the same title] (play) 1967

Christus Apollo (play) 1969

Old Ahab's Friend, and Friend to Noah, Speaks His Piece: A Celebration (poetry) 1971

The Halloween Tree (juvenilia) 1972

Madrigals for the Space Age (play) 1972

Picasso Summer [under pseudonym Douglas Spaulding; with Ed Weinberger] (screenplay) 1972

The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit and Other Plays (play) 1972

When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed: Celebrations for Almost Any Day in the Year (poetry) 1973

Zen and the Art of Writing (nonfiction) 1973

That Son of Richard III: A Birth Announcement (poetry) 1974

Pillar of Fire and Other Plays for Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond Tomorrow (play) 1975

That Ghost, That Bride of Time: Excerpts from a Play-in-Progress (play) 1976

The Martian Chronicles [adaptor; from his short story collection of the same title] (play) 1977

Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns (poetry) 1977

The Bike Repairman (poetry) 1978

The Mummies of Guanajuato (nonfiction) 1978

Twin Hieroglyphs That Swim the River Dust (poetry) 1978

The Aqueduct (poetry) 1979

This Attic Where the Meadow Greens (poetry) 1979

The Author Considers His Resources (poetry) 1979

Beyond 1984: Remembrance of Things Future (nonfiction) 1979

Fahrenheit 451 [adaptor; from his short story collection of the same title] (play) 1979

The Last Circus (poetry) 1980

The Haunted Computer and the Android People (poetry) 1981

The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury (poetry) 1982

Something Wicked This Way Comes [based on his novel of same title] (screenplay) 1983

Forever and Earth (poetry) 1984

Death Is a Lonely Business (novel) 1985

A Device Out of Time (play) 1986

The April Witch (juvenilia) 1987

Death Has Lost Its Charm For Me (poetry) 1987

Fever Dreams (juvenilia) 1987

The Foghorn (juvenilia) 1987

The Other Foot (juvenilia) 1987

The Veldt (juvenilia) 1987

Falling Upward (play) 1988

A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities (novel) 1990

On Stage: A Chrestomathy of His Plays (play) 1991

Green Shadows, White Whale (novel) 1992

Yestermorrows; Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures (novel) 1993

Dogs Think That Every Day Is Christmas (poetry) 1997

With Cat for Comforter [with Louise Max] (poetry) 1997

Ahmed and the Oblivious Machines (juvenilia) 1998

From the Dust Returned: A Family Remembrance (novel) 2001

*These titles are sometimes considered novels.

†These titles are intended for children.

‡This title contains The Golden Apples of the Sun and Medicine for Melancholy.

#This title contains “The Other Foot,” “The April Witch,” and “The Veldt.”

John B. Rosenman (essay date 1978)

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SOURCE: Rosenman, John B. “The Heaven and Hell Archetype in Faulkner's ‘That Evening Sun’ and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.South Atlantic Bulletin 43, no. 2 (1978): 12-16.

[In the following essay, Rosenman finds parallels between Faulkner's story “That Evening Sun” and Bradbury's novella That Dandelion Wine, particularly the emphasis of heaven and hell in their work.]

Faulkner's “That Evening Sun” (1931) and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (1957) share an archetypal pattern that Maud Bodkin described in 1934. In her pioneer study, Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, Psychological Studies of Imagination, she refers to a “pattern” of the “Heaven and Hell Archetype” in which Satan struggles “upwards from his tremendous cavern below the realm of Chaos, to waylay the flower-like Eve in her walled Paradise and make her an inmate of his Hell, even as Pluto rose from beneath the earth to carry off Proserpine from her flowery meadow.”1 As we shall see, both writers emphasize a hell (for Faulkner it is a “ditch,” for Bradbury, a “ravine”) that is inhabited by a devil figure who threatens a queenlike Eve in the warm security of her home. Considered collectively, these mythic and other correspondences between the two works reveal much about how literary minds, apparently working independently, can reshape archetypal materials in similar ways.

As symbolic hells, Faulkner's “ditch,” which appears also in The Sound and the Fury, and Bradbury's “ravine” are dramatized as dark and (especially in Bradbury) as mysterious and malignantly alive. Both exert a primal, terrifying force and exude an ominous menace that pervades the works with an air of expectancy and suspense. In “That Evening Sun,” the ditch is a racial boundary that divides Jefferson's white and black worlds. The white Compson children are not allowed to enter it without an adult. In Dandelion Wine, the ravine divides Green Town into “halves” and separates civilization from an encroaching wilderness. Suffused with “a danger that was old a billion years ago,” the ravine gnaws and gradually erodes the town, stalking it like some primeval jungle monster that slowly swallows it alive.2 Understandably, the Spaulding children are not permitted to enter it at night.

When it comes to the women, such resemblances between the two works seem to stop. Lavinia Nebbs, the “prettiest maiden lady in town” (p. 165), does resemble “the flower-like Eve” spoken of by Bodkin, but the Negro laundress and prostitute Nancy in “That Evening Sun” is neither a maiden nor beautiful. However, in “That Evening Sun,” we have an Eve or queen whom Nancy creates as a symbol of herself. Trying to keep the Compson children with her in her warm cabin so that her husband won't enter and kill her, Nancy, who had earlier crossed the ditch to get to her house, tells them a story about a queen who has “to cross the ditch” where a “bad man” is “hiding,” in order “to get into her house quick and bar the door.”3

Lavinia Nebbs must do exactly the same thing. Descending into the ravine at night, she must cross through it to the safety of her home on the other side, where she can “bar” her door. Like Nancy's cabin, which is brightly lit by a lamp and has a fire in the hearth, her home is a place of refuge. To her, it is “the really good warm place, the only place to be” (p. 176). During her passage she is terrified that the Lonely One will seize her and strangle her as he has done to other young women.

Nancy, in comparison, is tormented both by the Compson children, whom she calls “little devils” for “chunking” rocks at her house (p. 290), and by her husband Jesus. Jesus is as Satanic a figure as the Lonely One. According to Nancy, he had told her she had “done woke up the devil in him” (p. 295). Nancy's sin is that she has become pregnant through her prostitution, apparently by some white man. Possibly the man responsible is the deacon of the Baptist church named Stovall who had earlier abused her.

Significantly, the name Jesus has more than one ironic meaning.4 Because Jesus is a black man in a white society that often fears and hates blacks, and because he has threatened Nancy, his name suggests the Anti-christ. Also, it hints at Nancy's loss of Jesus both as a husband and as a savior, and at a symbolic loss of Heaven as well. Again, it implies that despite her trials, she still possesses a simple religious faith the white aristocrats lack. Unlike Mr. Compson who scornfully says “Ah, damnation” to the notion that Jesus is hiding nearby, and who states, “There's not a soul in sight” in the ditch (pp. 307–308), Nancy believes or “feels” Jesus is there and is, as far as she is concerned, omnipotent. Her conviction that Jesus' coming is imminent and that she is “hellborn” and “going back where I come from” (p. 298), seems to be justified not only because it is compelling but by two other considerations. One is the “sign” which Nancy says Jesus has left her of his intentions. This sign is a “hog-bone, with blood meat still on it” (p. 307), which Faulkner may have intended as a demonic parody of the Communion wafer. It is, however, possible that Nancy has invented the hog-bone to keep Mr. Compson from leaving her alone. The other consideration is that Faulkner symbolizes Nancy's descent into hell by having the popper she uses to make popcorn fall into the fire.

Like the Lonely One, therefore, Jesus' proper realm is in darkness beneath the surface of the earth, but we don't know for certain if he rises like Pluto to carry Nancy off. The story leaves us with the feeling he does, for it ends with Nancy sitting alone by the fire in her house, waiting for the husband she knows is lurking outside in the ditch “where the moonlight and the shadows tangled” (p. 309). The Lonely One, in turn, apparently does ascend from his nether regions, with disastrous consequences to himself. Violating the “walled Paradise” of Lavinia's living room, he is stabbed to death by her.

Faulkner's and Bradbury's hells have mythological, metaphysical, and psychological implications. Most obvious, perhaps, is that they resemble the caverns, abysses, pits, and underworlds found in Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Poe and others and suggest much about how man views creation and his own lost innocence. The fact, for example, that each divides a town in two implies a dualistic vision of the universe in which the forces of darkness forever wage war against the forces of good. In Christian terms this view is postlapsarian, but from the broader standpoint reflected in everything from Greek myths to fairy tales, it is archetypal.

What Faulkner's and Bradbury's hells convey most intensely is the horror of cosmic aloneness. Like Pip in Moby-Dick, who is stranded at sea and who is never the same afterward, characters like Nancy in “That Evening Sun” and Lavinia Nebbs and Tom Spaulding in Dandelion Wine are forced to experience the mind and spirit-crushing revelation that they are “Alone in the universe” (Dandelion Wine, p. 43). Bradbury, in this regard, describes his ravine in archetypal, Jungian terms as the locus for the fears of the collective unconscious. Like the “secret damp ravines” in “a million small towns … all over the world,” it is a place where “Life” is a “horror … at night, when at all sides sanity, marriage, children, happiness” are “threatened by an ogre called Death” (p. 43).

“Know Thyself”: the injunction inscribed on the oracle at Delphi is also important in understanding the mythic structure found in Faulkner and Bradbury. For, if man is alone, he is at the same time alone with himself. Who or what am I? This mystery, although not consciously explored by Nancy and Lavinia, is of particular relevance to them because both are faced with a return to the primal depths of their beings, their own hearts of darkness. Lavinia, for one, makes a night journey downward to confront the secret fears, desires, and irrational impulses concealed within the subliminal recesses of her soul. A thirty-three year old virgin who, a friend senses, “doesn't want to live any more” (p. 170), she deliberately crosses the ravine at night where she subconsciously hopes to find the Lonely One, her first and only lover. And Nancy, as suggested by her failure to bar her door and by her dolorous “I going back where I come from” (p. 298), appears to be partially drawn to the horrors of Jesus' retribution.5

The similarities between “That Evening Sun” and Dandelion Wine raise the possibility that Bradbury was influenced by Faulkner, especially when we consider further that each work ends with the symbol of a setting sun, conveys a distrust of machines and modernism, and involves the theme of initiation (as it relates to Quentin Compson and the Spaulding brothers). However, despite such additional parallels, it still appears that Bradbury wrote Dandelion Wine independently of Faulkner. For one thing, a setting sun and the theme of initiation are widespread in literature, and a critical outlook on technological “progress” pervades not only both authors' works but many others as well. More significant, though, is the fact that there was, as Bradbury indicates in his introduction to Dandelion Wine, a ravine and a Lonely One in his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois.6 While not eliminating the possibility of Faulkner's influence, this last fact does vitiate it.

Still, the question remains: why are there such striking parallels between the two works? Part of the answer is that Bradbury's style of poetic fantasy seems, and often is, so richly allusive. Marvin E. Mengeling, in what remains virtually the only significant article on Dandelion Wine, suggests a host of influences: Plato, Shakespeare, Dickens, Whittier, Poe, Melville (especially Moby-Dick), Twain (Huckleberry Finn), and Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter).7 But even more relevant is that both men were influenced directly or indirectly by the heaven and hell archetype Bodkin cites in Greek, Christian, and other myths.

Aspects of this pattern can be found also in fairy tales or tales of childhood, and it is in their princess and ogre filled atmosphere that we find the most clearly identifiable source for Nancy's and Lavinia's troubles. The story told by Nancy is itself pure fairy tale, and as princesslike Lavinia descends into the ravine she recalls an old childhood “ghost story” about a “horrid dark” man who enters “your house” and mounts the steps toward “your bed” (p. 172). Dandelion Wine, indeed, abounds with such fairy-tale staples as a girl dressed all in “snow white,” “Snow Queens,” witches, magic spells, and an old woman whose former beauty, a “white swan,” has long since been devoured by the “dragon” of age. This last character elegizes herself as “the princess in the crumbled tower … waiting for her Prince Charming” (p. 143): the one archetypal ingredient which Dandelion Wine and “That Evening Sun” both lack.


  1. London: Oxford University Press (1971), pp. 97–98.

  2. Dandelion Wine (New York: Bantam, 1976), p. 16. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited within the text.

  3. “That Evening Sun,” from Collected Stories of William Faulkner (New York: Random House, 1950), pp. 302–303. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited within the text.

  4. For a discussion of Jesus' name, which Faulkner changed to Jubah in the version of the story published in The American Mercury in 1931, see Leo J. M. Manglaviti's “Faulkner's ‘That Evening Sun’ and Mencken's ‘Best Editorial Judgement’,” Americian Literature, 43 (1972), 649–654, and Kenneth G. Johnston's “The Year of Jubilee: Faulkner's ‘That Evening Sun’,” American Literature, 46 (1974), 93–100. Manglaviti establishes that the name Juba or Jubah, like the name Jesus as it is used in “That Evening Sun,” “links the black man with the ideas of bondage and freedom.” He also notes that “juba” means “ghost” (p. 96) and implies Jubah's ghostlike presence in the story. May we not go one step further and ask if Faulkner intended it to suggest a “holy” and “unholy” ghostlike presence?

  5. Scottie Davis shares this interpretation but unfortunately goes so far as to describe Nancy as “a vindictive, masochistic, irresponsible martyr” who “throughout the story … continually wants to hurt herself.” Her overstatements are refuted by Sally Bethea, who agrees with most critics that Nancy is the victim more of racial injustice than of her character flaws. See, respectively, “Faulkner's Nancy: Racial Implications in ‘That Evening Sun’,” Notes on Mississippi Writers, 5 (1972), 30–32 and “Further Thoughts on Racial Implications in Faulkner's ‘That Evening Sun’,” Notes on Mississippi Writers, 6 (1974), 87–92.

  6. Interestingly enough, Bradbury had earlier transported the Lonely One to Mars as the spaceman Spender in “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” which he published in Thrilling Wonder Stories (1948) and later incorporated into The Martian Chronicles (1950). Angered by other spacemen's pollution and destruction of the Martian landscape, Spender kills several crewmen before letting himself be killed.

  7. “Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine: Themes, Sources, and Styles,” English Journal, 60 (1971), 883.

Noël M. Valis (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: Valis, Noë M. “The Martian Chronicles and Jorge Luis Borges.” Extrapolation 20, no. 1 (spring 1979): 50-9.

[In the following essay, Valis discusses Jorge Luis Borges's 1955 prologue to the Argentinean translation of The Martian Chronicles and its insights into Bradbury's work.]

It may, at first glance, seem somewhat incongruous to juxtapose Ray Bradbury's immensely popular Martian Chronicles (1950), with the presumably more arcane and erudite Argentinian master of the intellectual puzzle, Jorge Luis Borges. What, after all, do Ray Bradbury and Jorge Luis Borges have in common? One could, of course, remark in very general terms that both have been and are writers of fantasy, that both prefer the short-story format to any other genre, and that both are prolific, especially in penning prefaces and prologs, but having said this, one has not said too much. There is, however, one specific connection they share—a prolog that Borges wrote in 1955 for an Argentinian translation of The Martian Chronicles.1

What Borges has to say about The Martian Chronicles is, I think, interesting in its own right, but is also provides us another view of Bradbury's masterpiece, a view which, oddly enough, draws the American writer's work much closer to contemporary and even avant-garde literary preoccupations that one might expect. I refer to two of the essential themes in The Martian Chronicles: first, identity and personality, and second, time. These two elements are constants not only in Bradbury's work, but in most of the writing produced in the last 15 years or so in modern Latin America. Now obviously, identity and time are not new themes, but the literary treatment and conceptualization of the two motifs that have appeared in such novels as José Donoso's Obscene Bird of Night (1970) and Carlos Fuente's A Change of Skin (1967) would not have been possible without the artistic precedent of Jorge Luis Borges. It is the Argentinian writer's obsession with personality as an unfixed, metamorphosing entity, and time as a highly subjective, even mythic, particle of a vast process we do not really understand and which may be only a dream anyway, that has revolutionized much of contemporary fiction.

I hasten to add that there is no question of literary influence, mutual or not, on the part of either Borges or Bradbury. In correspondence, the American artist has written: “I admire Borges, but have read little, sad to say.”2 And in the 1930s and early 1940s, when Historia universal de la infamia (1935) and Ficciones (1935–1944) came out, Borges could not have been reading any of the stories that comprise The Martian Chronicles, since they had not yet been published.3 So we return to Borges's prolog. I suspect that the pleasure Borges derived from the reading of The Martian Chronicles simply reinforced certain of his thematic preoccupations. Borges's past reading, curtailed now by his almost total blindness, has been rather staggering in its proportions and its scope, ranging from Old English poetry and Robert Louis Stevenson to G. K. Chesterton and Ray Bradbury; most of it, molded as it is by his own subjective twists and turns—that is, he sees in a book precisely what he wishes to see in it—has served as a kind of sympathetic complement to his own creativity. Who else, for instance, before Borges, found G. K. Chesterton so devilishly complex, or Edward (Rubaiyat) Fitzgerald's relationship with Omar odd, to say the least? These revelations may seem inconsequential at first, but wasn't it Borges who remarked that writers find or invent their own predecessors? And perhaps, in a metaphorical sense, we could even postulate that writers also discover their own disciples, or at any rate, wish they could claim them as their own literary offspring. The possibilities in this game of literary genealogy are many, perhaps infinite in Borges's eyes, because for the Argentinian literature is a game, the supreme roll of the dice and shuffle of the cards that allow the artist to play God and reinvent both words and worlds.

What does Borges have to say about The Martian Chronicles? Like most of his prologs, this one is lucid, elegant and free from padding. He begins on an erudite, lightly ironic tone, by noting some of the literary precedents to the modern sf genre, works such as Lucian of Samosata's True History, Johannes Kepler's Somnium Astronomicum and John Wilkins's Discovery of a World in the Moone. He then moves on to The Martian Chronicles, which he calls an “admirable example” of the genre, written in an “elegiac tone,” in which “we feel the gravitation, the fatigue, the vast and vague accumulation of the past.”4 More important, he asks himself why the book touches him, and he concludes that since all literature is symbolic, it is of no consequence whether the work is “fantastic” or “real” in its guise so long as the artist is capable of breathing life into those “few fundamental experiences.” Finally, Borges singles out two specific episodes of the Chronicles which appealed to him very much: “The Third Expedition” and “The Martian.” Of “The Third Expedition” he says: “Its horror (I suspect) is metaphysical; the uncertainty over the identity of the guests of Captain John Black uncomfortably insinuates that neither do we know who we are nor how our faces appear to God.”5 And of “The Martian,” he observes that it is a variation on the Proteus myth.

Even in this small piece, two of Borges's obsessions, time and identity, surface to remind us of his own creative work. One of his loveliest poems, “The Art of Poetry” (“Arte poética”) cleverly unifies both themes in the first stanza:

To look at the river made of time and water
And to remember that Time is another river,
To know that like the river we lose ourselves
And that our faces vanish like water.(6)

Borges takes an old image, the river of time, and renews it by juxtaposing the traditional metaphor with that of the dissolving personality or being. If time is a river and we are essentially made of time, then we too are like a river, liquid, unstable, and impermanent. Though the poem ostensibly is an Ars Poetica, creativity and personality are inseparable in Borges's work, so that the final stanza too is about art and being:

It [art] also is like the unending river
Which passes and remains and is the crystal of an unchanging
Yet inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
And is another, like the unending river.(7)

Permanent reality is, paradoxically, then, one of constant change; it is a “becoming” that is endless and protean.8

One of Borges's favorite variations of the kaleidoscopic personality is the theme of the Other; that is, the viewing of the Other as an element of one's own being and identity. The short prose piece, “Borges and I” (“Borges y yo”) is illustrative of that point: in it, the Argentinian makes the distinction between the literary Borges and the other Borges who merely witnesses the reputation of the public figure and who feels his being invaded by the same. In the end, he cannot be sure who is who, and for that reason he writes: “I don't know which of the two is writing this page.”9

This theme pursues Borges throughout his career, including his recent collection of short stories, The Book of Sand (El libro de arena, 1975), which contains a story titled “The Other” (“El otro”), in which the first person narrator (Borges himself) sits down on a bench facing the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and suddenly finds himself talking with another seated figure who turns out to be Jorge Luis Borges. “All this,” he says, “is a miracle and the miraculous is frightening.”10 What he means is that the dream has become reality, the impossible has become possible, all of which opens up an amazing number of possibilities, some of them rather awesome in portent.

The identification of the Other with the I is further elaborated in such short stories of the fantastic genre as “The House of Asterión” (“La casa de Asterión”), “Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829–1874)” (“Biografia de Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829–1874)”), “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” (“Tema del traidor y del héroe”), and “The Circular Ruins” (“Las ruinas circulares”). The minotaur Asterión, prisoner of the labyrinth, in the end, wonders if his “redeemer” is like himself, monstrous, yet human in nature. The pursuer, Tadeo Isidoro Cruz, finally realizes that the hunted man, the Argentinian hero Martin Fierro, is himself, and becomes the pursued. In another story, the hero is proved to be the traitor. And, in “The Circular Ruins,” the dreamer literally materializes his dreams, which are multiple and protean, only to discover that he too is merely another figment dreamed by someone else.

One more example of confused identity should be discussed: the early story, “Tom Castro, the Implausible Impostor” (“Tom Castro, el impostor inverosímil”), from the Universal History of Infamy (Historia universal de la infamia, 1935). Like the remaining six stories of this collection, “Tom Castro” is based on real events and personages, but is subtly metamorphosed by Borges's ironical and creative treatment into apparent fiction. In the case of Tom Castro, the reality is so incredible as to appear illusory. Arthur Orton, alias Tom Castro, was the principal figure in the Tichborne Claimant episode in the 1860s and 1870s. Castro/Orton, an obese, dull, and illiterate Cockney, claimed to be the lost-at-sea Sir Roger Tichborne, who was slim, elegant, and quick-witted; and worse still, Lady Tichborne was convinced Orton was her son. It was only after a lengthy and absurd trial that the contrary was proved.

Borges faithfully reproduces a number of the details given by the source he uses, the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Cambridge, 1911),11 condensing some details and omitting others, none of which are significant enough to repeat here. The most stimulating aspect of the story has to do with the curious relationship between Tom Castro, the impostor, and his Negro servant and accomplice, Bogle, who receives scant attention in the Encyclopedia Britannica. In Bogle, the Argentinian writer creates a manipulator of great craftiness and imagination who also, like Lady Tichborne in the obsession with her dead son, is monomaniacal in his dread of being killed in the streets by a vehicle. He is convinced a primitive and enigmatical god who pursues him indefatigably will conjure up this sacrificial death. But Bogle is even more fascinating as a Borgean character because he represents, metaphorically, Borges himself within the context of the story, for it is Bogle who actually creates the deceptive and unreal figure of Tom Castro-Sir Roger Tichborne. Just as Borges “creates” this implausible but true narration, so Bogle, within the tale, invents the imposter Tom Castro. Without Bogle, Tom Castro would be nothing. When Bogle dies in a street accident, as he predicted, Borges writes that “Tom Castro was the ghost of Tichborne, but he was a poor, pathetic ghost inhabited by Bogle's genius. When they told him that his servant had died, he collapsed.”12 Even then, Castro continues to lie about his identity, but contradicts himself in absurd statements and in the last days of his life, what begins as a defense ends as a confession. Castro's personality is as confusing to himself as it is to his listeners, for he has lost the Other, Bogle, who at least made sense of the problem (after all, he invented it). In sum, “Tom Castro” possesses a rich and complicated polarity in its movement between the real and the unreal.

What has all this to do with Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles? I think a closer examination of the two episodes that Borges singles out in his prolog, “The Third Expedition” and “The Martian,” is in order here. In “The Third Expedition,” Captain John Black and his crew represent the third, and still unsuccessful, attempt by Earth to settle on the planet Mars. They land in a Martian town which, to all appearances, is the exact equivalent of a traditional American town of the 1920s, a town much like Green Town, Illinois, in Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. The novelist even stresses the greenness of the grass, of leaded-glass windows, of branches, of a house; and one of the Martian characters declares that the Americans have reached Green Bluff, Illinois. In Dandelion Wine, green is good; it represents life, vitality, the sense of wonder, but here the color green will prove to be highly deceptive and, finally, evil.

The crew of the third expedition sees in this Martian town not only an archetypal vision of American life before the Depression but even precise reproductions of actual houses and human beings. Captain Black, for instance, sees his long-dead brother and parents and even his old house on Oak Knoll Avenue. There is a big turkey dinner that night, the victrola, cigar smoke afterward, and a gentle, perfumed evening, and it is all perfect this “amazing dream of reality.” “It had all been emotion,” thinks the captain.13 This analysis is correct: the members of the third expedition have projected their desires and feelings onto the landscape and beings of the Red Planet and have seen in them precisely what they wish to see. In that sense, it is a case of mass hypnosis and self-suggestion (and suggestibility), but the episode, in my view, is more than just a trick ending, i.e., the Martians posing as human beings and, then after the successful bluff (of Green Bluff, Illinois?), neatly dispatching the unsuspecting crew.

The explanations put forth to account for the existence of the town range from the most fantastic and deliberately cliché-ridden in sf to the highly rational. One crew member hypothesizes that the crew has gone back in time and that they are on Earth (shades of H. G. Wells); another suggests there were people in 1905 who secretly built a rocket and came to Mars (Jules Verne?). Another says that the earlier expeditions built Green Bluff and “by some vast crowd hypnosis … convince[d] everyone in a town this size that this really was Earth, not Mars at all” (p. 39). Ironically, this last suggestion offers a partial explanation of the events surrounding the third expedition and Green Bluff, but perhaps the real reason for the episode is not ultimately knowable.

Granted the Martians are clever enough to produce mass hypnosis and read minds and hearts' desires, but none of that is possible without the willing complicity of the future victims. And then, the Martians play out their roles of grieving relatives and friends even after they have done away with the crew members. The brass band plays mournfully, the mayor makes a sad speech, “his face sometimes looking like the mayor, sometimes looking like something else” (p. 47), and Captain Black's parents and brother are at the funeral and they cry, “their faces melting now from a familiar face into something else,” just as Grandpa and Grandma Lustig possess “faces shifting like wax …” (p. 48). The episode ends on a comic note, “The brass band, playing ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,’ marched and slammed back into town, and everyone took the day off” (p. 48). But the humorous final touch does not diminish the impact of the liquid personalities of the Martians or of the fact that, in the end, perhaps even they are unable to distinguish very clearly between one identity and another. And if this is the case for the Martians, what about the crew themselves?

Although Borges does not mention the episode of the fourth expedition, it also is a good example of the shifting of personalities, the fluidity of identity, for in it, one of the crew, Spender, a sensitive, intelligent individual, gradually feels the pull of the alien civilization and finally believes that he too is a Martian and therefore must protect his civilization against the encroaching Earthmen. After he kills some of the crew, “he almost fell,” writes Bradbury, “the physical reaction was so overwhelming. His face held an expression of one awakening from hypnosis, from a dream” (p. 60). As in Borges, the dream has been reality, the impossible made possible.

It is “The Martian,” however, which crystalizes the protean sense of individual identity in The Martian Chronicles. After most of the Martian population has been decimated by one of our milder diseases, the native race retreats and shows itself but rarely. On one of these infrequent outings, a Martian appears at the front door of a retired couple, the LaFarges, who lost their only son, Tom, years ago. The small figure in the dooryard appears unidentifiable until, trembling, old LaFarge says he looks like Tom. The LaFarges know he is a Martian and yet want him to be Tom also. “You're Tom and yet you're not,” says the old man, and the boy begs the couple to accept him as he is (p. 122). Bradbury seems to be suggesting that by not believing him to be Tom, the Martian's own reality might be destroyed, might be illusory. As it is, once he is out of sight of the LaFarges, another couple notices him and sees in him the drowned figure of their lost daughter Lavinia, so he becomes Lavinia. And so it continues.

The Martian never simply is what he is; he is always in the process of becoming something else. There is no permanence to his identity, for it is as fluid as the waters of the Martian canals through which he travels in his psychic journey from the LaFarges's place to the town where he meets with Lavinia's parents, the Spauldings. He is only a shadow, or as Bradbury writes, “the moonlit figure [who] drew into shadow, so there was no identity, only a voice” (p. 127). The Martian explains that he is not anyone, just himself, or whatever he is at the place he happens to be. He is other people's dreams and desires, and after all, “if you can't have the reality, a dream is just as good” (p. 127).

In the end, Tom/Lavinia/the Martian is pursued by a crowd of people, each of whom imagines him to be something different, “It was not Tom; it was only a running shape with a face like silver shining in the light of the globes clustered about the plaza. … The swift figure meaning everything to them, all identities, all persons, all names. … All down the way the pursued and the pursuing, the dream and the dreamers, the quarry and the hounds” (p. 129). And finally: “Before their eyes he changed. He was Tom and James and a man named Switchman, another named Butterfield. … He was melting wax shaping to their minds. They shouted, they pressed forward, pleading. He screamed, threw out his hands, his face dissolving to each demand” (p. 130). This is a splendid realization of the One becoming the Other, of the ambiguity of personality. Unlike Borges, who constructs intellectual, verbal games out of the concept, Bradbury possesses the ability to evoke in lyric terms the pathetic quality of this Heraclitean dream reality.

One more episode, not mentioned by Borges, should be examined before concluding this study, and that is the book's last chapter, which is called “The Million-Year Picnic.” Here, Earth has been destroyed and the last survivors of it have landed on Mars, which is empty and abandoned because everyone chose to return home to Earth when the final holocaust began. The father of the surviving family promises to show his children some real Martians despite the fact that the mother states the Martians are a dead race now. After the picnic, the father takes his family to the canal's edge to see the Martians, and then Bradbury writes:

“I've always wanted to see a Martian,” said Michael. “Where are they, Dad? You promised.”

“There they are,” said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down.

The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver.

The Martians were there—in the canal—reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad.

The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water ….

(p. 181)

Who, then, are the Martians? Why, we are. We are the Martians, and perhaps, Bradbury is implying, we always have been. Critics of The Martian Chronicles, and there have not been too many, have usually noted the contrast made between two opposing civilizations, ours and the Martians'.14 Our corrupted culture is generally juxtaposed to the higher, more ideal Martian society, but have not the Martians also used underhanded methods in “The Third Expedition” and other episodes? Most readers prefer to gloss over the deceit, treachery and even homicidal tendencies of the Martian civilization since it is eventually destroyed as a race, but, despite the more elevated attainments and nonmaterialistic attitudes of the Martians, they manifest much in common with us. And they even assume our guise when the situation calls for it.

While it is true that Earth's civilization is torn apart by war and base motivation, it is equally true that the final surviving family (and the strong possibility of another one coming along) seems to suggest a certain guarded optimism on Bradbury's part. The original Martian race is gone, but perhaps it existed as a glimpse into our possible future. If we are now the Martians, the Other, then once more the dream is made reality, and the impossible possible. Or perhaps it is because, as in Borges, “the world [is] dream, [and] the real and the dreamed are one?”15

If what I have just said is translated into temporal terms, then it seems to me we are talking about two kinds of time: dream time and future time. I do not deny the weight of the past, which Borges sees in The Martian Chronicles, but even when the crew members of the third expedition remember their past and think they see it resuscitated in Green Bluff, Mars, it is merely a subjective, wished for time: it is, in essence, the atemporality of dreams. Bradbury's Martians are not manufactured out of the scientific paraphernalia of sf;16 they are the oneiric inventions of an innately poetic writer.

It is also significant, I think, that in “The Martian,” “The Million-Year Picnic” and the book as a whole, an essential part of the setting is the canal. In “The Martian,” the LaFarge family “float[s] up the canal under the evening stars” while the old man wonders who he is that “assumes the voice and face of memory” (p. 124). And it is at the canal landing that the face of the Martian begins to melt, “his face all faces,” and the rain falls upon his dissolving visage. It is, again, the waters of the canal that reflect the faces of the new Martians, the last Earth family. As in Borges, Bradbury seems to be reinventing the image of time-the-river (without directly saying so); if so, in the first instance of “The Martian,” we experience, once more, the Heraclitean time-of-becoming, fluid as water, and in the second, time-as-a-dream image, i.e., the Martians staring back at us. In either case, despite the careful placing of The Martian Chronicles within the chronological dates of 1999 to 2026, reality, whether it is in the shape of a protean Martian or in the rippling reflection of the new Martians, is not what one expects it to be, for in both Borges and Bradbury, things are not what they seem to be.


  1. I have been unable to locate this particular Spanish translation of the Bradbury book (Crónicas marcianas. Prólogo de J. L. Borges. Buenos Aires: Ed. Minotauro, 1955), but fortunately a recent selection of Borges's prefaces has appeared, which contains, in toto, the prolog in question: Prólogos, con un prólogo de prólogos, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Torres Agüero, 1977), pp. 25–27.

  2. Letter to Noël M. Valis (4 October 1977).

  3. Erroneous reference has been made in the 1964 L'Herne homage to Borges that during a serious illness in 1938, Borges's mother read to him from Out of the Silent Planet or from The Martian Chronicles (p. 11). But Bradbury's first published story dates from 1940 (“It's Not the Heat, It's the Hu-,” Script, 2 November 1940), and his first Chronicle from 1945 (“The Watchers,” Weird Tales, May 1943). One critic has noted that the mistake made by the editors of L'Herne, “the confusion, which in relation to almost any other writer's work would appear a simple error, here seems to show nature imitating art—perhaps even a contrived example” (Ronald Christ, The Narrow Act (Borges' Art of Allusion), N. Y.: N. Y. University Press, 1969, pp. 88, 130–131, n. 6).

  4. Prólogos, con un prólogo de prólogos, “Ray Bradbury. Crónicas marcianas,” p. 26. This and all subsequent translation are my own.

  5. Ibid., p. 27. The reference to “the guests of Captain John Black” is not quite clear in this context.

  6. El hacedor, 4th ed. (Buenos Aires: Emecé Ed., 1967), p. 101.

  7. Ibid., p. 102.

  8. The Proteus myth reappears in his book of poems, La rosa profunda (Buenos Aires: Emecé Ed., 1975). See “Proteo” and “Otra versión de Proteo.”

  9. El hacedor, p. 51.

  10. El libro de arena (Buenos Aires: Emecé Ed., 1975), p. 20.

  11. In the original 1935 edition of Historia universal de la infamia (Buenos Aires: Tor) and in the 1972 English translation (N. Y.: Dutton, trans. Norman Di Giovanni), the correct source, listed by Borges at the end of the book, is given, but in subsequent Spanish editions (from 1954 to 1971 in which only a partial entry is given), a misprint appears in which Philip Gosse's History of Piracy is erroneously cited. I mention this because of a rather humorous consequence of this printing mishap which occurs in Ronald Christ's otherwise fine book, The Narrow Act (Borges' Art of Allusion), and which, to my knowledge, no one has picked up. Christ used the 1954 edition with the printing error and became almost Borgean in his attempt to explain Borges's story and his apparently deceptive use of sources: “We may guess that Borges' dissimulation of sources is, in this case, both a provision for maximum freedom and a gauge of the degree to which he has written his own story, not merely dissembled someone else's” (p. 75). This seems to be a case of creative criticism imitating fiction, or Christ becoming so identified with Borges and his techniques that he invents as impossible explanation for what is really a printer's error.

  12. Historia universal de la infamia, 10th ed. (Buenos Aires: Emecé Ed., 1971), p. 40.

  13. The Martin Chronicles, 43rd printing (N. Y.: Bantam Books, 1976), pp. 44–45. All subsequent citations are taken from this edition and are placed within parentheses in the text.

  14. For example, Robert Reilly writes that “in The Martian Chronicles the theme of neohumanism is based on the contrast of the two societies …” (“The Artistry of Ray Bradbury,” Extrapolation 13:1 [1971], p. 71). Even Borges views The Martian Chronicles in the same light.

  15. Victor Lange, “Preface,” Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges (N. Y.: Dutton, 1970), p. xix.

  16. Contrary to what several critics think, Bradbury does not use excessive gadgetry and other devices in his work. See, for instance, Christ, p. 16.

Gary K. Wolfe (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9902

SOURCE: Wolfe, Gary K. “The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury.” In Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 33-54. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Wolfe links “the traditional frontier orientation of much of American literature” and Bradbury's science fiction tales.]

In an interview in 1961 Ray Bradbury described an unwritten story of his which was to be cast in the form of an American Indian legend. An old Indian tells of a trip he made years earlier to visit tribes in the East. During this trip a strange event occurs: “One night there was a smell on the wind, there was a sound coming from a great distance.” Nature seems suddenly transformed and silent, as though a great event is about to take place. Searching for the source of this portent, the Indian and his young grandson wander for days, finally coming to the edge of the sea and spotting a campfire in the distance. Beyond, in the water, are anchored three ships. Creeping closer, the Indians find that the fire is surrounded by strange-looking men who speak an unknown language, who “have huge sort of metal devices on their heads,” and carry strange mechanical weapons. The Indians return to the wilderness, vaguely aware that some great event has happened and that the wilderness will never be the same, but not at all sure what the event is or exactly what it means.1

This small unwritten fable of the coming of the first Europeans to North America is significant not only because parts of it appear in another context in the story “Ylla” in The Martian Chronicles (once selected by Bradbury as his favorite among his stories2)—in which the Indians become Martians and the strange sense of foreboding becomes telepathy—but also for the way in which the story reveals a romantic, almost mystical, vision of historical experience, particularly the experience of the American wilderness. Somehow the wilderness is transformed by the mere presence of the newcomers even before there has been any interaction between them and the Indians. A similar vision is generated early in The Martian Chronicles. The Martians sense that “something terrible will happen in the morning” before they are aware of the coming of the Earthmen.3 The similarity is hardly accidental; Bradbury goes on to comment about his Indian fable: “Well, this is a science fiction story, really, isn't it? What have we seen here? … these scientists set out in their three ships as our rocket people will set out for far planets in the near future and discover new worlds with these devices which represent mankind's desire to know more, to go against ignorance, to dare nature, to risk annihilation and to gather knowledge.”4 In other words, science fiction need not take place on distant planets or in the far future; all it needs to do is portray a quest for knowledge that is in some way aided by technological devices.

In the same interview Bradbury describes another Indian story which was to have taken place centuries later, when Plains Indians “hear a great sound like the thundering herd from a distance and see coming across the plains at night the first locomotive and this thing throwing fire, the great dragon. How terrifying a sight this must have been.”5 This story also appeared in a different setting, as “The Dragon” in A Medicine for Melancholy, but with the Indians replaced not by Martians but by medieval English knights who encounter a locomotive through some sort of time warp.

Both unwritten Indian stories demonstrate how Bradbury's imagination is drawn to speculate on significant moments in history, as well as the impact of specific technologies on these moments. In both cases, the published stories, using similar ideas, disguise their quasi-historical origin by transmuting the action into fantasies of space and time. Although these examples are probably atypical of Bradbury's interest in history (it isn't likely that many of his stories began as pseudo-Indian legends), it has been widely noted that Bradbury's most famous work, The Martian Chronicles, “talks about the colonization of Mars in terms of the colonization of America,”6 and is, in fact, a view of history thinly disguised as science fiction.

Bradbury's comment that his Indian legend is actually science fiction is further evidence of this. To Bradbury, science fiction is not the progress of science projected into alternate worlds, but rather fiction dealing with the impact of various forms of technology on societies that are familiar to the reader. This focus is not, of course, unique to Bradbury; Bradbury merely provides what may be one of the clearest links between the traditional frontier orientation of much of American literature and the attempts to extend this orientation into new worlds, which is characteristic of a great deal of science fiction. Although often dismissed from the mainstream of science fiction for his “anti-science” attitudes, Bradbury, in fact, shares with most of the science fiction that preceded him an interest in technology, as opposed to science. As Lewis Mumford and others have often pointed out, the impact of technology is best explored through historical, rather than scientific, paradigms. There is little science in Bradbury, but there are lots of machines, machines which are seen in terms of what they do to the progress of society, not the progress of knowledge.

This concept of technology, as providing a social frontier, is an old one in science fiction, familiar even to nonreaders from the famous “Star Trek” motto, “Space—the final frontier.” Indeed, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the surge in popularity of science fiction in the last century may be partly attributed not only to the increasing impact of technology on daily life but also to the closing of the available frontiers which had provided settings for much adventure fiction until that time. The closing of the American frontier with the 1890 census—in the view of Frederick Jackson Turner, a symbolic event in the development of American democracy—was accompanied by a shift in frontier fiction from the Cooperesque vision of the frontier as meeting place between nature and civilization to what John Cawelti calls an “open society” with few laws and much violence, in many ways, not unlike the urban milieu of gangster fiction.7 In the decades that followed, the frontier experience of the great imperialist nations such as England was increasingly curtailed by moves toward independence and self-government in Africa, Asia, and South America. As explorers moved steadily into the hitherto unknown regions of Africa, the Arctic, and the Antarctic, the dreams of lost worlds that had characterized the fiction of Haggard and others began to fade.

Science fiction emerged, at least in part, as a way of retaining some sort of frontier experience. Though the genre's response to the need for new social frontiers was complex, it is possible to discern three major paradigms of frontier experience that have characterized much of this kind of science fiction since the turn of the century. First is the simple adventure story typified by the writing of Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose alien settings seem designed to do little more than give his heroic protagonists a new environment in which to demonstrate their natural superiority, thus offering further “proof” of the Cooperesque notion of a natural aristocracy that emerges clearly only in wilderness or savage environments. It is probably no accident that Burroughs also wrote Westerns or that John Carter's first adventure on Mars begins in Arizona in 1866, with Carter trapped by Indians. But Burroughs' Mars is for heroes, not settlers. It would be as unthinkable for Earthmen to colonize “Barsoom” in his books as it would be for Tarzan to sell real estate.

Another paradigm, one that dominated science fiction in the forties and fifties, views the colonization of other worlds as an inevitable next step in the expansion of contemporary society. This is evident in the titles of anthologies from the period: Beachheads in Space (August Derleth, 1952); The Space Frontiers (Roger Lee Vernon, 1955); Tomorrow, the Stars (Robert Heinlein, 1952); Frontiers in Space (Bleiler and Dikty, 1955); and so on. It was from stories of this period, particularly Asimov's Foundation trilogy, that Donald Wollheim evolved his hypothetical “consensus cosmology,” which he regards as underlying nearly all modern science fiction, and which portrays the human race as not only achieving interplanetary and interstellar travel and establishing a galactic empire, but as ultimately coming face to face with God himself in a final challenge for dominion over the cosmos.8 But the tradition goes back much further. In Garrett P. Serviss's Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898), for example, the portrayal of real scientists such as Edison, Kelvin, and Moissan as bizarre hybrids of Tom Swift and Daniel Boone makes clear the transformation of the frontier hero into the scientific hero.

The third paradigm, one that is somewhat more complex than the others, tends to be critical of the search for new frontiers, suggesting instead that the energy devoted to conquering new worlds might be better spent in improving social conditions in the present one. Among these works are the numerous tales in which man is excluded from the galactic community or is repelled by an alien society because of his history of violence and war. Arthur C. Clarke, in both Childhood's End and The City and the Stars, depicts situations in which man is deemed too immature for expansion to other worlds. Even in the science-fiction films of the 1950s, a common theme is that man simply is not wanted—as the angry Martians warn after chasing away the would-be explorers in Angry Red Planet (1960) with a zoo of red-filtered monsters: “Do not come back.” This theme can be traced to the works of H. G. Wells, whose Selenites repel the Earthmen in First Men in the Moon and whose inhabitants of “The Country of the Blind” quickly put to rest the dreams of glory of a sighted man who would be king. The most powerful critique of technological imperialism, though, is Wells' The War of the Worlds, in which the conquest of a frontier is portrayed from the victim's point of view. “What are these Martians?” asks the Curate, to which the narrator responds: “What are we?”9

Bradbury's concept of the frontier draws from all three paradigms. Like Burroughs, he uses an imaginary Mars as a convenient landscape in which to work out his essentially Earthbound fictions. He isn't concerned very much about how his characters get there, and even less that his version of Mars should bear any relationship to scientific data other than the then-popular belief in canals and red deserts. Like Asimov and Wollheim, he views man's future progress and emigration to other worlds as inevitable, if not necessarily beneficial. And like Wells, he is critical of progress, concerned that social values may be lost in the face of technological expansion. In the Martian stories technology may succeed in liberating man from an unpromising environment, as it does in “Way in the Middle of the Air”; but at the same time it results in new environments just as destructive if not more so, for example, the totalitarian society of book-burners and the final atomic war. As a thirteen-year-old, Bradbury visited the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. The motto of the fair—“Science Explores: Technology Executes: Man Conforms”—expresses in chilling terms what was to become a central fear of Bradbury's. For him, the technological frontier is a paradox: we cannot enjoy its benefits without also encountering its hazards. If a machine can take us to Mars, another can destroy us on Earth. This theme is evident in Bradbury's non-Martian stories. “The Veldt” shows how an elaborate electronic nursery can become an instrument of murder, while “The Sound of Thunder” is about a time machine that endangers the present.

To see how technology affects the imaginary frontier of the Martian stories, we should first look at the two opposing aspects of the frontier that technology brings together: the landscape and the settlers. The frontier landscape, of course, is the surface of Mars, a deliberately poetic dreamworld of wine trees, golden fruits, crystal pillars, and harp books—images that are thrown at us without the slightest explanation to make them congruent to our own experience, and which thus attain a power comparable to that of equally fanciful visions of the New World, and later of California, characteristic of earlier frontier movements. But this wholly imaginary landscape is in sharp contrast to the settlers who invade it.

In establishing the clearest possible opposition between his immigrant-settlers and the landscape, Bradbury drew upon the most domestic and mundane images he had access to: his own Midwestern childhood. This aspect of The Martian Chronicles has probably drawn the most criticism from science fiction readers, who often complain that Bradbury's Martian colonies are simply transplanted Midwestern towns from the 1920s, that the characters are not believable inhabitants of the last decade of this century or the first decade of the next. But the future is not what the book is about. If we regard The Martian Chronicles as a kind of “thought experiment” to examine middle-class values, many of the apparent inconsistencies are resolved. What would happen if the American middle class of the first half of this century were suddenly given, through some mechanical means, access to an entirely new frontier for settlement? How would they repeat the experience of earlier frontiers, and how would they be different? That Bradbury was very much aware of the childhood sources of his “future” colonists is apparent in his interviews and essays. As early as 1950 he was explaining that “Mars is a mirror, not a crystal.”10 “And so, taking the people from my home town, Waukegan, Illinois, my aunts and uncles and cousins who had been raised in a green land, I parceled them into rockets and sent them off to Mars. … I decided that my book would not be a looking crystal into the future, but simply a mirror in which each human Earthman would find his own image reflected.”11 In 1960 he wrote, “I find whole families of people from 1928 showing up in the year 2000 and helping to colonize Mars.”12

With an opposition thus clearly established between the nostalgic reality of the small-town Midwest and the poetic fantasy of an alien Mars, Bradbury is left only with finding a convenient way to bring them together. The means he chooses is technology, which is partly why we are tempted to regard the book as science fiction, even though Bradbury spends no more time making his machines believable than he does making Mars astronomically accurate. But the machines are not intended to make the work more “scientific” or lend verisimilitude to the fantasy. Rather, they are intended to provide both a thematic and a literal bridge between the worlds of the Midwest and Mars. If Mars is a world of dream and the settlers are figures of memory, the machines represent a stage of cognition somewhere between the two. They are at once familiar and alien, familiar from boyhood fantasies, yet alien when placed in a society of real people. By and large, they are not technical marvels but social conveniences. Bradbury's rockets deliver mail and carry immigrants; his robots preserve the family unit (“The Long Years” and “I Sing the Body Electric!”) or carry out childish fantasies (“Usher II” and “The Veldt”).

Bradbury's concern with the social impact of such machines is nowhere more apparent than in the 1961 Cunningham interview:

Now from the time of Napoleon to our time three inventions alone have made a big difference. The invention of the telegraph made it possible to send messages instantaneously back and forth over countries so that people could know the condition of their army and bring reinforcements. The invention of the locomotive and railroads—we were able then to transport men much more quickly and sometimes save the day and change the history of a particular country; and then number three, the invention of the machine gun at the end of, I believe, the Civil War, occurred, made it possible for one man to destroy a small army.13

Bradbury goes on to comment on what he regards as the two major inventions of this century—the automobile and the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb, he believed in 1960, reduced the risk of a major war and helped make the United Nations a success, while the automobile changed our social patterns and stimulated the migratory instincts of Americans.

Apart from the curious militaristic bias displayed by Bradbury in these quotations, what is significant is the kind of machines he singles out. There is no mention of machines that directly aided agriculture or industry such as reapers and cotton gins. In fact, with the possible exception of the atomic bomb, all the machines Bradbury cites are in some way associated with the conquest and settlement of frontier areas. The telegraph established communication between settled and unsettled areas; the locomotive made rapid settlement of the frontier a reality; the machine gun made it easier to overcome local resistance; the automobile gave the individual freedom to move farther from the central community (although I am not necessarily suggesting that suburbia is the modern frontier!). In The Martian Chronicles there is even a role for the atomic bomb in the settlement of a new frontier. It seems clear that Bradbury's attitude toward technology is founded in the tradition of measuring the usefulness of machines according to how much they contribute to the rapid expansion of society into new areas.

Three machines dominate frontier life in The Martian Chronicles. The atomic bomb not only threatens the destruction of the old order but underlies the growing pattern of dehumanization and paranoia that drives many settlers to Mars. The rocket serves, consecutively, the role of the explorers' ship and the railroad, first bringing the three reconnaissance expeditions to Mars and later bringing in entire communities and vast quantities of supplies. The robot helps to preserve an image of what has been lost in the move to the new environment, whether it be the imaginative traditions of literature (“Usher II”) or the stable family unit (“The Long Years”). These machines are equally alien to the Midwestern society of Bradbury's characters and the fantasy landscape of Mars. As such, they heighten what Suvin calls our “cognitive estrangement” from both the “real” world and the imagined landscape of Mars.14 Mars cannot entirely be a fantasy world, since machines can take us to it. Neither can the familiar society of the American Midwest be completely real, since it features these fanciful machines. So we are left feeling slightly alienated from both worlds. This feeling of dual alienation characterized descriptions of the frontier experience in the work of writers well before Bradbury (for example, Willa Cather, a writer he read in the 1940s).15

Once Bradbury has established the technological means of exploiting his new frontier, he proceeds to develop the story of colonization along lines that are familiar to any American reader. The parallels between the conquest of Mars and the conquest of the American Indians have been noted by several commentators, including Sam Lundwall, who regards The Martian Chronicles as “a telling example of the American agony of the Indian massacres,” while attacking the rest of the book as naive and “crazy.”16 Bradbury himself once claimed in an interview that, in the Chronicles, “I pointed out the problems of the Indians, and the Western expansionists.”17 The story of the Martians is only part of the overall narrative implied by the Martian stories, however, just as the conquest of the Indians was only part of advancing the American frontier. What may be less immediately apparent in reading the Martian stories is the way in which Bradbury views the impact of the Martian frontier on American democracy and character, and the ways in which this view reflects earlier views of the American frontier experience, such as that of Frederick Jackson Turner. Bradbury would not claim to be a historical theorist; there isn't much evidence that he is even directly familiar with Turner. But much about the Martian stories—for example, the term chronicle itself—suggests that the real subject of the book is history. As Willis E. McNelly recently observed, “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.”18 Of course, the Turner thesis itself remains something of an unresolved controversy among historians. First presented at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, when Turner was a 32-year-old historian at the University of Wisconsin, the paper entitled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” offered a radical departure from the teachings of earlier historians who had sought to explain American history primarily in terms of European influence. Instead, Turner argued, American development could best be explained by the existence of a continually receding frontier area of sparsely settled land, a frontier that had officially ceased to exist with the 1890 census. During the next thirty to forty years this thesis became one of the most famous and controversial pieces of writing in the field of American history. Historians, sociologists, and literary critics either attacked or vigorously defended it. Turner himself returned to the theme again and again, perhaps most notably with his 1903 essay, “Contributions of the West to American Democracy.” Whatever the merits of the thesis, its influence became so widespread in the teaching and writing of American history and literature that few today have not been affected by it. It is worth noting that the Turner thesis was probably at the height of its influence during Ray Bradbury's formative years.

Just to what extent it can be said that Bradbury is an exemplar of the Turner thesis or of the frontier imagination which the thesis represents, is the focus of the rest of this [essay]. Turner, like Bradbury, believed the wilderness could transform the colonists. He regarded the frontier as a kind of safety valve for American development: “Whenever social conditions tended to press upon labor or political restraints to impede the freedom of the mass, there was this gate of escape to the free conditions of the frontier. These free lands promoted individualism, economic equality, freedom to rise, democracy.”19 Such qualities, in turn, provided a check on the growing institutionalization and industrialization of life in the urbanized East. But with the closing of the frontier, Turner saw an era of American life come to an end. (A later historian, Walter Prescott Webb, viewed the closing of the frontier on an even grander scale, characterizing it as the end of a “Great Frontier” that had governed European and American expansion for over 400 years.20) If, as Turner claimed, the major aspects of American democracy had developed largely because of the continual existence of the area of free land, then there was a danger that these values might be lost as the rise of increasingly complex industrial and governmental bureaucracies continued without this safety valve. Turner saw the rise of captains of industry and politics as replacing the old Western heroes. He even made an unconvincing attempt to portray Carnegie, Field, and Rockefeller as pioneers of a sort, but in the end felt that it was “still to be determined whether these men constitute a menace to democratic institutions, or [are] the most efficient factor for adjusting democratic control to the new conditions.”21

Bradbury apparently regarded such men (or their descendants) as a menace. The increasingly antidemocratic society of Earth (portrayed in grater detail in Fahrenheit 451, elements of which can also be seen in the Martian stories) is what drives many of the colonists to Mars. Near the end of “The Million-Year Picnic,” the father burns the stock market graphs, government pamphlets, and military documents that had come to symbolize life on Earth. Like Turner, Bradbury felt that the society he most valued was in danger from encroaching governmental restrictions. Bradbury singles out the censorship of comic books: “They begin by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.”22 With the culture of his Midwestern boyhood thus endangered, Bradbury's Mars becomes an escape valve in much the same way as Turner's West.

Here I do not mean to suggest that Bradbury's, or even Turner's, depiction of social forces is defensible in terms of modern historical theory, or that Bradbury's book is, in any way, a deliberate outgrowth or illustration of Turner's thesis. There are many points at which Bradbury's frontier diverges from that of Turner or goes beyond it; in addition, the hazards of overzealous application of Turner's thesis are already familiar to students of American literature.23 As Henry Nash Smith and others have pointed out, Turner's frontier was largely a codification of an agrarian myth—the myth of the garden—that had long been in the air of American intellectual life. The notion of the West as safety valve, almost universally accepted during the nineteenth century, is not supported by solid evidence. But Smith also points out that, partly because of the power of the traditions underlying Turner's thesis, “it had been worked into the very fabric of our conception of history,” becoming part of the common folklore of Americans' ideas about their past.24 That Bradbury is rooted in this tradition is revealed most clearly by examining some of the similarities between his ideas and Turner's.

The broad similarities between Bradbury and Turner are apparent to any reader familiar with both men. In The Martian Chronicles it is tempting to read the Earth as the industrial East, Mars as the frontier West, the Martians as Indians, and the humans as frontiersmen and women. As a narrative, the Chronicles is not consistent enough to support such a broad equation. The Martian stories not included in the Chronicles, but which explore the same issues in different ways, further complicate the situation. What is more to the point is the general flow of ideas in Bradbury's Martian stories, particularly the relationship between available frontier lands and the concept of democracy that is significant in both Turner and Bradbury.

In both writers the emergence of a frontier society is portrayed in a series of distinct stages. First, there is the initial exploratory stage in which the inhabitants of the frontier environment are encountered and subdued. In the second stage the environment masters the colonist, transforming him into a kind of native with new values. Third is the successive waves of subsequent settlers who begin to develop towns and commerce. Finally there are those who see in the frontier an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and escape the oppression of the urbanized environment they have left behind.

The first stage is characterized by Turner's definition of the frontier as “the meeting point between savagery and civilization.”25 If we remember that for Turner, the word savagery encompassed the civilization of the American Indians, we can see that this idea also dominates the first section of The Martian Chronicles, those episodes that deal with the confrontation between Earthmen and Martians. Unlike Turner and most writers of frontier fiction, however, Bradbury offers a dual perspective. Martian society is initially portrayed as a kind of caricature of middle-class institutions; like Bradbury's Indian fables, the book begins with the natives' point of view. The first stories, then, are not stories of adventure in unknown realms, much as we might expect in a story of the exploration of Mars, but rather are stories of outside interlopers disturbing the placidity of a stable, conservative society. It is one of the more successful ironies of the book that the first Earthmen are killed not by monsters but by a jealous husband, and that the second expedition dies at the hands of an unreasoning bureaucracy. These are the only clear glimpses we have of Martian civilization, however, for in “The Third Expedition” the Martians emerge as duplicitous monsters planning with elaborate premeditation the destruction of the visitors from Earth. But even in this story it is less the Martians who do in the explorers than the explorers' own past—their persistent willingness to believe in the unlikely reality of their own childhoods being reconstructed on a distant planet. It is this persistence of the past, this trap of the old values of civilization, that initially destroys the unprepared explorer on the alien frontier. Ironically, it may also contribute to the destruction of the Martians themselves, as in the story “The Martian” or the non-Chronicle “The Messiah” (1971), both of which depict telepathic Martians unwittingly transforming themselves into images drawn from the memories of the humans around them.

Bradbury makes little attempt in these early stories to point up the parallels between the situation of the Martians and that of the American Indians. In “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” however, he introduces a character who is at least part Indian. Cheroke, one of the members of the Fourth Expedition, is asked how he would feel if he “were a Martian and people came to your land and started tearing it up.”26 He replies: “I know exactly how I'd feel … I've got some Cherokee blood in me. My grandfather told me lots of things about Oklahoma Territory. If there's a Martian around, I'm all for him.”27

Unknown to Cheroke, there is a “Martian” around. Spender, a member of the crew, is so taken with the dead Martian civilization (dead because of the chicken pox brought by earlier Earthmen) that he comes to regard himself as “the last Martian,” the appointed protector of Martian lands from invading Earthmen. The transformation of Spender introduces the second major stage of frontier experience, one that has been developed by Bradbury in many ways in stories both in and out of the Chronicles. This is the stage in which the environment transforms the settler into a kind of native:

The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. … In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man.28

Spender is the first exemplar of this kind of transformation to appear in the Martian stories. Significantly, Cheroke is the one he invites to join him in his crusade to protect the Martian wilderness. When Cheroke refuses to join Spender's scheme to murder all of the settlers, he is killed. Captain Wilder, however, feels sympathy for Spender's position; it is to the captain that Spender defends his actions by comparing Mars to the Indian civilizations of Mexico before the invasion of Cortez: “A whole civilization destroyed by greedy, righteous bigots. History will never forgive Cortez.”29 It is partly out of sympathy for Spender's viewpoint that the captain knocks the teeth out of a callous crew member who uses the fragile Martian towers for target practice. But Wilder is not a settler; he is an explorer. For most of the time frame covered by the Chronicles, he is off exploring other parts of the solar system. “I've been out to Jupiter and Saturn and Neptune for twenty years,” he tells former crew member Hathaway in “The Long Years.”30 Thus, like such early frontiersmen as Daniel Boone, Captain Wilder is capable of maintaining a balanced view of frontier development because he isn't really a part of it; he is continually moving beyond into still more distant frontiers.

Spender lacks this distance, though. “When I got up here I felt I was not only free of their so-called culture, I felt I was free of their ethics and their customs. I'm out of their frame of reference, I thought. All I have to do is kill you all off and live my own life.”31 The overpowering beauty of the fantasy environment of Mars, and the freedom this environment represents, have indeed “mastered the colonist.” The notion of Mars transforming its settlers, either literally or figuratively, becomes a major theme in subsequent Martian stories and the dominant theme in at least two of them.

“The Million-Year Picnic” and “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed” were published in magazine form before the Chronicles were collected, “Picnic” in 1946 and “Dark They Were” in 1949. Both stories further develop the theme of settlers being transformed by the Martian environment; but only “Picnic” was included in the Chronicles. “The Naming of Names,” the magazine title of “Dark They Were,” survives only as the title of an interim passage in the Chronicles; the story itself did not appear in book form until A Medicine for Melancholy in 1959. Although the story takes place on the same Mars as the Chronicles, it was excluded apparently because of its central fantastic device—some element in the Martian soil or atmosphere that physically transforms Earthmen into Martians—appears in no other Martian story and would have destroyed the illusion of a unified narrative that Bradbury was trying to achieve. (In another non-Chronicles Mars story also published in 1949, “The One Who Waits,” Earthmen are literally possessed by the intelligence of an ancient Martian who lives in a well.)

“The Million-Year Picnic” is an appropriate, if predictable, ending for The Martian Chronicles, one not very subtle in preparing the reader for the final revelation that the “Martians” Dad has been promising to show the family are the reflections of the family itself in the water of a canal. But the ending is more than a narrative trick; throughout the story we are given hints that the family is adapting to its new environment—so thoroughly, in fact, that the eventual destruction of Earth seems to have less emotional impact on the children than the death of a pet canary might. The first accommodation to the new environment occurs in the story's opening scene: the family has left its “family rocket,” which seems to have been a common recreational vehicle on Earth (“Family rockets are made for travel to the Moon, not Mars”), for a motorboat, still a mechanical product of Earth technology but one that is better suited for travel on the canals of Mars. Father tells the children they are going fishing. Perhaps this is merely a ruse to get them away from the rocket so he can blow it up; nonetheless, it is the kind of activity that takes on a different meaning in a frontier environment by becoming a means of sustenance rather than sport. They come upon a dead Martian city. Dad “looked as if he was pleased that it as dead.”32 Is Dad pleased because he is trying to escape the riotous urban life represented by cities on Earth, or because he sees it as an example of the abundant resources available to settlers in this new land, or because it represents the failure of the colonists before them to found large communities on Mars? Whatever the reason, the father's motivation is akin to that of one of Turner's pioneers. His supplies are also the supplies of a pioneer—extensive provisions and a gun. The radio, the only means of contact with the dying Earth, soon becomes useless.

What we see in these images of recreational vehicles, picnics, fishing trips, radios, and the like is the gradual transformation of the icons of American leisure culture into patterns of survival in the new land. As the story progresses, the “picnic” becomes less a family outing than a metaphor for the eventual rebirth of a new civilization. The finite event of a vacation becomes infinite; play becomes life, the basis of which is focused on the new Martian environment rather than memories of Earth. Every member of the family begins to think in these new terms, and Bradbury's metaphors take on a Martian focus. Dad's face looks like “one of those fallen Martian cities,” and his breathing sounds like the lapping of waters against the stone walls of the Martian canals. Earlier his eyes had reminded one of the boys of “agate marbles you play with after school in summer back on Earth,” Dad has become more “Martian” in the eyes of his children, who do not yet realize what is going on.

In choosing a city for settlement, the family rejects one that appears to be an Earth settlement. In sharp contrast to the enthusiastic embracing of the past by the crew members in the earlier story, “The Third Expedition,” the rejection of the past in “The Million-Year Picnic” is yet another sign of the family's transformation. When they finally choose a city—a Martian city—the radio, their last contact with Earth, goes dead. “No more Minneapolis, no more rockets, no more Earth,” explains Dad in a synecdoche that subsumes the very existence of the planet into images of cities and rockets, suggesting that “Earth” has become less a planet in his mind than a way of life to be rejected. He completes the separation with a ceremonial burning of Earth documents: “I'm burning a way of life, just like that way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now,” going on to berate politics, science, technology—the evils of the East that Turner's pioneers found themselves rejecting. “Even if there hadn't been a war,” Dad says, “we would have come to Mars, I think, to live and form our own standard of living.” The orientation toward a new world that we have sensed developing throughout the story is finally shown to be an orientation that took root on Earth—a desire to escape urbanization and technology, to settle on a frontier that no longer existed on Earth. Thus it is hardly a surprise when the Martians are finally revealed to us. What is revealed is merely the first step of the family's self-consciousness as pioneer settlers.

If “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed” had been included in the Chronicles, “The Million-Year Picnic” would have been rendered impossible by the assumptions of the former story. But the latter also deals with the theme of the transforming frontier, of Earthmen becoming Martians. In “Dark They Were,” the transformation is literal; the overpowering influence of the environment is the central feature. Like “Picnic,” “Dark They Were” begins with a family leaving its rocket to settle on Mars; but this time the environment has an immediate and ominous effect. The father feels “the tissues of his body draw tight as if he were standing at the center of a vacuum.”33 His wife seems “almost to whirl away in smoke,” and the children, as “small seeds, might at any instant be sown to all the Martian climes.” “The wind blew as if to flake away their identities. At any moment the Martian air might draw his [the father's] soul from him, as marrow comes from a white bone. He felt submerged in a chemical that could dissolve his intellect and burn away his past.” The father later says he feels “like a salt crystal in a mountain stream, being washed away.” The family establishes itself in a cottage on Mars, but the fear of being transformed by the alien environment remains. Trying to be cheerful, the father describes their experience as “colonial days all over again” and looks forward to the coming colonization of Mars and the development of “Big cities, everything!” Earth values are in no way rejected by these settlers, unlike those in “The Million-Year Picnic”; and the ancient Martian names of natural formations are replaced by names of American political and industrial leaders—“Hormel Valleys, Roosevelt Seas, Ford Hills, Vanderbilt Plateaus, Rockefeller Rivers.” Although the father begins to feel that the American settlers had shown greater wisdom in using Indian names, he is not yet ready to reject this culture. In an effort to transform the Martian environment into something familiar, he plants flowers and vegetables from Earth.

None of this works, of course. It is reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne's governor whose attempts to grow a traditional European garden in the new world are thwarted by wild pumpkin vines. The plants take on Martian characteristics, and when—as in “The Million-Year Picnic”—an atomic war on Earth strands the settlers, these transformations include the settlers, too. Eventually the family abandons its earthly goods and moves into an abandoned Martian city where they speak the extinct Martian language, finally turning physically into a family of Martians with no more interest in Earth and its affairs. The environment has totally mastered the colonists. When, after the atomic war, a spaceship arrives from Earth, it finds only a Roanoke-like abandoned colony of Earth buildings.

Interestingly, Bradbury wrote “Dark They Were” three years after “The Million-Year Picnic,” after the basic structure of the Chronicles had begun to take shape from the several stories that were to be included in it. In many ways the story is a reply to and rethinking of “The Million-Year Picnic.” It is also one of Bradbury's strongest illustrations of his ideas about environmental determinism. If “The Million-Year Picnic” agrees with Turner's argument that the only way to survive in a frontier environment initially is to adapt to it, “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed” goes far beyond either of these in suggesting that the environment completely molds the settler in its own image. The family in “The Million-Year Picnic” chooses the Martian way of life; the family in “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed” has no such choice.

In a sense, Bradbury's Martian frontier never moves beyond the stage of environmental domination (the theme is strongly stated in the last story of the book). But in other stories Bradbury does describe later stages of settlement; it is a description that is remarkably similar to Turner's account of the farming frontier of the West. According to Turner, “the farmer's advance came in a distinct series of waves”34; while Bradbury writes “Mars was a distant shore, and the men spread upon it in waves” (in the Chronicles, p. 87). Turner describes the frontier as, successively, the realm of the hunter, followed by the trader, the rancher, the farmer, and finally the manufacturer.35 He alludes to a still earlier writer on the Western frontier, John Mason Peck, whose 1837 New Guide to the West lists the stages of frontier growth as moving from the pioneer to the settler to the businessman.36 Bradbury describes the first men as “coyote and cattle men” from the Midwest, followed by urban Easterners from “cabbage tenements and subways.”

The second men should have traveled from other countries with other accents and other ideas. But the rockets were American and the men were American and it stayed that way, while Europe and Asia and South America and Australia and the islands watched the Roman candles leave them behind. The rest of the world was buried in war or the thoughts of war.

(Chronicles, 87)

The rather weak rationale that other countries were too involved in war to undertake space exploration hardly seems consistent with the American cold-war mentality we see criticized in other parts of the book (such as “Usher II” and “The Million-Year Picnic”). A simpler explanation is that Bradbury, like Turner, conceived of the frontier as a uniquely American experience, an extension of a movement that had characterized the nation since its beginning.

In a Martian story written after the Chronicles was published, Bradbury develops his notion of later frontier development by exploring the reactions of two women preparing to join their husbands on Mars. “The Wilderness” (1952; collected in The Golden Apples of the Sun) opens in Independence, Missouri (the starting point for 1849 Western colonists) with “a sound like a steamboat down the river”37 which turns out to be a rocket. As this setting and image suggest, virtually the entire story is built around the parallels between the Martian settlement and the earlier westward movement. An old Wyoming song is modified to fit the Martian adventure, and the trip to Mars is contrasted with an earlier generation's trip “from Fort Laramie to Hangtown.”38 The story is slight in terms of narrative; but its ending, in which one of the women meditates on her journey to Mars the next morning, gives us Bradbury's clearest deliberate parallel between the two frontiers, which may also suggest why the parallel is so strong:

Is this how it was over a century ago, she wondered, when the women, the night before, lay ready for sleep, or not ready, in the small towns of the East, and heard the sound of horses in the night and the creak of the Conestoga wagons ready to go, and the brooding of oxen under the trees, and the cry of children already lonely before their time? All the sounds of arrivals and departures into the deep forests and fields, the blacksmiths working in their own red hells through midnight? And the smell of bacons and hams ready for the journeying, and the heavy feel of the wagons like ships foundering with goods, with water in the wooden kegs to tilt across the prairies, and the chickens hysterical in their slung-beneath-the-wagon crates, and the dogs running out to the wilderness ahead and, fearful, running back with a look of empty space in their eyes? Is this, then, how it was so long ago? On the rim of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff of stars. In their time the smell of buffalo, and in our time the smell of the Rocket. Is this, then, how it was?

(Golden Apples, 41-42)

Note that, of all the richly detailed, sensuous imagery in this passage, the only image that is in any way associated with space travel is “the smell of the Rocket.” Janice (the character whose meditation this is) seems far more aware of the sensuous details of a romantic past than of her own environment. In general, Bradbury's work relies more on such images than on attempts to create a sense of future time through imagery and detail. But for Janice—and perhaps for Bradbury, as well—it is only by dwelling on these images that one can arrive at some sort of resolution of the conflicts generated by the idea of traveling to another world. The unknown, uncertain future is validated by the parallels with a familiar past: “this was as it had always been and would forever continue to be” (Golden Apples, 42). Unlike the earlier pioneer settlers, for whom the past is destructive, or the family in “The Million-Year Picnic” who finally achieve liberation from the past, this intermediate group of settlers can conceptualize the alien experience of a new world only by drawing on memories of pleasant past experiences. Hence we have spaceships seen as tin cans or Roman candles, space as an ocean, Martian villages as small Midwestern towns, and Martians themselves as figures from one's life on Earth. Although Turner does not focus on the role of the past in frontier experience, for Bradbury it is a necessary way of dealing with the new environment.

The stage of frontier experience common to Turner and Bradbury is that where the frontier begins to exert a democratizing influence on the settlers. In Turner, this influence is felt throughout the East, as well as in the West, as a general force moving America toward a more open and democratic society. But in Bradbury, there is no real commerce between Earth and Mars, and therefore no cultural “feedback” of this sort (if one were to examine this critically, he might conclude that the economics of The Martian Chronicles is as fatuous as its science). Bradbury shares with Turner some shaky assumptions about how the frontier works by its very presence against oppression. For example, both men naively assume that the frontier helps alleviate racial problems—Bradbury with his story “Way in the Middle of the Air” and Turner with his statement that “the free pioneer democracy struck down the slaveholding aristocracy on its march to the West.”39 Bradbury's blacks are actually part of a larger group of colonists who view Mars as a place to escape the oppression and reassert democratic principles (though the blacks themselves are tempted to indulge in this kind of oppression in “The Other Foot,” a story in The Illustrated Man that serves as a sequel to “Way in the Middle of the Air”). Other representatives of this group of stories include figures as diverse as Stendahl in “Usher II,” the father in “The Million-Year Picnic,” and Parkhill in “The Off Season” (not a sympathetic character but nonetheless a small-time capitalist who, like many who move to the frontier, sees such a move as his greatest opportunity for free enterprise).

Turner writes:

But the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe. As has been indicated, the frontier is productive of individualism. Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family. The tendency is anti-social. It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to any direct control. The tax-gatherer is viewed as a representative of oppression.40

This antisocial, family-oriented tendency of frontier settlement is perhaps most clearly represented in “The Million-Year Picnic,” though the tendency appears in “Usher II” as well. Stendahl, an independently wealthy eccentric who “came to Mars to get away from … Clean-Minded people”41—the powerful censors and enforcers of “moral climates” who are descendants of the comic-book censors of the fifties—is actually a fugitive from the society of Fahrenheit 451 and a precursor of Montag in that novel. Stendahl, who on Earth had seen his cache of books incinerated by Moral Climate investigators, views Mars as an opportunity to reassert his freedom of speech and gain revenge while doing it. With the assistance of Pikes, a former actor in horror movies, he reconstructs the House of Usher according to Poe's description and uses it to trap members of the Society for the Prevention of Fantasy—“the Spoil-Funs, the people with mercurochrome for blood and iodine-colored eyes.”42 One by one, they are killed off in a manner described in Poe's stories, and are then replaced by robots. Eventually, Stendahl escapes in his helicopter and heads (perhaps significantly) west.

In this story—as in another Martian story not included in the Chronicles (“The Exiles,” in which the spirits of imaginative writers survive on Mars until the last copies of their books are burned)—Bradbury seems to go beyond Turner in arguing for the significance of the frontier in a democracy. Whereas Turner confined his account of the frontier influence to certain social and political traits that pushed America toward democracy, Bradbury seems to suggest that democratic thought can be measured simply by freedom of imagination; that, more than anything else, the frontier is a haven for imaginative thought. Only on Mars can imagination be liberated and restored to the daily conduct of life. Bradbury seems to be saying that, as society becomes more and more complex, the role of fantasy is increasingly left out; but as society is simplified by the limited resources of a new environment, the fantasy returns. Thus Stendahl's master stroke is not merely the murder of the censors but the fact that this murder is carried out by robots—mechanical devices which are part of the culture that repressed fantasy in the first place.

This brings us back to Bradbury's attitude toward machines. We have seen how machines such as the rocket contribute to the colonization of Mars, but not how technology has oppressed and degraded life on Earth, thus creating a society against which Bradbury can develop his democratizing frontier. “And There Will Come Soft Rains” gives us some clues. The shadow images of the dead family on the outer wall of the mechanical house, in contrast to the ingeniously programmed robots that continue to perform their daily chores within, strongly suggest the directions technology has taken: its deliberate degradation of life by the proliferation of “cute” labor-saving gadgets, and the immense, unchecked power represented by the bomb. Ultimately, both kinds of development are stagnant; both represent failures of the earthbound imagination. Just as the bomb locks international relations into a cold war, so do the gadgets lock family life into a mechanical parody of the suburban life style. Each in its own way oppresses the imagination and the freedom which that imagination represents, a freedom that can be reborn only on the frontier.

Strength of imagination, then, becomes the key to survival on Bradbury's frontier—the ability to achieve the new perspective demanded by the new environment. Few of Bradbury's characters are capable of this; at the end of the Chronicles, nearly all the settlers return to the dying Earth, unwilling or unable to cut the umbilical cord to the past. As the proprietor in “The Luggage Store” says:

“I know, we came up here to get away from things—politics, the atom bomb, war, pressure groups, prejudice, laws—I know. But it's still home there. You wait and see. When the first bomb drops on America the people up here'll start thinking. They haven't been here long enough. A couple of years is all. If they'd been here forty years, it'd be different, but they got relatives down there, and their home towns.”

(Chronicles, 132)

In other words, the frontier hasn't yet “taken”; most settlers are not yet ready to think of themselves as Martians. When the pleas to return home arrive in appropriately frontier fashion—Morse code—they abandon the new world. When asked to explain his rationale for having the settlers return in the face of atomic war, Bradbury replied: “we had just come out of World War II, where a hell of a lot of foreigners went home to be killed. They could have stayed in the United States.”43 A similar analogy might be made to the number of western settlers who returned to fight in the American Civil War, which interrupted the settlement of the West in much the same way that atomic war interrupts the settlement of Mars. In any event, the liberating, democratizing influence of Bradbury's frontier is never given a chance to develop its full potential. We are left with a few isolated settlements, only one of which—the family in “The Million-Year Picnic”—realizes the Martian promise of freedom.

In “The Highway,” a story published the same year as The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury describes a Mexican peasant who is puzzled when he finds the highway beside his hut crowded with cars filled with Americans frantically heading north. One of the Americans stops for water, and the peasant asks the reason for the sudden migration homeward. “It's come,” responds the American, “the atom war, the end of the world!”44 As in The Martian Chronicles, the Americans choose to go home to almost certain death rather than stay in Mexico. Unimpressed by the talk of nuclear war, the peasant returns to his plow, muttering: “What do they mean, ‘the world?’” What, indeed? After all, “the world” is nothing more than what an individual's perspective makes it—circumscribed by a plot of land for a Mexican peasant, defined as a way of life by an American in an alien land. In both “The Exiles” and The Martian Chronicles the “end of the world” is actually the destruction of America, of the culture that gave birth to the myth of the frontier. With the end of this culture, Mars ceases to exist as a frontier, as the leading edge of a growing civilization. If, as Henry Nash Smith suggests, Turner's myth of the frontier—which, as we have seen, is shared by Bradbury—did have its foundations in the Edenic myth of the new world, then the conclusion of The Martian Chronicles brings the myth full circle. In “The Million-Year Picnic,” what was once the frontier land of Mars literally becomes the new Eden, giving birth to a new human civilization out of the ashes of the old. Two civilizations have died to make this new birth possible, and we are left with the slight hope that the new one will synthesize what was best about the Martian and Earth societies. The frontier sensibility that has governed most of the book is replaced by a utopian sensibility. We can only speculate as to the society Bradbury hoped to evolve from his five lonely Martians, staring at themselves in the rippling water of a Martian canal.


  1. Interview with Craig Cunningham, Oral History Department, University of California at Los Angeles, 1961; transcript in UCLA Special Collections.

  2. For The Outer Reaches, ed. August Derleth, New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1951.

  3. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles; 1950, reprinted New York: Bantam, 1954, p. 16.

  4. Interview with Cunningham, pp. 14–15.

  5. Cunningham interview, p. 15.

  6. David Ketterer, New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1974, p. 31.

  7. John Cawelti, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1976, p. 214.

  8. Donald Wollheim, The Universe Makers, New York: Harper, 1971, pp. 42–44.

  9. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds; 1898, reprinted New York: Pocket Books, 1953, p. 66.

  10. Bradbury, “A Few Notes on The Martian Chronicles,Rhodomagnetic Digest (May 1950), p. 21.

  11. Bradbury, “Where Do I Get My Ideas?” Book News (Summer 1950), p. 8.

  12. Bradbury, “Literature in the Space Age,” California Librarian (July 1960), p. 16.

  13. Cunningham interview, pp. 16–17.

  14. Darko Suvin, “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre,” College English, 34 (December 1972), pp. 372–82.

  15. Frank Roberts, “An Exclusive Interview with Ray Bradbury,” Writer's Digest, xlvii (Feb. 1967), p. 96.

  16. Sam Lundwall, Science Fiction: What It's All About, New York: Ace, 1971, p. 122.

  17. Unpublished interview with Edward Gerson, Los Angeles, June 27–28, 1972.

  18. “Ray Bradbury—Past, Present, and Future,” in Voices for the Future, ed. Thomas Clareson, Bowling Green, Ohio:Bowling Green Univ. Popular Press, 1976.

  19. “Contributions of the West to American Democracy,” in The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History, ed. George Rogers Taylor, Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1972, p. 41. Subsequent references to this essay and to Turner's earlier essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” are to this edition.

  20. “The Frontier and the 400-Year Boom,” in Taylor, pp. 133–34.

  21. Ibid., p. 47.

  22. Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, p. 105.

  23. A good example of the frontier thesis run rampant is Lucy Lockwood Hazard, The Frontier in American Literature; 1927, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1941.

  24. Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth; 1950, reprinted New York: Vintage Books, n.d., pp. 240, 291–305.

  25. Taylor, p. 4

  26. Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, p. 59.

  27. Ibid.

  28. Taylor, p. 5.

  29. The Martian Chronicles, p. 64.

  30. Ibid., p. 159.

  31. Ibid., p. 65.

  32. Ibid., p. 173.

  33. Bradbury, A Medicine for Melancholy, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966.

  34. Taylor, p. 15.

  35. Ibid., p. 9.

  36. Ibid., p. 15.

  37. Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1953.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Taylor, p. 39.

  40. Ibid., pp. 22–23.

  41. The Martian Chronicles, p. 106.

  42. Ibid., p. 112.

  43. Gerson interview. Throughout this chapter I am indebted to Edward Gerson for making available his collection of Bradbury material, including his own extensive interview with Bradbury, for my use.

  44. Bradbury, The Illustrated Man, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1951, p. 61.

Edward J. Gallagher (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12408

SOURCE: Gallagher, Edward J. “The Thematic Structure of ‘The Martian Chronicle.’” In Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 55-82. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Gallagher underscores the structural and thematic unity of the stories in The Martian Chronicles.]

The Martian Chronicles (1950) is one of those acknowledged science fiction masterpieces which has never received detailed scholarly study as a whole. Its overall theme is well known. Clifton Fadiman says that Bradbury is telling us we are gripped by a technology-mania, that “the place for space travel is in a book, that human beings are still mental and moral children who cannot be trusted with the terrifying toys they have by some tragic accident invented.”1 Richard Donovan says that Bradbury's fear is that “man's mechanical aptitudes, his incredible ability to pry into the secrets of the physical universe, may be his fatal flaw.”2 And from “we Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things” to “science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness … emphasizing machines instead of how to run machines,” The Martian Chronicles itself provides an ample supply of clear thematic statements.3

The structural unity of the novel's twenty-six stories, however, is usually overlooked or ignored. Six of the stories were published before Bradbury submitted an outline for The Martian Chronicles to Doubleday in June 1949.4 Thus, while individual stories have been praised, discussed, and anthologized out of context, it has been widely assumed that the collection, though certainly not random, has only a vague chronological and thematic unity. Fletcher Pratt, for instance, says that the stories are “assembled with a small amount of connective tissue.”5 Robert Reilly holds that “there is no integrated plot,” and Juliet Grimsley says that, although there is a central theme, there is “no central plot.”6 Finally, Willis E. McNelly stresses that Bradbury is essentially a short-story writer, that “the novel form is simply not his normal medium.”7

The Martian Chronicles may not be a novel, but it is certainly more than just a collection of self-contained stories. Bradbury, for instance, revised “The Third Expedition” (which was published as “Mars is Heaven” in the Fall 1948 Planet Stories) for collection in the Chronicles, adding material about the first two expeditions and drastically changing the ending. The Martian Chronicles has the coherence of, say, Hemingway's In Our Time. The ordering of stories has a significance that goes beyond chronology and which creates a feeling of unity and coherence; thus it almost demands to be read and treated as though it were a novel. My purpose here, then, is to provide a means for understanding and appreciating The Martian Chronicles as a whole. I will discuss all of the stories, almost always in order and always in context, though I realize that this rather pedestrian approach may lead to a certain superficiality and qualitative leveling. I hope to show that the stories draw meaning from one another, as well as preparing the way for future close analyses. As David Ketterer has said, “if more teachers of literature are to be convinced that science fiction is a viable area of study, it must be demonstrated to them that a novel such as Martian Chronicles can open up to intense critical scrutiny just as Moby-Dick can.”8

To facilitate discussion, the twenty-six stories in The Martian Chronicles may be divided into three sections. The seven stories in the first section, from “Rocket Summer” to “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” deal with the initial four attempts to successfully establish a footing on Mars. The fifteen stories in the second section, from “The Settlers” to “The Watchers,” span the rise and fall of the Mars colony; and the four stories in the final section, from “The Silent Towns” to “The Million-Year Picnic,” linger on the possible regeneration of the human race after the devestating atomic war.

Bradbury's purpose in this first group of stories is to belittle man's technological achievement, to show us that supermachines do not make supermen. The terse power of “Rocket Summer” is filtered through three humiliating defeats before man is allowed to celebrate a victory. In fact, “celebration,” the goal men seek as much as physical settlement, is the main motif in this section. Bradbury uses it to emphasize the pernicious quality of human pride. The stories build toward the blatant thematic statement of “And the Moon Be Still as Bright”; but this story is artistically poor, since the section does not depend on it, either for meaning or for effect. Next to a sense of delayed anticipation, the strength of the section stems from a sense of motion; the stories of the three defeats are not repetitious of one another. Bradbury varies both style and tone in “Ylla,” “The Earth Men,” and “The Third Expedition,” increasing the intensity from the mellow and the comic to the savage. In this way, “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” serves a cohesive function as the climax of and clarification of views which we have already felt. Another significant motif in this section comes from the phantasmagoric atmosphere that Bradbury associates with Mars. This trapping, this “accident” of his fantasy, produces clashes of dream and reality, sanity and insanity, which serve functionally to underscore Bradbury's desire for us to view technology from a different perspective.

“Rocket Summer” is an audacious introduction to the subject of space travel. Its five short paragraphs capture the power and import of this technological marvel with the intensity of myth and the jolt of a hypodermic needle. The scene engenders an expectation of immediate and glorious triumph in space. The move to space changes Earth; in one leap, technology conquers nature. “The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land” (Chronicles, 1). Often overlooked in the display of power, however, is that the summer created by this supernal force isn't altogether a pleasant change from the Ohio winter. The winter is, indeed, a time of constriction and inactivity, of negative things: doors are closed, windows licked, panes frosted over, and housewives lumber along “like great black bears.” But the winter is also a time of “children skiing on slopes.” The “warm desert air” of rocket summer ends these games, erases winter's “art work,” and steams the town in a “hot rain.” The power here is actually more display than benefit. Implying man's defiance and defiling of nature, “Rocket Summer” is a perfect foil for the final scene of The Martian Chronicles, in which the new Martians see themselves in nature.

The breathtaking power of the opening scene hovers over “Ylla” and “The Summer Night” like an uncollected debt. But both stories deflect this power into unexpected channels; both shift to the Martian perspective on human space travel. Men and their machines appear only in dreams, in premonitions—in a kind of advance mental infection made possible by the psychic powers of Martians. Ylla is party to a dying marriage which is a symbol of the dying Martian culture, and she views the coming American technological power in sexual terms. Subtly punning on the old notion of Earth someday inseminating space, Bradbury has Ylla literally see the captain in his phallic rocket as the man of her dreams, come to bring her new life. Then, with almost predictable irony, the first giant flex of our technological muscle is brought to naught by a jealous husband. Our technology will not impregnate this planet.

The reception planned for this first expedition is a bullet; a quirk of fate, a chance combination of time and place, subvert the first mission. The anticipation of glorious triumph in space that is ignited in “Rocket Summer” is defused. We feel sad, not because humans have died (they do not appear until the fourth story) or because a mission has been thwarted, but because the Martians are portrayed sympathetically and we respond to their desire for new life. The marital situation is recognizably human; along with Ylla, we know that marriage makes people old and familiar while still young. Most of all, however, we are sad because Mr. K's action is so totally fruitless:

“You'll be all right tomorrow,” he said. She did not look up at him; she looked only at the empty desert and the very bright stars coming out now on the black sky, and far away there was a sound of wind rising and canal waters stirring cold in the long canals. She shut her eyes, trembling. “Yes,” she said. “I'll be all right tomorrow.”

(Chronicles, 14)

In this absorbing, archetypal personal drama, the pinnacle of our technological progress plays but a supporting role.

As an introduction to the second expedition, “The Summer Night” returns to space travel the portentous power found in “Rocket Summer.” The relationship of the two stories, in fact, is that of equal but opposite reaction. Whereas in “Rocket Summer,” space travel transforms an Ohio winter into a temporary summer, bringing people outside, in “The Summer Night” this same force creates a “winter chill” which forces the Martians inside. This time the portentous power is not in sexuality but poetry and song, the beautiful words of Byron and the familiar words of the old nursery rhyme. What is beautiful and familiar to us is seen as strange and ominous, even poisonous, to the Martians. With their speech uncontrollably infected with fragments of Earth song, just as their bodies will later be infected with chicken pox, the Martians fill the air with direful chants like “something terrible will happen in the morning” (Chronicles, 16). In denigrating Ylla's dream man, Mr. K tries to point out the gulf between the two cultures: his height makes him a misshapen giant, the color of his hair and eyes are most unlikely, his name is no name, and he comes from a planet incapable of supporting life. Now a similar perspective again dramatizes the otherness that Bradbury will mark in the second section as the reason why the colonization is so rapacious.

At this point, however, the Martians have little to fear, for “The Earth Men” of the Second Expedition, the first human characters in the book, are butts of Bradbury's wild comedy, pompous straight men who are reduced to babbling idiots before the rather grotesque conclusion. High on the pride of their accomplishment, these ambassadors seek the proper comprehension, appreciation, and celebration of their presence. “We are from Earth,” says Captain Williams, pressing his chubby pink hand to his chest; “it's never been done before”; “we should be celebrating” (Chronicles, 17–18). The Earth men want somebody to shake their hands, pat them on the back, shout hooray, give them the key to the city, throw a parade; ironically, however, they must struggle just to get attention. The great reality of Earth's technological world is treated as merely another manifestation of a common madness on Mars. In a bitter, comic touch, the only celebration they receive is from fellow inmates of an asylum.

In this story Bradbury uses several different techniques to achieve comedy at the expense of the Earth men. First they have the misfortune to land near the home of a Martian Gracie Allen. Their verbal exchanges with the daffy Mrs. Ttt, the archetypal house-bound housewife, contain the myopia, the logical illogicalities, and the flitting concentration Gracie Allen made famous.9

The man gazed at her in surprise. “We're from Earth!”

“I haven't time,” she said. “I've a lot of cooking today and there's cleaning and sewing and all. You evidently wish to see Mr. Ttt; he's upstairs in the study.”

“Yes,” said the Earth Man confusedly, blinking. “By all means, let us see Mr. Ttt.”

“He's busy.” She slammed the door again.

(Chronicles, 17)

Comedy in the following conversation with Mr. Aaa comes from his refusal to do anything but nourish his desire to kill Mr. Ttt. The result is a conversation that is not a conversation but two monologues, each escalating in intensity while moving in different directions. The only genuine response Mr. Aaa makes to the Earth men is a correction:

“We're from Earth!”

“I think it very ungentlemanly of him,” brooded Mr. Aaa.

“A rocket ship. We came in it. Over there!”

“Not the first time Ttt's been unreasonable, you know.”

“All the way from Earth.”

“Why, for half a mind, I'd call him up and tell him off.”

Just the four of us; myself and these three men, my crew.”

“I'll call him up, yes; that's what I'll do!”

“Earth. Rocket. Men. Trip. Space.”

“Call him and give him a good lashing!”

“Challenged him to a duel, by the gods! A duel!”

The captain flashed a white smile. Aside to his men he whispered, “Now we're getting someplace!” To Mr. Aaa he called, “We traveled sixty million miles. From Earth!”

Mr. Aaa yawned. “That's only fifty million miles this time of year.”

(Chronicles, 19-20)

In contrast to the obvious quality of the comedy in the above quotation, Bradbury lets the simple fact that “the little girl dug in her nose with a finger” undercut the captain's next attempt to impress a Martian with who they are. The comedy changes drastically, however, in the scenes with Mr. Xxx, the kind of mad scientist that Peter Sellers has played. At first the tone is delightfully absurd, as every attempt by the Earth men to prove that they really have made a space flight inevitably adds evidence of their “beautifully complete” insanity. The climax of the passage attests to the wacky madness of the very person entrusted to “cure” them:

“This is the most incredible example of sensual hallucination and hypnotic suggestion I've ever encountered. I went through your ‘rocket,’ as you call it.” He tapped the hull. “I hear it. Auditory fantasy.” He drew a breath. “I smell it. Olfactory hallucination, induced by sensual telepathy.” He kissed the ship. “I taste it. Labial fantasy!”

(Chronicles, 28-29)

Because the crew and the hardware are the product of a sickness that will make history—Martian medical history—the Earth men are celebrated at last—for being crazy. “May I congratulate you? You are a psychotic genius!. … Let me embrace you!” (Chronicles, 29). The tone darkens considerably, though, when Mr. Xxx kills the Earth men and discovers that their bodies do not disappear. Caught in the logic of his own argument, and with a faint echo of the infection aspect of “The Summer Night,” Xxx can only conclude that he has been contaminated. Eyes bulging, mouth frothing, he kills himself—the final absurdity. Something terrible did happen. Like “Ylla,” the Second Expedition comes to nothing, both for the Martians and the Earth men.

Almost in passing (for throughout The Martian Chronicles the “great” events are relegated to the interstices), “The Earth Men” provides important information about the Martian background. The reason why their culture is dying even before human settlement, a fact first sensed in “Ylla,” is that “a good number of their population are insane” (Chronicles, 28). Now, in “The Taxpayer,” we get equally important background information about Earth. Sensing an atomic war and wishing to escape oppressive and pervasive government control, Pritchard seeks a new start on Mars: “maybe it was a land of milk and honey up there” (Chronicles, 31). In tried-and-true American fashion, Mars becomes the place of escape, of refuge, the place we head for when the going gets rough (the next story, incidentally, was first published separately under the title, “Mars Is Heaven”). Also interesting as an introduction to “The Third Expedition” is the continued questioning of the locus of truth found in “The Earth Man.” Pritchard is the prophet of the atomic war that eventually destroys the Earth of The Martian Chronicles. He is the man who speaks the truth. Considered crazy, he is dragged away kicking and screaming. Clearly, Bradbury has created a kind of whirlpool in which appearance and reality, sanity and insanity, continually change places and are constantly intermixed.

“The Third Expedition” gathers the motifs that are established in the previous stories. It acts as the dramatic culmination of Bradbury's views on our technological achievement before the successful landing and the overt philosophizing of “And the Moon Be Still as Bright.” The domestic resonance of “Ylla” and the Mrs. Ttt section of “The Earth Men” become the full-blown landscape of an old-fashioned, idealized, and therefore seductive mid-American town. The expectation of success created by “Rocket Summer,” as well as the need for celebration that are explicit in “The Earth Men,” become the loving reception, impossible to deny, of lost loved ones. The crumbling borders of appearance and reality that are present in every story now become a fatal human weakness. Mars is not a paradise, it is a hell.

Though “The Third Expedition” eventually picks up the savage tone of the ending of “The Earth Men,” it begins on quite a different note. The opening two paragraphs describe a heroic journey in the kind of stalwart prose and epic rhythms one would expect following “Rocket Summer,” if Bradbury were writing The Martian Chronicles in praise of our technological achievements.

Moreover, in “The Third Expedition” we meet “real” humans for the first time. In “Ylla,” the Earthmen are only a dream while in “The Earth Men” they are impotent puppets programmed with one desire. But here, for the first time, are people who think, who have that power which is associated in our technological world with the quintessence of humanity. Ratiocination is a key to the story, the pivotal concept. Thus, although the rocket lands incongruously like the preceding two expeditions (on a lawn of green grass, near a brown Victorian house, with “Beautiful Ohio” on the music stand), the story gains a realistic tone from the logical search for truth that is immediately applied by the captain. The story also gains an optimistic tone.

Captain Black is a “doubter” figure, a figure common in science fiction. The doubter figure is usually a character against whom the unbelievable marvel, the insoluble problem, is bounced. It is a device for getting information to the reader. Here, though, the doubter is the central character, one who clearly transcends the stereotyped status. Unlike his crew, Captain Black does not immediately and intuitively respond to the familiar setting on Mars. “How do we know what this is?” he asks, later saying, “I like to be as logical as I can” (Chronicles, 33, 39). The Mars that the Third Expedition finds is a nostalgic, pretechnological, Midwestern small town of cupolas, porch swings, pianolas, antimacassars, Harry Lauder and Maxfield Parrish artifacts, tinkling lemonade pitchers, succulent turkey dinners, and friendly people. Like the Martian psychologist in “The Earth Men,” Black distrusts the reality he sees, even though its magnetic appeal is undeniable. In this inability to forget, or at least resist, the past, A. James Stupple sees a metaphor for The Martian Chronicles as a whole. In a time of exciting yet threatening and disruptive progress and change, Americans are attracted to the security of an idealized, timeless, and static past; and they make the fatal mistake of trying to re-create Earth rather than accepting the fact that Mars is different.10

The plot of this story moves from an emphasis on logic, which is finally overpowered by emotion, to the return of an emphasis on logic in the grim conclusion. For instance, the first half of the story, which is developed mainly through the conversation of the crew, has the air of an exercise in problem-solving. Five possible reasons are considered for the existence of an American town on Mars: one of the previous expeditions succeeded, a divine order may have ordained similar patterns on every planet in our solar system, rocket travel somehow began back in the early twentieth century, they have gone back in time and landed on Earth, and finally, to escape insanity caused by intense homesickness, early space travelers reproduced Earth as much as possible and then hypnotized the inhabitants into belief.

The captain no sooner settles for the last explanation (“Now we've got somewhere. I feel better. It's all a bit more logical” [Chronicles, 39]) than he and his crew are hit with an emotional thunderstorm, and the explanation is found to be false. Everywhere the Earth men are greeted by old friends and relatives, and the very wish of the Second Expedition crew comes true. The American arrival on Mars is celebrated: people dance, a brass band plays, little boys shout hooray, the mayor speaks, and the crew is escorted away in loving style. Not even the captain can resist this. Confronted by his parents and brother, the old house on Oak Knoll Avenue, his old brass bed and college banners, the skeptic becomes a child again and is converted to belief. “It's good to be home,” he says. “I'm soaked to the skin with emotion” (Chronicles, 44).

In bed, however, reason reasserts itself. “For the first time the stress of the day was moved aside; he could think logically now. It had all been emotion” (Chronicles, 45). In a vicious parody of the asylum scene in “The Earth Men,” Black's reason, in careful step-by-step fashion, produces images as crazy as little demons of red sand running between the teeth of sleeping men, or women becoming oily snakes. The Martians have used his memories to pierce his defenses—in order to kill him. And the crazy image is true, as if his thought gave it life! Ironically, the moment of illumination, which reason provides, is also the moment of death. So the Third Expedition comes to naught, a victim of emotion and weakness for the past. Reason, the sire of technological progress, does not guarantee survival.

The story doesn't end with the murder of Captain Black, however, though this event is horrible climax enough. Almost blasphemously, Bradbury permits the Martian charade to continue to its logical end—in a mock funeral. Like “The Earth Men,” the illusions hold after the death of the humans, and we have a final absurdity, or more precisely here, a final profanity. A solemn procession of Martians with melting faces ring the graves while the brass band plays “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”! In this second ending, in this final “celebration,” Bradbury, like Mr. Hyde (in the Barrymore movie) taking one last, irresistible blow at his already dead victim, almost gratuitously pushes his satire on human pride from the personal to the national level. It has a chilling effect. Seen in relation to the story's focus on logic, its connection with “The Earth Men” and with Bradbury's overall satiric purpose, it seems perfectly organic.11

“And the Moon Be Still as Bright” is as baldly didactic as Kent Forrester makes it out to be, though I hope it is clear that this quality is not characteristic of The Martian Chronicles as a whole.12 In a story which can be called the work's thematic center, Spender, the killer, the “very crazy fellow” who tries unsuccessfully to be a Martian, is Bradbury's mouthpiece. Spender is stalked and finally killed by Captain Wilder, a man who understands Spender yet who cannot be a Martian either. “There's too much Earth blood in me,” he says. Yet, in one of those mystic transformations, the spirit of the hunted lives on in the spirit of the hunter. Wilder discovers that he is “Spender all over again” (Chronicles, 71). Mars is left to the Sam Parkhills of this world, however; later, Wilder is “kicked upstairs” so he won't interfere with colonial policy on Mars. It's all quite gimmicky. Bradbury's theme is stated a bit too plainly and the disappearance of a character of such promise leaves us with a hollow feeling. Clearly he wants no obstructions in the way of the coming apocalypse.

Unlike most of the crew, Spender does not want a “celebration” to mark the successful arrival of the Fourth Expedition. Spender, whose imagination and sensitivity are contrasted with the physicality and sensuality of Biggs and Parkhill, feels the Martian presence around him and respects the remnants of Martian culture. He has ventured into space with awe, not pride, realizing that “Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things” (Chronicles, 54), that man has already brought chicken pox to Mars and will soon bring more pollution. “There'd be time for that later; time to throw condensed-milk cans in the proud Martian canals; time for copies of the New York Times to blow and caper and rustle across the lone gray Martian sea bottoms; time for banana peels and picnic papers in the fluted, delicate ruins …” (Chronicles, 49). Spender also realizes that humans hate the strange (“If it doesn't have Chicago plumbing, it's nonsense”), and will “rip the skin” off Mars, changing it to fit their image (Chronicles, 64, 54).

Supermachines do not make supermen. Biggs, the archetypal ugly American christening the Martian canal with empty wine bottles and puking in a Martian Temple, is a stark commentary on human nature that does not keep pace with technology. He drives Spender over the edge, alienating him from his own culture. “I'm the last Martian,” Spender tells Biggs before killing him (Chronicles, 58). Spender sees that the Martians “knew how to live with nature and get along with nature,” that the Martians had

discovered the secret of life among animals. The animal does not question life. It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life … the men of Mars realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: Why live? Life was its own answer.

(Chronicles, 66-67)

Spender/Bradbury seems to be saying that the Martians stopped where we should have stopped a hundred years ago, before Darwin and Freud blended art and religion and science into a harmonious whole. Spender also sees that the Martians knew how to die. Quoting Byron, he pictures the Martians as a race aware that everything must end, thus accepting the fact of their own cultural death. Mars should chasten our pride. “Looking at all this,” says Wilder, “we know we're not so hot; we're kids in rompers, shouting with our play rockets and atoms, …” (Chronicles, 55).

Spender's vision of Earth through the Martian perspective is the clear criterion for Bradbury's satiric representation of Earth. Earth people are proud, polluters, sacrilegious, incapable of wonder, commercial, hostile to difference and hostile to nature. Earth is so odious, in fact, that Bradbury plants the seed here for “The Million-Year Picnic”: that we must shuck Earth off, that we need a new start, that we must become Martians. Spender is crazy, but as Herbert Marcuse and Theodore Roszak have argued, in a world in which Reason is Truth, and in which Technology is the embodiment of Reason, any move toward qualitative change will seem insane. Spender is crazy like Thoreau, who, the story goes, asked Emerson why, in a world of injustice, he too wasn't in prison. But as Forrester has pointed out, the severe artistic problem here is that the positive view of the Martians is given rather than being successfully dramatized. Most of the Martians we have met so far are killers! In several ways, therefore, “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” is not as satisfactory as the other stories in this section.

The second section of The Martian Chronicles, the fifteen stories from “The Settlers” to “The Watchers,” spans the rise and fall of the Mars colony. Because of the large span of events, this section seems less taut, less focused and more discursive than the first section. Whereas the very short stories in the first section (“Rocket Summer,” “The Summer Night,” “The Taxpayer”) were stories in their own right, as well as introductions to the main stories about the three expeditions, here the nine very short stories seem burdened with the “history” of the settlement. As a result, the flow is a bit choppy. The most important stories in the section are “Night Meeting” and “The Martian,” and the purpose of the section is to point to mankind's hostility toward difference—toward otherness, another manifestation of human pride—as the factor which determines the quality of colonization. I have already mentioned that A. James Stupple sees American attachment to a static past leading them to the fatal mistake of re-creating Earth rather than, to push his idea a bit, allowing Mars to re-create it.

Pritchard, the taxpayer, wanted to come to Mars because it might be a paradise compared to the wretched conditions mounting on Earth; but the Earthmen of “The Settlers” share no such sense of urgency or mission. There is no epic motivation here, no myth-making; they are an ordinary mix of men who come for an ordinary mix of reasons. What they share is “The Loneliness,” a disease which strikes when “the entire planet Earth became a muddy baseball tossed away,” and “you were alone, wandering in the meadows of space, on your way to a place you couldn't imagine” (Chronicles, 73). The cure for the Loneliness is people; but to bring people, Mars must be changed, and this is the self-appointed task of Benjamin Driscoll in “The Green Morning.”

The story is tricky. It is, as John Hollow calls it, a “cheerful” story since the colonization of Mars begins on a seemingly optimistic note.13 This optimism has an unmistakable mythic resonance. Driscoll is a Johnny Appleseed figure interested in transforming the howling wilderness into a fruitful garden, “a shining orchard”; that is, Driscoll wants to repeat the colonization of North America on Earth. The magical soil of Mars repays his efforts with Whitmanesque abundance.

It is hard not to like a fellow with such charitable sentiments and such evident success. Having seen the results of the first cycle, however, Bradbury isn't interested in repeating it, and we must be careful not to take this optimistic tone too seriously. Driscoll is waging “a private horticultural war with Mars” (Chronicles, 75, my italics), which even he suspects will precipitate tapping the untold mineral wealth of the Martian soil. He may be a Johnny Appleseed, but he is also Jack, of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” forging a link to the land of hostile giants. Although he builds trees instead of domes, the result is the same: the technological onslaught of the next story. Cheerful as it is, Hollow says, “The Green Morning” is still a story of man “changing Mars to fit his image of what a planet ought to be,” “an imposition of man's will upon a surface he only presumes to own.” Most of the impositions are less attractive. The story comes full circle: Driscoll faints when he arrives on Mars, and he faints after his success. “The Green Morning” is not meant to signal beneficial progress.

Like Natty Bumppo, all Driscoll does is pave the way for those less noble than he. After a dream of man-in-nature comes the reality of man bludgeoning nature. A plague like the pox strikes this paradise. In a vicious parody of the gentle animality Spender seeks, the rockets—still controlling nature, turning rock into lava and wood into charcoal—are “The Locusts” bearing steel-toothed carnivores who, as Hollow says, “afraid of strangeness … hammer Mars into a replica of Mid-America.”

The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke. And from the rockets ran men with hammers in their hands to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye, to bludgeon away all strangeness, their mouths fringed with nails so they resembled steel-toothed carnivores, spitting them into their swift hands as they hammered up frame cottages and scuttled over roofs with shingles to blot out the eerie stars, and fit green shades to pull against the night. And when the carpenters had hurried on, the women came in with flower-pots and chintz and pans and set up a kitchen clamor to cover the silence that Mars made waiting outside the door and the shaded window.

(Chronicles, 78)

The diction in this description of domestic activity is particularly vicious. It clearly reveals Bradbury's almost snarling disgust at man's propensity to impose himself on the universe. Nevertheless, The Loneliness is conquered.

In “Night Meeting” an antimaterialistic old man who embodies an alternate way of living on Mars is the portal for a vision of communion that represents the way colonization should be approached. An American outcast simply because he is “old” and “retired,” the old man is the gatekeeper of the dream land. One must pass through his world view before being blessed with the vision. He is not interested in making money from the gas stations he runs. “If business picks up too much,” he says, “I'll move on back to some other old highway that's not so busy, where I can earn just enough to live on” (Chronicles, 79). The only important thing for him is feeling the “difference” on Mars—the different weather, the different flowers, the different rain. Mars is a kaleidoscope, a Christmas toy, a succession of shifting patterns meant only to be enjoyed. “We've got to forget Earth and how things were,” he says. “If you can't take Mars for what she is, you might as well go back to Earth. … don't ask it to be nothing else but what it is.” For this old man out of the mainstream of his culture, Mars has the beneficial effect of always providing something new; he is there to experience and to be entertained. He approaches Mars like a child (cf. “The Million-Year Picnic”), vivid proof that “even time is crazy up here.”

Time is the key to this meditation on difference and human pride. Shortly after crossing the ideational threshold marked by the old man, Tomás Gomez responds to the sensual presence of time: “There was a smell of Time in the air tonight … tonight you could almost touch Time” (Chronicles, 80). Gomez goes further, in fact, actively cultivating its sensual presence by constructing similies: Time smells like dust and clocks and people; it sounds like water running in a dark cave and dirt dropping on hollow box lids; it looks like snow dropping silently into a black room or like a silent film in an ancient theater. Like the steps in a prescribed ritual, this exercise in imagination calls forth a being from another time, “a strange thing,” a Martian with melted gold for eyes and a mechanical mantis for a vehicle. There are three stages in Gomez's night meeting with this Martian: incomprehensibility, a realization of different perspectives, and symbolic union. The result of the meeting is a distinct feeling of simultaneous reality, mutual fate, and mental (spiritual?) communion. For the first time in The Martian Chronicles, under the spell of the old man's pleasure in difference, Martians and Earthmen are not adversaries.

At first the language barrier keeps Martian and human apart. “Hello! he called. Hello! called the Martian in his own language. They did not understand each other.” On Mars, however, the language barrier isn't a problem if there is a sincere desire to communicate; thus this is not a repetition of the conversation-which-is-not-a-conversation in the Mr. Aaa section of “The Earth Men.” Here the Martian and the Earth man are together even in their separate tongues. Both ask, “Did you say hello?” and “What did you say?” They both scowl; they both look bewildered. When the speech barrier is overcome, as each disputes the reality of the other, this harmony breaks; but it returns in common reflections about time. Also, though they see each other differently during this stage, at least they are talking to each other in a mutual search for truth. You're a ghost; no, you're a phantom. “There's dust in the streets”; “the streets are clean.” “The canals are empty right there”; “the canals are full of lavender wine.” “You're blind”; “You are the one who does not see.” “You are a figment of the Past”; “No, you are from the Past.” “I felt the strangeness, the road, the light, and for a moment I felt as if I were the last man alive on this world”; “So did I” (Chronicles, 82–85).

Confronted by their simultaneous realities and varying perspectives, Earth man and Martian do not recoil in solipsistic fashion or jump for each other's throat. Like the husband and wife in Robert Frost's “West-Running Brook,” they “agree to disagree”; they accept the illogicality, accept their difference, and find a common bond. “What does it matter who is Past or Future, if we are both alive, for what follows will follow” (Chronicles, 86). Decay and death will invariably strike both cultures. They “shake” hands and exchange wishes to join in the exciting pleasures of each other's present.

Bradbury doesn't give either culture the last reality; nor does he return the story to a human perspective. Instead he preserves the balance struck between the two cultures by holding the narrative point of view neutrally at the scene after both beings disappear with parallel reflections of their experience. Thus, in this mixture of dream and reality, which is so characteristic of The Martian Chronicles, we are finally given a vision of what could be on Mars, a vision soon blotted out by such stories as “The Musicians,” “The Martian,” and “The Off Season.”

“The Shore” and “Interim” continue the chronicle of Martian colonization begun in “The Settlers” and “The Locusts,” which is completed five stories hence in “The Old Ones.” The first wave of men, “bred to plains and prairies,” have “eyes like nailheads, and hands like the material of old gloves,” and “Mars could do nothing to them” (Chronicles, 87). The second wave, among whom are the town builders, come from the “cabbage tenements and subways” and permit the possibility of art and leisure. At last—completing civilization—come the old ones, “the dry and crackling people, the people who spent their time listening to their hearts and feeling their pulses and spooning syrups into their wry mouths, these people who had once taken chair cars to California in November and third-class steamers to Italy in April, the dried-apricot people, the mummy people” (Chronicles, 118). Bradbury's disgust with the cycle of civilization is again supremely obvious in “The Old Ones,” but it is also evident in a more subtle form in “Interim.” The description of Tenth City seems not to be slanted but, like an Iowa town shaken loose by a giant earthquake and carried to Mars by a twister of Oz-like proportions Tenth City is similar to the seductive trap designed by the Martians in “The Third Expedition.”

“The Musicians” is a good example of Bradbury's skewed vision. Throughout The Martian Chronicles he has a delightful way of looking at things in an unusual, off-center way.14 Our perspective on the First Expedition was that of a jealous husband; Byron is a threat to Mars. In a later story the end of the Earth is seen through the eyes of the owner of a hot dog stand. Likewise, in this compact yet powerful story, the desecration of Martian civilization is dramatized through a children's game. The focus on difference is still here. While in the background the Firemen burn Mars clean of its horrors, “separating the terrible from the normal,” in the foreground, straining parental restrictions in time-honored fashion, a handful of adventurous kids revel in the brittle flakes of dead Martian bodies, imagining “like on Earth, they were scuttering through autumn leaves” (Chronicles, 88; my italics). Instead of the hammering of the steel-toothed carnivores on the fifteen thousand feet of Oregon pine and the seventy-nine thousand feet of California redwood brought to Mars to fabricate a new Earth, we have the plangent strokes of the first daring boy, the Musician, “playing the white xylophone bones beneath the outer covering of black flakes.” One culture makes music out of the death of another. Bradbury turns the advance of colonization “into a game played by boys whose stomachs gurgled with orange pop” (Chronicles, 89). The result is a paralysis of criticism. Here there are no culprits, no villains, just innocent “candy-cheeked boys with blue-agate eyes, panting onion-tainted commands to each other.” Our truth that “boys will be boys” contributes also to the destruction of Mars.

Pritchard, the taxpayer, seeks Mars as an escape from “censorship and statism and conscription and government control of this and that” (Chronicles, 31), an idea Bradbury returns to in the next three stories, “Way in the Middle of the Air,” “The Naming of Names,” and “Usher II.” After the mythic ownership implied by the act of naming, after all traces of Mars are covered by “the mechanical names and the metal names from Earth,” after “everything was pinned down and neat and in its place,” comes “the red tape that had crawled across Earth like an alien weed” (Chronicles, 103). Mars has become a political and psychological mirror of Earth, as well as a physical one. “They began to plan people's lives and libraries; they began to instruct and push about the very people who had come to Mars to get away from being instructed and ruled and pushed about.” “Way in the Middle of the Air” concerns a group of people who go to Mars to avoid being pushed about, while “Usher II” is about a man who pushes back.

Bradbury uses the vestiges of slavery in the South to suggest the generally oppressive conditions on Earth. Because “Way in the Middle of the Air” is the only story that dramatizes the migration, and since the departure is described in an extended river metaphor first introduced in “The Shore,” the “niggers” come to symbolize virtually all of the emigrants. “I can't figure why they left now,” says Samuel Teece. Things are looking up, laws are fairer, money is better. “What more [do] they want?” What they want is to be free now, free from law, from debt, from contract, from the KKK. Freedom—the ultimate human value. In Bradbury's eyes, we are all slaves.

In this story, Bradbury shows himself comic master of the stereotyped situation. In the person of Samuel Teece, the blustery power of the white establishment (“Ain't there a law?. … Telephone the governor, call out the militia. … They should've given notice!”) is challenged. Teece feels the cut of the laconic humor of his porch cronies (“Looks like you goin' to have to hoe your own turnips, Sam”) as he meets the withdrawal of the still docile, still shuffling darkies (“Mr. Teece, you don't mind I take the day off”). The story demonstrates that the establishment's only source of power is fear and that the only fear in the loss of this power is the loss of an artificial dignity. Belter, for instance, withstands Teece's attempts to scare him: “Belter, you fly up and up like a July Fourth rocket, and bang! There you are, cinders, spread all over space. … There's monsters with big raw eyes like mushrooms” who “jump up and suck marrow from your bones! … And it's cold up there; no air, you fall down, jerk like a fish, gaspin', dyin', stranglin', stranglin', and dyin'” (Chronicles, 93–94). But Teece maintains his self-respect: “Did you notice? Right up to the very last, by God, he said ‘Mister’!”

For all their dedication to the journey, however, these blacks do not suggest a new life on Mars; they remain servile stereotypes. Silly, for instance, plans to open his own hardware store. More important, they remain attached to their earthly possessions—and a motley collection it is: “tin cans of pink geraniums, dishes of waxed fruit, cartons of Confederate money, washtubs, scrubboards, wash lines, soap, somebody's tricycle, someone else's hedge shears, a toy wagon, a jack-in-the-box, a stained-glass window from the Negro Baptist Church, a whole set of brake rims, inner tubes, mattresses, couches, rocking chairs, jars of cold cream, hand mirrors” (Chronicles, 101). These are all deposited with feeling and decorum on the road to the rocket. Although no possessions are taken, neither is anything forgotten. They do not “burn” the past like the family in “The Million-Year Picnic”; they carefully leave it where it can be seen “for the last time.” Clearly, they carry Earth with them into the new land. The vacuum created by their departure (“What you goin' to do nights, Mr. Teece?”) will soon be filled on Mars, too. The Bureau of Moral Climates reinstitutes the exercise of power which Mr. Teece exulted in.

“My lord, you have an imagination, haven't you?” says the Investigator of Moral Climates in “Usher II” about the fun house which Mr. Stendahl has built on Mars (Chronicles, 115). Here again, Bradbury's vision is delightfully skewed. Of all of the possible examples of bureaucratic control on Mars, he focuses on an absurd extreme but one dear to the writer: control of the imagination. His focus is perfect, however, for the American inability to wonder is precisely why Mars is mistreated. They have killed the aliens on Earth (Sleeping Beauty, Mother Goose, the Headless Horseman, St. Nicholas), as well as those on Mars. As a result of legislation permitting only realism, Earth suffered a “Great Fire” in which all tales of fantasy, horror, and the future were destroyed. Now, with the investigators of Moral Climates and the Society for the Prevention of Fantasy, this higher level of civilization has finally reached Mars. In such a supremely technological society, the imagination is a totally alien force; but “we'll soon have things as neat and tidy as Earth,” promises Garrett (Chronicles, 107). Stendahl, however, has built a “mechanical sanctuary” as an obscene gesture to the “Clean Minded People,” as repayment to an “antiseptic government.” In an ironic foreshadowing of the closing scenes of “The Million-Year Picnic,” similar to the one in “Way in the Middle of the Air,” Stendahl bases his sanctuary on ideas which transcend a burning on Earth—the ideas of Edgar Allan Poe.

In true Poe fashion, the story is laden with ironies: the inexorable advance of the bureaucracy is dramatized through its temporary but resounding defeat; the climate alien to human life on Mars is not physical but moral; technology is used to give life to a fantasy so that the accomplishment of technology can be subverted; reality and illusion again trade places; and fantasy is literally fatal. The use of “The Fall of the House of Usher” as a frame for the story anticipates the atomic apocalypse, just as failure of mind precipitates physical collapse; and the use of “The Cask of Amontillado” reminds us once again that madness can masquerade as sanity. Suppressing wonder, however, can only result in the unleashing of horror. Like Spender, here Bradbury's spokesman for human values is a crazed killer who succeeds spectacularly this time.

In many ways “The Martian” is the central story in the second section of The Martian Chronicles. It is a horror story similar to “Usher II,” with “old ones” as the central characters. It is also a direct denial of the possibility of the acceptance of difference offered in “Night Meeting.” As John Hollow has said, “the denial of the Martian's true self, of his existence as other than their projections on him, results in complete destruction.” But this central story about the rape of Mars is not what one would expect. The horror perpetrated by the “good” guy in “Usher II” is malicious, almost masturbatory, whereas here the horror caused by the “bad” guys is accidental, understandable. Although the old ones in the introductory story are cardboard mummies, here they are sympathetic figures seeking new life. They grasp the promise of Mars not out of gross avarice or blind insensitivity but for reasons of the heart. As it is in “The Green Morning,” here Mars is enormously responsive to human action; but again Bradbury refuses to focus on a culpable segment of society. In “The Musician” it was the young, while in “The Martian” it is the old through whom Bradbury dramatizes the exploitation of Mars.

The story opens with the somber tone of “Ylla.” Love is gone. Age nibbles at the corners of vitality. It is a dreary November of the soul. “It's a terrible night,” Mrs. LaFarge says; “I feel so old” (Chronicles, 120). Old LaFarge and his wife have lost their only son, with the result that the meaning is gone from their lives; and they have come to Mars to assuage their grief. “He's been dead so long now, we should try to forget him and everything on Earth” (Chronicles, 119). But like a sentient chameleon, the Martian who comes their way has the magic ability to assume any shape. He becomes Tom, “an ideal shaped by their minds.” Their life is quickened by the “return” of their son; the earthly dream has become a reality on Mars.

The problem is that Tom is subject to the force—“trapped” is his word—of any strong human emotion around him. What we see is a series of individuals, each struggling desperately, selfishly, and alone to make him what they want him to be. In town, for instance, Tom becomes Lavinia Spaulding, a drowned young woman whose parents are as distraught as the LaFarges. Obviously, the Martian cannot be all things to all people at all times, but that is what they want. Faced with having Tom “die” for the second time (an unthinkable agony), LaFarge struggles to keep him; but the city is rife with powerful urges. In the last scene Tom runs a psychic gauntlet which leaves him dead, misshapen and grotesque, the result of his inability to simultaneously satisfy the multitude of human dreams.

Before their eyes he changed. He was Tom and James and a man named Switchman, another named Butterfield; he was the town mayor and the young girl Judith and the husband William and the wife Clarisse. He was melting wax shaping to their minds. They shouted, they pressed forward, pleading. He screamed, threw out his hands, his face dissolving to each demand. “Tom!” cried LaFarge. “Alice!” another. “William!” They snatched his wrists, whirled him about, until with one last shriek of horror he fell.

He lay on the stones, melted wax cooling, his face all faces, one eye blue, the other golden, hair that was brown, red, yellow, black, one eyebrow thick, one thin, one hand large, one small.

(Chronicles, 130)

Humans do not respect limits! Tom is a beautifully concise symbol of Martian colonization. He is the magic planet torn apart, identity killed by a dense, hungry horde of grasping and competing American dreams. Like “Ylla,” nobody wins; the framework of the story permits only sadness, not anger. LaFarge and his wife—still in bed, still listening to the rain, still dreaming—effectively suppress the realization that in this story, lack of restraint has turned rape into murder. For the first time, humans are the killers. Yet the dream goes on.

Pritchard introduces the migration to Mars with the statement that “there was going to be a big atomic war on Earth in about two years” (Chronicles, 3). This notion of imminent war is kept alive in “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” and “The Shore” before coming into focus in the last three stories of section two. An atomic war, powered by the same force that takes men into space, ingloriously ends the cycle of human civilization. In the context of The Martian Chronicles, it is a fitting end to a feverishly proud, competitive, commercial ethic. In contrast to the death of Mars, the end of our culture is suicidal, “unnatural,” and unaesthetic (“a last-moment war of frustration to tumble down their cities”). More important to the theme of the section is that the war proves the people on Mars are still Earthmen, regardless of the distance between the planets and the amount of time that has elapsed since their separation. Mars has not homogenized them in the least. Father Peregrine likens the war on Earth to wars in China when he was a boy, far away and therefore unreal and beyond belief. But the proprietor of “The Luggage Store” believes otherwise: “I think we'll all go back. I know, we came up here to get away from things—politics, the atom bomb, war, pressure groups, prejudice, laws—I know. But it's still home there. You wait and see. When the first bomb drops on America the people up here'll start thinking. They haven't been here long enough” (Chronicles, 132). He's right. Earth is still home. The war which eventually destroys Earth resurrects it in the memory of the colonists. And “The Watchers,” after vainly putting up their hands “as if to beat the fire out,” troop en masse to the luggage store.

The climactic story of the second section is “The Off Season.” It is a story which dynamically couples commercialism with the destruction of earth and Mars. Sam Parkhill, the character from “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” is the direct antithesis of the old man, the gas station, and the relish in and acceptance of difference found in “Night Meeting.” “Like any honest businessman,” he picks a choice location (“those trucks from Earth Settlement 101 will have to pass here twenty-four hours a day!”) to reproduce the ultimate American banality: a hot dog stand. “Look at that sign. SAM'S HOT DOGS! Ain't that beautiful, Elma?” Even as we now joke about a McDonald's on the moon, Parkhill fulfills Spender's grim prophecy of commercial pollution: “We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn't set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose” (Chronicles, 54). Minding the main chance, Parkhill's goal is to make a financial killing by making the “best hot dogs on two worlds” in his “riveted aluminum structure, garish with white light, trembling with juke-box melody.” “We'll make thousands, Elma, thousands.” Parkhill, a product of the mainstream of American materialism, puts his faith in Earth, in the customers it will send him.

The phrase financial killing is apt; the drive for dollars always entails the destruction of something. Here the commercial man literally kills. Parkhill, who doesn't like Martians, shoots first—mindlessly and wantonly—and feels sorry later. He operates on the principle of give and take in a world view in which the old inevitably gives way to the new. He is a bull in a china shop, who, by his rough advance, blows away the fragile Martians. The first Martian he shoots falls “like a small circus tent pulling up its stakes and dropping soft fold on fold.” During the ensuing chase, he shoots a girl who “folded like a soft scarf, melted like a crystal figurine. What was left of her, ice, snowflake, smoke, blew away in the wind.”

At the core of this story, however, is a colossal Martian joke, the kind of revenge that feeds on enormous human lust. Parkhill doesn't have to kill the Martians. “The land is yours,” they say and give him land grants to half of Mars. Immediately Sam Parkhill is landlord of Mars. “This is my lucky day!” he exults. Looking toward Earth, he says in Statue-of-Liberty rhetoric: “send me your hungry and your starved.” What the Martians know is that atomic war will wrack Earth. In another swipe at human materialism, Bradbury has the disappointed hopes of the owner of a hot dog stand our perspective on the end of our world. The destruction of Earth is briefly yet vividly described: “Part of it seemed to come apart in a million pieces, as if a gigantic jigsaw had exploded. It burned with an unholy dripping glare for a minute, three times normal size, then dwindled.” The climactic emphasis, however, is given to Sam's emotionally estranged wife. Throughout the story Elma is the voice of criticism and caution. She realizes that Sam, in his drive for success, would kill her. During the chase she even identifies with the Martians. Now, picking up the celebration motif so evident early in The Martian Chronicles and finding, with explosive effect, the proper business term to characterize the future of humanity, she gives the benediction: “Switch on more lights, turn up the music, open the doors. There'll be another batch of customers along in about a million years. Gotta be ready, yes, sir … looks like it's going to be an off season” (Chronicles, 143). This second section of The Martian Chronicles ends with a thump of doom which casts a shadow far into the remaining stories about renewal.

The four stories—“The Silent Towns,” “The Long Years,” “There Will Come Soft Rains,” and “The Million-Year Picnic” linger on the possible regeneration of the human race after a devastating atomic war and the consequent evacuation of Mars. Bradbury does not allow hope to come easy, and when it does, it comes almost grudgingly. Just as Bradbury filters the power of “Rocket Summer” through three unsuccessful expeditions, he squeezes optimism about a second beginning on Mars—a really new life—through three resounding defeats. “The Silent Towns” is a parody of the familiar new-Adam-and-Eve motif in science fiction, which comically thwarts notions of a new race of humans. “The Long Years” and “There Will Come Soft Rains” focus on the machines, the sons of men, which inherit the Earth. Both stories end with meaningless mechanical rituals which mock the sentience that gave them life. The Martian Chronicles does not turn upward until the last story, “The Million-Year Picnic.” Only in the complete destruction of Earth, Earth history, and Earth values, plus the complete acceptance of a new identity, can hope be entertained. “It is good to renew one's wonder,” says Bradbury's philosopher in the epigraph, “space travel has again made children of us all.” In the context of game, vacation, and picnic, this last story entrusts the possibility of new life to a small band of transformed Earth children.

Bradbury's irrepressible dark humor—so evident in “The Earth Men,” “Way in the Middle of the Air,” and “The Off Season”—is again the vehicle in “The Silent Towns.” War has come to Earth, and the towns on Mars are empty. Silence has replaced the musicians and the hammering of the steel-toothed carnivores. The Loneliness again strikes Mars. Walter Gripp, acutely aware of “how dead the town was,” that he is “all alone,” sprinkles “bright dimes everywhere” in a meaningless Johnny Appleseed charade as the last man on Mars. Gripp is a miner who “walked to town once every two weeks to see if he could marry a quiet and intelligent woman.” The story gains movement from the continued search of this New Adam for his New Eve. As the story builds toward the apparition of Eve, however, the tone becomes increasingly mock-romantic.15 When the phone rings, Gripp's heart slowed: “he felt very cold and hollow”; “he wanted very much for it to be a ‘she.’” When he finally phones Genevieve Selsor in the beauty parlor, her voice is “kind and sweet and fine. He held the phone tight to his ear so she could whisper sweetly into it. He felt his feet drift off the floor. His cheeks burned.” He sings the teary old ballad “Oh, Genevieve, Sweet Genevieve” as he entertains beautiful dreams of his new partner. He doesn't find her in the first beauty salon he stops at, though he does find her handkerchief. “It smelled so good he almost lost his balance.”

As we have seen so many times, however, on Bradbury's Mars, dream and reality are constantly changing places, always untrustworthy. Thus the real Genevieve is nothing like the anticipated one. Her fingers, cuddling a box of chocolates, are plump and pallid; her face is round and thick; her eyes are “like two immense eggs stuck into a white mess of bread dough.” Her legs are as big around as tree stumps, her hair a bird's nest. She has no lips, a large greasy mouth, and brows plucked to thin antenna lines (Chronicles, 152). This bizarre woman paws him, pinches him, puts her chocolaty fingers on him, and finally tries to bed him. The scene is priceless parody:

“So here I am!”

“Here you are.” Walter shut his eyes.

“It's getting late,” she said, looking at him.


“I'm tired,” she said.

“Funny, I'm wide awake.”

The presence of Genevieve Selsor, replete with wedding dress, is simply too much for Gripp.

“Genevieve.” He glanced at the door.


“Genevieve, I've something to tell you.”

“Yes?” She drifted toward him, the perfume smell thick about her round white face.

“The thing I have to say to you is …” he said.



(Chronicles, 154-55)

And with that, the last man lights out for the territory, content to live out his life alone. As Hollow observes, Genevieve is an archetype of human piggishness, and Gripp flees from a symbol of mankind grown gross in the softness of material goods. His flight is Bradbury's way of saying that mankind isn't fit to continue.

“The Long Years” is also about a last man and his long wait. The action in the preceding twenty-three stories takes place between the years 1999 and 2005; now the scene moves to 2026. Though, after twenty years, Earth is only a memory, it is still home, and Hathaway longs for rescue, for return there. In the meantime, to combat The Loneliness which would have caused him to take his own life, he recreates mechanically both his family and an American town. Hathaway is a brilliant man, a genius, a still potent remnant of American technological prowess; yet he needs the security of familiar surroundings to save him from Martian otherness. Hathaway, in fact, chooses precisely the plan for survival suggested by Captain Black in “The Third Expedition.” The consternation of Captain Wilder and his crew at finding such an apparently genuine and timeless domestic scene is another reminder of that grim story.

This time, however, the domestic scene is warm and real. Hathaway has done a “fine job,” and when he dies, Mars is left to his mechanical family. He “took us as his real wife and children. And, in a way, we are” (Chronicles, 163). The Americans cannot “murder” the machines: “They're built to last; ten, fifty, two hundred years. Yes, they've as much right to—to life as you or I or any of us” (Chronicles, 165). Thus, in a way, human life will continue on Mars for a long time. Man buys a bit of immortality by building machines like himself. But this melancholy story remains brutally negative. The machines are built to last, but Hathaway knew that “all these things from Earth will be gone long before the old Martian towns” (Chronicles, 156). Even while they last, however, these machines, which were deliberately not programmed to feel, perform an empty rite of supplication as chilling as the ending of “The Third Expedition.” The fact that these are merely machines is never more vivid than in the concluding paragraph, a grim reminder of the scene in which wine dribbles down their chins.

Night after night for every year and every year, for no reason at all, the woman comes out and looks at the sky, her hands up, for a long moment, looking at the green burning of Earth, not knowing why she looks, and then she goes back and throws a stick on the fire, and the wind comes up and the dead sea goes on being dead.

(Chronicles, 165-66)

In this story about a last man, the last mourner is only a paid pallbearer. Even the machines look mindlessly toward Earth.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” takes us back to Earth after the atomic war, to the mechanical children there. Like “Rocket Summer,” people are absent. It is a fitting climax to these stories of man's technological achievement. By taking man out of it, Bradbury helps us see our mechanical environment and think about our relation to it. Indeed, the story is directly connected to the thematic statement in “The Million-Year Picnic”:

“Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth.”

(Chronicles, 179-80)

The house is a mechanical wilderness, a symbol of a civilization which destroys itself in its own sophistication. The story reminds us that “built to last”—whether it be ten, fifty, or two hundred years—is the typical American short haul when compared to cultures that measure their lives in the millions. It does not matter how much we live for our machines; they will never represent a significant continuation of our lives.

The house, which is the central character in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” is a supreme technological achievement. It sounds like the kind of domestic utopia that Life Magazine might have prophesied for an eager audience. The house wakes you up, prepares your meals, counsels you about the weather, reminds you of duties, cleans, and even entertains. It is “an altar with ten thousand attendants.” It is a mechanical paradise antithetical to Ylla's natural one, with streams for floors and fruits growing out of the walls, following the sun and folding up at night like a giant flower. In accordance with the functions we often expect our machines to assume and the care we bestow on them, the house is described in human terms. It has a voice clock, memory tapes, electric eyes, a metal throat, an attic brain, and a skeleton; it acts like an old maid, digests food, and suffers paranoid and psychopathic behavior. The house is also the “one house left standing” in a city of rubble and ashes; its humanness only heightens the void created by human self-destruction. Since technology is meant to serve, it has no function without humanity. Machines cannot “exist” without men. Though we can be mesmerized by mechanical “life,” without the masters, it is a meaningless charade. “But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly” (Chronicles, 167).

The story begins in the morning, in the living room, in the snappy rhythms of the voice clock, with expectation of life; but it is actually about the machinations of death. “At ten o'clock the house began to die.” This sophisticated product of technology is attacked, ironically, by fire, man's first technology, and none of the scurrying water rats, mechanical rain, blind robot faces with faucet mouths, or frothing snakes can help it save itself. Before it crashes into oblivion like the House of Usher, Bradbury paints a raging scene of technology madly out of control (Chronicles, 171). This scene is so vivid, so tragic, so comic that it smacks of the final exorcism of the demonbeast technology in The Martian Chronicles. Like “The Million-Year Picnic,” this story about a last machine ends with a meaningless ritual. As the new day dawns, a “last voice,” needle stuck, destined to become further and further out of sync with nature, repeats the date over and over again, endlessly. There can be no hope of life here. Mechanical time stands still while the eternal rhythm of nature moves on. If there is to be regeneration, it must be through the eternal-life principle of nature, a force technology has not been able to maim.

“The Million-Year Picnic” concerns another expedition to Mars. This time, though, it is as an escape from Earth, not as an extension of it. A former state governor secretly takes his family to Mars, “to start over. Enough to turn away from all that back on Earth and strike out on a new line—” (Chronicles, 180). In order to consecrate his dedication to a new start on Mars, Dad destroys their transportation back to Earth and then deliberately burns a collection of documents symbolizing their way of life there. Though the children are told that the trip is a vacation—a game, a picnic—the tone of the story is somber, muted, primarily because the narrative stays close to the adolescent Timothy who can't quite understand his parents' actions. Thus Timothy's efforts to distinguish illusion from reality, to “lift the veil” his parents wear, establishes Mars as a strange, odd, puzzling place—it is different.

One key to the story is the children. Mars will be given to children who are still capable of wonder: “They stood there, King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, Ruler of All They Surveyed, Unimpeachable Monarchs and Presidents, trying to understand what it meant to own a world and how big a world really was” (Chronicles, 179). The tone is optimistic yet tentative. If the Edwards' rocket succeeds, and if the human ritual here of telling the children every day how Earth “proved itself wrong and strangled itself with its own hands” succeeds, there is hope for a new start. A second key is nature. Nature is not an antagonist to be conquered, as in “Rocket Summer,” but a beneficial force to be sought. Dad's face looks like a fallen Martian city, Mom's eyes have the color of deep cool canal water, Robert's hand is a small crab jumping in the violet water, Timothy's hand is a young tarantula, Mike's face is like an ancient Martian stone image. They all whisper—like Spender—in the dead cities. They are all attracted to a town with a life-giving fountain. And climactically, they all receive their new identity as Martians from the rippling water of the canal. Nature, and the Martian culture that is based on it, are accepted without reservation. “This time earthmen may keep enough of the childlike wonder,” says John Hollow, “this time earthmen may confront Mars and therefore reality on its own terms, seeing themselves as Martians rather than as transplanted earthlings; this time they may learn from the ancient Martians to enjoy existence as a million-year picnic, a camping out in the universe man will never own, an existence with a limit just as individual lives have limits, and yet still a feast, a meal, something to live on.”

Unless we pay close attention to the sermons of Spender and the symbolism of “The Million-Year Picnic,” it is easy to feel that in The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury is against space travel per se. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over and over again in his personal statements, Bradbury has stressed that space is our destiny. Speaking as Jules Verne in an imaginary interview, Bradbury says that the function of the writer is to push the wilderness back. “We do not like this wilderness, this material universe with its own unfathomable laws which ignore our twitchings. Man will only breathe easily when he has climbed the tallest Everest of all: Space. Not because it is there, no, no, but because he must survive and survival means man's populating all the worlds of all the suns.” There is only one thing that can stop this journey—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.”16

The mushroom-cloud dreams are significant. The threat of atomic war, kept in the background and off stage in The Martian Chronicles, is more on Bradbury's mind than it might appear. “Today we stand on the rim of Space,” he says; “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.”17 Perhaps, he suggests, a book for his time would be one “about man's ability to be quicker than his wars.” “Sometimes there is no solution, save flight, from annihilation. When reason turns murderously unreasonable, Man has always run … If but one Adam and Eve reach Mars while the entire stagecraft of Earth burns to a fine cinder, history will have been justified, Mind will be preserved, Life continued.”18

Bradbury, then, comes not “to celebrate the defeat of man by matter, but to proclaim his high destiny and urge him on to it.” The rocket is the conqueror of Death, the “shatterer of the scythe.” The proper study of God is space.19 Bradbury—like Jonathan Edwards, for example—is truly a moralist. Edwards said that if you believe in the certainty of a hell, it makes good sense to scare people away from it. The Martian Chronicles is Bradbury's hellfire-and-brimstone sermon.


  1. Fadiman's “Prefatory Note” to the Bantam edition of The Martian Chronicles has been dropped from recent printings.

  2. Richard Donovan, “Morals from Mars,” The Reporter, 26 June 1951, pp. 38–40.

  3. The Martian Chronicles, pp. 54, 179–80. All page references are to the Bantam paperback edition first printed in 1951.

  4. See William F. Nolan, The Ray Bradbury Companion, Detroit: Gale Research, 1975, pp. 57, 189–94.

  5. Fletcher Pratt, “Beyond Stars, Atoms, & Hell,” Saturday Review of Literature, 17 June 1950, pp. 32–33.

  6. Robert Reilly, “The Artistry of Ray Bradbury,” Extrapolation, 13 (1971), 64–74; Juliet Grimsley, “The Martian Chronicles: A Provocative Study,” English Journal, 61 (1972), 1,309–14.

  7. Willis E. McNelly, “Ray Bradbury—Past, Present, and Future,” in Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, ed. Thomas D. Clareson, Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green Univ. Popular Press, 1976. See also the first chapter in this book.

  8. David Ketterer, New Worlds for Old, Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1974, p. x.

  9. Nolan notes that in 1934, Bradbury was “an audience of one” at the Burns and Allen radio show at Figueroa Street Playhouse. Bradbury Companion, p. 45.

  10. A. James Stupple, “The Past, the Future, and Ray Bradbury,” in Voices for the Future. See also the first chapter in this book.

  11. In the essay cited below, Forrester says that the final scene, though a masterpiece as an isolated tableau, “doesn't satisfy our need for a well-made plot and internal consistency.”

  12. Kent Forrester, “The Dangers of Being Earnest: Ray Bradbury and The Martian Chronicles,Journal of General Education, 28 (1976), pp. 50–54.

  13. John Hollow, “The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man,” audio-cassette tape #1306, Everett/Edwards, Inc.

  14. McNelly mentions this, too.

  15. It is interesting that this story first appeared in Charm (see Nolan, p. 152).

  16. “Marvels and Miracles—Pass It On!” New York Times Magazine, March 20, 1955, pp. 26–27, 56, 58.

  17. Quoted by McNelly.

  18. “Marvels and Miracles.”

  19. These ideas are in a Playboy article excerpted in “Shaw as Influence, Laughton as Teacher,” Shaw Review, 16 (1973), pp. 98–99.

Steven Dimeo (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4085

SOURCE: Dimeo, Steven. “Man and Apollo: Religion in Bradbury's Science Fiction.”1 In Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 156-64. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Dimeo maintains that religious concerns play a significant role 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.2 Religious themes have long been treated in the genre, but the first to give it serious—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, however, it was Ray Bradbury with his short stories, “The Man” (1949) and “The Fire Balloons” (1951), who “provided the bridge between C. S. Lewis and the main body of science fiction in the magazines.”3 Baptized a Baptist, Bradbury grew to be a self-confessed agnostic in his teens. But he has since recognized the significant role that 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.”4

Certainly his moral awareness suggests there is some truth to the claim. Having called himself “a writer of moral fairy tales,” Bradbury 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.”5 Two other science-fiction writers have noted this aspect of Bradbury's work. Henry Kuttner wrote: “The converse of James Branch Cabell, Bradbury deals realistically with a romantic theme: the value of faith.”6 Chad Oliver, speaking of the tone of The Martian Chronicles 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.”7 Since those observations were made, Bradbury has published the novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 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, Bradbury has belabored morality to death. Charles Halloway, who discourses lengthily on Good and Evil in Something Wicked, epitomizes this self-conscious moralizing. It is also apparent when, in Fahrenheit 451, former English teacher Faber condemns the future-present for having abandoned the reality and dreams of books, or when the old man in “To the Chicago Abyss” eulogizes such forgotten trivia as cigarettes and candy bars of the world before a 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.

Elsewhere, however, Bradbury has simplified his conception of morality in a way that suggests the broader nature of the faith in man that 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.”8 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. At its best, then, his literary interest in religion is not a concern for morality but rather for mortality and immortality. When we understand Bradbury's opinion of the interrelationship between science and religion and man and god in the age of space, we see that the Christian, divine, and transcendental allusions in his stories underline the symbolic implications of his fictional pilgrimages into space itself.

Bradbury calls particular attention to the similarity of science and religion. “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 at 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, in their political fanaticism or hero worship of one sort or another; but he views it as inevitable, in 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.”9 More than ever before, science has put man closer to the heavens he once considered the territory of the gods.

Since man's ascension into space has brought dreams of god-like flight to fruition, Bradbury predictably places man at the center of the universe in the romantic and Renaissance tradition: “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.”10 In an article he wrote:

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.11

His concept is clearly pantheistic as he suggests in another essay which 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?12

This egoistic pantheism echoes the “Thou Art God” philosophy that 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 from what William H. Whyte in The Organization Man calls the Protestant rather than the Social Ethic. It echoes Ralph Waldo Emerson's doctrine of self-reliance. Though not new to science fiction in the twentieth century, it has never been analyzed in such terms. Perhaps more than ever before the individual has once again become to writers like Bradbury and Heinlein the single standard in a scientific society dominated by the relativity and uncertainty of Einstein and Heisenberg or the power of the atom and the computer.

In any case, while Bradbury conceives of man today as a kind of god, he also recognizes 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, Bradbury explains that it is “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.”

Since that time, though, Bradbury has vicariously resurrected the illusion by occasionally imputing Christ-like qualities to his characters. In “El Día de Muerte,” a story reminiscent 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,” embodies spiritual leaders and, ultimately, Christ. 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.”13 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 relates the personal revelation of his prior imperfections in terms of Moses on Mt. Sinai: “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 Tablets, different!” When the narrator sees Brokaw go out among 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 “Henry the Ninth” 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. To begin on the artistic level, Edgar Allen Poe in “The Exiles” 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. …”14 The special-effects artist, Terwilliger, who sculpts a miniature dinosaur in “Tyrannosaurus Rex,” 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.”15 In “The Rocket” it takes Bodoni 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 oversoul, in the tradition of Zen. 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. Reappearing in “The April Witch,” Cecy 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, in “Kaleidoscope,” Hollis and his crew, scattered by the explosion of their rocket, unite with God: “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.”16 Certainly—perhaps too obviously—the heroine of “Powerhouse,” a story which 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 which 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 chats.”17 The next morning, after the night rain has ceased, she looks out under the clear desert sky and sees that she is still a part of humanity, part of a divine design in the world.

… 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.

The impulse to discover God in oneself is not as implicit in these tales of what Time has called “infinite interfusion”18 so much as it is in Bradbury's fictional pilgrimages. 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.”19 Inevitably, then, in “The Machineries of Joy,” Father Brian, who begins to face the religious crisis inherent in the space age, realizes that the leap into space is 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.”20

The nature of the goal receives symbolic treatment in “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” a title taken from Yeats' “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” In this story a rocket alternately named 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.”21 They are spirituality, for the sun is described as “the bodiless body and the fleshless flesh.” Finally, they are the wisdom of a god, as suggested by the captain's burning-tree simile for the sun. The image recalls not only the Tree of Knowledge but Moses' vision of God in the burning bush. What the rocket's Cup scoops up is not merely part of the sun, 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 lives and livelihoods.”

In “The Man,” the trip to the stars is even more clearly an archetypal search for the Holy Grail. Before Captain Hart and Lieutenant Martin learn that 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.”22

On discovering that Christ has brought peace to the nearby city, Martin is content with His effect. But the nervous, ambitious Hart ignores the probable futility and takes off in the rocket to pursue the cause—Christ Himself. In the final analysis, the title of the story seems doubly ironic, for to Hart, Christ represents man successfully transcending his own limitations. Perhaps, too, the man here is actually Captain Hart, who comes to epitomize man's driving discontent.

Unlike Captain Hart, Father Peregrine, in “The Fire Balloons,” appears to find what he is searching 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 a ridiculous effort to “convert” the Martians does he believe that 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 does this discovery set the priest's own mind at ease? Admittedly, the Martians whom he finally calls “the fireworks of the pure soul”23 represent more of a constant than the transient fire balloons in his past, which “dwindled, forever gone”; the Martians are “fixed, gaseous, miraculous, forever.” Father Peregrine's reactions in the hills counterpose Christ's in the wilderness. The priest enjoys succumbing to mortal temptations as 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 that of Father Stone offer the key to understanding what the end of the quest really signifies. At first Father Peregrine attempts to proselytize the Martians. Then he realizes that he must learn from them instead. When he understands what the Martians are, Father Stone, who has been more interested in recognizing “the inhuman in the human” 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 that the round glass model they have built is not just a sign but Christ. 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 priests must walk “down out of the hills toward the new town”—back to mortal reality. They intend to climb again, however, 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 which seemed over for Father Peregrine has actually just begun. Despite Bradbury's previous protestations, in his space odyssey man remains an inchoate god.

But can such a pilgrimage ever really be over? The achievements Bradbury depicts are either partial or ephemeral. Other stories which more subtly evince this apparently pervasive preoccupation with man's Daedalus-like aspirations bear this out. In “The Fox and the Forest,” to take an example, William and Susan Travis—the assumed name may be intended to suggest the travelers that they are—jump back in time from the imminently destructive world of a.d. 2155 to the festive peacefulness of Mexico in a.d. 1938. Their real patronym, Kristen, implies that they are, in fact, Christian pilgrims turning away from what they consider to be an evil society. The policing Searchers foil their plan, though, and the couple inevitably return to their obligations in the future. Perhaps Bradbury is suggesting the fantastic, irreparably romantic nature of such pilgrimages when he says:

“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.’”24

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. In his study “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies,” Carl Jung 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. Yet his tendency may be virtually inevitable now that existentialism claims to have seen through the institutionalized illusions of religion in the past and left a Weltanschauung which, some believe, 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—and perhaps science fiction itself—are helping the pendulum swing again from void to one beyond the gravity of the brutal truth.


  1. This chapter appeared originally in slightly different form in The Journal of Popular Culture (Spring 1972).

  2. Chapter 5, “The Artifice of Eternity,” of my doctoral dissertation, The Mind and Fantasies of Ray Bradbury (Univ. of Utah, 1970), explores this subject in a slightly different, more comprehensive manner.

  3. Sam Moskowitz, Seekers of Tomorrow, New York: Ballantine, 1967, p. 408.

  4. Bradbury's comments, which appear without footnotes, are taken from an interview, Nov. 15, 1969.

  5. “A Portrait of Genius: Ray Bradbury,” Show, Dec. 1964, p. 53.

  6. Henry Kuttner, “Ray Bradbury's Themes,” Ray Bradbury Review, ed. William F. Nolan, San Diego, 1952, p. 23.

  7. Chad Oliver, “Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicler,” Ray Bradbury Review, p. 41.

  8. Ray Bradbury, “Remembrances of Things Future,” Playboy, 12 Jan. 1965, p. 102.

  9. Charles Davenport, “The Magic World of Ray Bradbury,” Los Angeles Magazine (March 1962), p. 44.

  10. Kitte Turmell, “Predicting the Future Is an Art as Old as Plato,” Youth, Jan. 17, 1965, p. 13.

  11. Bradbury, “Remembrances.”

  12. Ray Bradbury, “Cry the Cosmos,” Life, 53 (Sept. 14, 1962), 94.

  13. All of the quotations in this story are from Ray Bradbury, I Sing the Body Electric! New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969, pp. 241–53.

  14. Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man, New York: Bantam Books, 1963, p. 100.

  15. Ray Bradbury, The Machineries of Joy, New York: Bantam Books, 1965, pp. 22–23.

  16. Bradbury, The Illustrated Man, p. 26.

  17. All quotations in this story are from Ray Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun, New York: Bantam Books, 1967, pp. 111–19.

  18. “Poet of the Pulps,” Time, 61 (Mar. 23, 1953), 114; “From Here to Infinity: A Medicine for Melancholy,” Time, 73 (February 9, 1959), 92.

  19. Bradbury, “Cry the Cosmos,” p. 88.

  20. Bradbury, The Machineries of Joy, p. 13.

  21. All quotations in this story are from Bradbury's The Golden Apples of the Sun, pp. 164–69.

  22. Bradbury, The Illustrated Man, p. 43.

  23. Ibid., pp. 75–90.

  24. Maggie Savoy, “Ray Bradbury Keeping an Eye on Cloud ix,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 15, 1970), Sec. E, p. 18.

George R. Guffey (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8235

SOURCE: Guffey, George R. “The Unconscious, Fantasy, and Science Fiction: Transformations in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Lem's Solaris.” In Bridges to Fantasy, edited by George E. Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes, pp. 142-59. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

[In the following essay, Guffey asserts that the similarities between Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris are “largely the result of the strong influence of the unconscious of each writer during the creative process.”]

[A writer] floats on the heavenly lake; he steeps himself in the nether spring. Thereupon, submerged words squirm up, as when a flashing fish, hook in its gills, leaps from water's depth.

—Lu Ki, Wen-fu

A writer psychoanalyzes himself, not with a psychiatrist, but with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or maybe millions of readers.

—Larry Niven, Science Fiction Voices #2

Those of us who come to fantasy and science fiction after years of studying the poetry and prose of the earliest periods of English and American history do so with considerable delight. We are delighted, first, because a substantial amount of the fantasy and science fiction published since 1950 is quality literature. We are delighted, second, because of the rich research opportunities the field offers.

Shivering and squinting in dark, dank cubicles, we in the past studied the crabbed, ambiguous handwriting of minor church functionaries, hoping thereby to settle longstanding arguments about the birthplaces and birthtimes of literary figures of major and minor importance. Similarly, we laboriously collated faded manuscripts of doubtful authority against multiple copies of badly printed folios, quartos, and duodecimos, with the modest hope of learning something, no matter how little, about the creative imagination of Shakespeare, Dryden, or even Traherne. As we went about our scholarly tasks, we now and then pictured in our mind's eyes the relative affluence of colleagues who had chosen to specialize in more modern periods. Surrounded by holograph manuscripts, galley proofs, personal letters, and taped interviews, those happy devils, in our imaginations, clucked and chortled to themselves as their typewriters rattled away.

Although on the whole exaggerated, that picture of modern scholarly affluence does contain a significant amount of truth. Our age, unlike the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, not only places a high premium on the works of the individual writer, but also attempts in general to preserve as much of his personal history as possible. Many modern authors are, of course, uncomfortable about the dogged attention paid to their lives and therefore cover their tracks whenever and wherever possible. They destroy their juvenilia, refuse interviews, and go to great lengths to avoid personal contact with the reading public. To the delight of critics and scholars interested in the creative process, a few, and here fantasy and science fiction writers seem generally to fit, happily write autobiographical articles for magazines, mingle with their fans at conventions, and grant interviews of various sorts. It is with provocative comments made by some of these writers in recent interviews and articles that I wish to begin my essay.


One of the staples of fantasy and science fiction magazines, amateur and professional, is the interview with a successful writer in the field. Because many readers of these magazines are themselves would-be writers, the interviewers tend to focus on the practical problems of writing, especially the writing of novels. In other words, although they may or may not delve deeply into the educational backgrounds, political philosophies, or reading tastes of the writers they are interviewing, they almost always ask the two questions of most interest to beginning writers of fantasy and science fiction: Where do you get your ideas? and How carefully do you work your stories out before you begin to write?

The answers elicited by these and similar questions fall roughly into two categories. A few writers say that a considerable amount of conscious preparation is necessary before they actually begin to write. Here, for example, are the responses of Poul Anderson to questions about his writing habits:

Writing a novel is a complicated task. Once I determine, in a general sense, what I'm going to do, I'll sit down and start planning it in great detail. I'll try to figure everything out I possibly can about the world I'm trying to build. After I've calculated the mathematic skeleton of the story, I'll work on several more arbitrary things, such as drawing maps, identifying place names, researching life on the planet. I'll usually end up with pages and pages of closely written notes, just on that one planet, getting down to elaborate descriptions of flora and fauna. Then I'll start developing individual characters.1

Anderson, a fabricator of “hard” science fiction, is well aware that some writers work in a less conscious, less systematic way. In an autobiographical article published in Algol, he has distinguished two extreme methods of composition:

Some artists proceed in a kind of frenzy, unheeding of what they are about until the project is finished. This is not necessarily bad. A numbe[r] of our finest works have been created thus. No two makers have identical methods. Of course, if he's any good, the headlong artist has all the skill and understanding that he needs; they just operate less on the conscious level for him than they do for most people.

At the opposite pole we find the completely cerebral person who plans everything out beforehand, takes careful note of what he is doing while he does it, and afterward goes back to ponder over each smallest detail and revise until he is satisfied. People of this kind also produce their share of greatness.2

Lester del Rey, although not given to extensive revision, seems in general to follow a procedure similar to Anderson's. In an interview which appeared in Science Fiction Review, he says of his writing practices: “I know what my story is going to be before I ever write it. This I work out in great detail. I'm never surprised by the development of a character because I've known that before I ever put it on paper, because I've planned that all out ahead of time. …”3 And, interestingly enough, L. Sprague de Camp, generally a producer of fantasy and science fantasy, appears to be one of Anderson's “cerebral” writers, not one of his “frenzied” ones. “I'm one of these meticulous outliners,” he says. “Some people sit down and the whole thing pours out. … I don't work very much that way. I have a general idea, and then gradually fill it out, add more detail, add more complications and the like.”4

Although Poul Anderson, Lester del Rey, and L. Sprague de Camp evidently construct their stories with the rationality and efficiency of an aircraft engineer working out the design of a new jet engine, a great many of the fantasy and science fiction writers interviewed during the last four or five years have indicated that their own creative processes are neither very rational nor very efficient. Gregory Benford, for one, notes that, knowing he is a scientist, many of his readers suspect him to be a “very rationalist writer, like Fred Hoyle.” Actually, he says, “it seems to me that I'm a little more of a subconscious sort of writer.” He does not, he adds, know where the “stuff” of his stories “comes from,” and he is only able to put large chunks of his material together over long periods of time. A good case in point is his novel In the Ocean of Night, which grew out of previously published pieces of short fiction. He describes the making of that novel:

I knew I was going to write the book for a long time, but I had to work out the details. … In the summer of '75, I sat down and tried to start on page one and go through and modify everything … and try to pull it together. It was mostly a subconscious process because I actually didn't know how major things in the book connected up with other major things. It was a series of revelations. I was in the middle of the book and just going along thinking about the plotline that I had laid out, and about 300 words before it happened I discovered that Nigel Walmsley's wife, Alexandria, was going to rise from the dead. I didn't know that! I suddenly realized that all that had been planted before, was all set up, and I hadn't even realized that I was planting it. … It was that kind of assembly work in which you slowly understand what is going on. … This seems to be the way that I have to white books. It takes a long time to put together the ideas and figure out what it means.5

According to the Jungian school of psychology, a frequently appearing symbol for the unconscious is the ocean.6 In light of the large part that Benford's unconscious seems to have played in the creation of In the Ocean of Night, the title he chose for his book is peculiarly fitting. Among the various words one might use to characterize the unconscious, “ocean” and “night” would have to be at the head of the list.

Writing in Algol, Joe Haldeman recently discussed at length the problem of “getting ideas” for science fiction stories. Before suggesting a solution for writer's block, he described R. A. Lafferty's theory of artistic inspiration:

R. A. Lafferty, than whom there is no more original writer in science fiction, claims that there's no such thing as an original idea, and writers who think they sit down and go through some rational process to arrive at a story are kidding themselves. He claims that all ideas float around as a kind of psychic public property, and every now and then one settles on you. That sounds dangerously mystical to me, subversive, but I think it's true.7

Again, the image is Jungian: ideas “float around” in a psychic ocean, which is accessible to everyone. Surely we are here only a half-step away from Jung's theory of the archetypes and the collective unconscious.

At times a writer finds that his, in Haldeman's words, “imagination has frozen solid,” that “no ideas come floating down” to him. Here is Haldeman's solution to that, for a writer, most vexing problem:

Start typing. Type your name over and over. Type lists of animals, flowers, baseball players, Greek Methodists. Type out what you're going to say to that damned insolent repairman. Sooner or later, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of a desire to stop this silly exercise, you'll find you've started a story. It's never taken me so much as a page of nonsense. …8

The science fiction writer who seems to have thought most about the part the unconscious plays in the creative process is A. E. Van Vogt. His introduction to the subject came about, he tells us, as a result of his attempts to find a successful treatment for a chronic medical disorder:

I fell out of a second-storey window when I was age two and a half, and I was unconscious for three days, near death. Later, using hypnosis, and then still later, dianetics, in an effort to reduce the trauma of those three days, I discovered that unconsciousness has “on it” (in it) endless hallucinations. The normal part of my brain has probably spent a lifetime trying to rationalize the consequent fantasies and images. This could explain a lot about my bent for science fiction.9

Over the years, Van Vogt, who like Haldeman and most other writers at times suffered from writer's block, developed a unique way of freeing his blocked unconscious and thereby initiating stories or resuming halted ones. Noting that when he went to bed after a period of unsuccessful labor he often later in the night awoke with a solution to the problem which had frustrated him, Van Vogt, in order to prime his creative imagination, embarked on a demanding regimen: “Thereafter, I used an alarm clock to awaken me every one and a half hours. Throughout my career as a writer, I awakened myself by an alarm clock—and later with an industrial timer—about 300 nights a year. Thus, I enlisted my subconscious … in my ceaseless search for ideas and story solutions.”10 Eventually, Van Vogt's ruminations on the workings of the unconscious led him to a full-blown theory of composition which included, in addition to aspects of aesthetics, elements of archetypal epistemology and metaphysics as well:

I had the theory that every grain of sand, every rock, every living cell contains within it a record of its ancient origin. The theory postulated that if we could but “read” that record, we could know the beginning of all things, and their subsequent history. Obviously, science has long attempted to use its methods to comprehend this record. My method, however, was more exotic. At a certain point in each science fiction story, I would let my subconscious mind freely associate within the frame of the ideas of that story. My hope was that, as time went on, as more stories were written, my subconscious would progressively spew forth ancient images; and that a picture of the truth of the universe would gradually emerge.11

I could quote numerous additional fantasy and science fiction writers on the subject of the role of the unconscious in the creative process, but time and space will allow for only two more. When an interviewer recently asked Stephen R. Donaldson where he got ideas for his stories, Donaldson replied, “Where? from the un- or sub-conscious recesses of my own mind. … When I'm receptive, they can be fished to the surface [that Jungian image, again] by almost any kind of external stimuli (one whole sequence in The Power That Preserves was triggered by a can of disinfectant in a restaurant washroom).”12 A little later in the interview, he added, “The single most crippling obstacle to this process is self-consciousness: Self-consciousness blocks receptivity.”13

Finally, in describing the origin and completion of Sword of the Demon, Richard Lupoff emphasized not only the contribution of his “personal” unconscious, but also the indirect contribution of the racial unconscious, through the materials he first absorbed from Japanese myths and then subsequently incorporated into his novel. The following is his description of the complete process:

The very opening of the book, the first chapter of it, just occurred spontaneously. It had no particular source that I knew of. The famous well-springs of the subconscious, or whatever. I had no awareness of it having come from any place in particular, it was just there. And I didn't know where to go with it. It sat in my desk untouched for a couple of years because of that. Finally, I was looking through The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology and spent about the next six months reading Japanese cultural mythology. Just submerged [my italics] myself in it. All the characters and most of the incidents in the book are taken from Japanese mythology, but the book itself is not a literal retelling of any one particular story. … This book was produced by turning my head into some sort of solvent and filling it up with Japanese mythology until I got a supersaturated solution, and this book is the precipitate.14

Most lovers of literature find such vivid, personal statements about the creative process intrinsically interesting. What makes these statements especially interesting, however, is the remarkable way they echo key passages in C. G. Jung's most influential book, Symbols of Transformation. In the second chapter of that book, Jung's primary goal is the distinction of two fundamentally different kinds of thinking. One kind he calls “directed thinking”; the other he calls “fantasy thinking.”

Directed thinking is, above all, verbal: “If we … follow out an intensive train of thought—the solution of a difficult problem, for instance—we suddenly notice that we are thinking in words, that in very intensive thinking we begin talking to ourselves, or that we occasionally write down the problem or make a drawing of it, so as to be absolutely clear.” Directed thinking, Jung adds, is logical thinking. It is difficult, even exhausting. It copies reality and produces adaptation to it. Certainly, the “clearest expression of modern directed thinking is science and the techniques fostered by it.”15

On the other hand, “What happens,” Jung asks, “when we do not think directly?” “Well,” he answers, “our thinking then lacks all leading ideas and the sense of direction emanating from them. We no longer compel our thoughts along a definite track, but let them float, sink or rise according to their specific gravity.” Unlike directed thinking, this kind of thinking (fantasy thinking) does not tire us, and it “leads away from reality into fantasies of the past or future.”16

Although directed thinking is a conscious phenomenon, most fantasy thinking, according to Jung, goes on in the unconscious. For the clearest, most concise description of this fantasy activity and of the two parts of the unconscious psyche—the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious—we must resort to another of Jung's works, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype”:

Modern psychology treats the products of unconscious imagination as self-portraits of what is going on in the unconscious, or as statements of the unconscious psyche about itself. They fall into two categories. Firstly, fantasies (including dreams) of a personal character, which go back unquestionably to personal experiences, things forgotten or repressed, and can thus be completely explained by individual anamnesis. Secondly, fantasies (including dreams) of an impersonal character, which cannot be reduced to experiences in the individual's past, and thus cannot be explained as something individually acquired. These fantasy-pictures undoubtedly have their closest analogues in mythological types. We must therefore assume that they correspond to certain collective (and not personal) structural elements of the human psyche in general, and, like the morphological elements of the human body, are inherited. … the fantasy-products of the second category (as also those of the first) arise in a state of reduced intensity on the part of consciousness (in dreams, delirium, reveries, visions, etc.).17

Very clearly, then, the first group of writers I quoted—Anderson, del Rey, and de Camp—are, in the language of Jung, “directed thinkers.” Highly conscious and highly logical artists, they perform mathematical calculations, do extensive research, draw detailed maps, and make elaborate outlines before they actually begin to write their stories. The second group of writers—Benford, Haldeman, Van Vogt, Donaldson, and Lupoff—are, to varying degrees, what Jung called “fantasy thinkers.” Less conscious and less logical as artists, they depend greatly on the promptings of the unconscious.


At first glance, the two books I wish to examine in some detail in the remainder of this essay would appear to have little in common. Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles is notable chiefly for its masterful stylistic effects. It holds our attention with its sensuous diction, its hypnotic sentence rhythms, and its skillful onomatopoeic devices. The scientific and technological materials of the book are unfortunately not so impressive; they are not only frequently self-contradictory, but they are also often in conflict with those of the world we actually inhabit. Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, on the other hand, is a masterpiece of philosophical fiction. In dealing with matters scientific and technological, it is always informed and sophisticated. Its rigorous and detailed epistemological speculations are in the main successfully integrated with fascinating character portraits and suspenseful incidents.

Surprisingly enough, these very different books do have, as we shall see, some significant points of contact. Those points of contact, I shall argue, are largely the result of the strong influence of the unconscious of each writer during the creative process. To begin, I must turn to the public statements Bradbury has made about his own methods of composition.

If his public comments about his methods of composition are to be trusted, Bradbury is a determined practitioner of what Jung called “fantasy thinking.” In a speech in 1975, he rejected the notion that the conscious part of the mind should play a significant role in the creative process: “I have had a sign by my typewriter for the better part of twenty years, now, which says, ‘Don't think.’ I hate all those signs that say Think. That's the enemy of creativity.” Melville, the author of the greatest American novel, did not intellectualize; he relied on emotion. “Emotion, emotion wins the day. Intellect can help correct. But emotion, first, surprises creativity out in the open where it can be pinned down! Learn from Melville!” Like Melville, and Plato's Ion, for that matter, Bradbury is, he says, at the mercy of his Muse when he writes. He is not in control. Having written, however, he is better balanced, better adjusted: “I've only been to a psychiatrist once in my life. I don't happen to believe in it. … I think good friends, or the act of creativity itself, sustains us and saves us more often than not.”18

In an interview published only last year, Bradbury again emphasized that, for him, writing is essentially an undirected process: “I never plan ahead. Everything is always spontaneous and passionate. I never sit down and think things out. I also do a great deal of daydreaming. Oh, I do some thinking in-between, but it's a very loose thing. I'm not super-intellectual. If it feels right, then I'll do it.” How does he get ideas for stories? “Basically, I just go [into my office] with the idea of writing something. I usually start off the day with poetry. I go through a process of free association. I do the same thing with short stories.”19

Like many fantasy and science fiction writers, Bradbury admits, then, to a significant amount of daydreaming. To a psychoanalyst the daydreams of an individual are at least as significant as his nightdreams. When an individual daydreams, his psychic energy (or libido) manifests itself as a stream of images linked by association, a stream which flows freely in the direction of least resistance. Good writers such as Bradbury differ from ordinary daydreamers, of course, by possessing an ability to abstract ideas from their fantasies and objectify them in good literary form. Before analyzing Bradbury's finest achievement as a writer of fantasy, The Martian Chronicles, I must first place one of its dominant themes in a more general context.

One of the most common themes in nightdreams, daydreams, and myths is that of transformation, or metamorphosis. All of us have had nightdreams in the course of which inanimate objects, plants, animals, or people have changed into very different inanimate objects, plants, animals, or people. Among the materials collected and published by Freud and Jung, numerous examples of such transformations can be found. Here, for instance, is a short transformational nightdream collected by Jung and printed in his Essays on a Science of Mythology: “A white bird perches on a table. Suddenly it changes into a fair-haired seven-year-old girl and just as suddenly back into a bird, which now speaks with a human voice.”20 Another dreamer provides a longer, even more intriguing example:

We go through a door into a tower-like room, where we climb a long flight of steps. … The steps end in a temple. … The temple is of red stone. Bloody sacrifices are offered there. Animals are standing about the altar. In order to enter the temple precincts one has to be transformed into an animal—a beast of the forest. … On the altar in the middle of the open room there stands the moon-bowl, from which smoke or vapour continually rises. There is also a huge image of the goddess, but it cannot be seen clearly. The worshippers, who have been changed into animals and to whom I also belong, have to touch the goddess's foot. …21

As far as transformational daydreams are concerned, the ones most familiar to us are those involving wish fulfillments. In our reveries we are often temporarily transformed into powerful heads of state, heroic soldiers, world-class athletes, celebrated musicians, prize-winning authors, glamorous movie-stars—the list of possibilities is virtually endless. Freud and Jung frequently touched on the subject of daydreams, and Jung even went so far as to publish a number of the most significant ones he had collected. Of those printed by Jung in Essays on a Science of Mythology, one, from a woman “in middle life,” is especially relevant to the thrust of this essay. Richer, more bizarre than the transformational daydreams of most of us, it is especially interesting for its ending:

A magician is demonstrating his tricks to an Indian prince. He produces a beautiful young girl from under a cloth. She is a dancer, who has the power to change her shape or at least hold her audience spell-bound by faultless illusion. During the dance she dissolves with the music into a swarm of bees. Then she changes into a leopard, then into a jet of water, then into a sea-polyp that has twined itself about a young pearl-fisher. Between times, she takes human form again at the dramatic moment. She appears as a she-ass bearing two baskets of wonderful fruits. Then she becomes a many-coloured peacock. The prince is beside himself with delight and calls her to him. But she dances on, now naked, and even tears the skin from her body, and finally falls down—a naked skeleton. This is buried, but at night a lily grows out of the grave, and from its cup there rises the white lady, who floats slowly up to the sky.22

This daydream is interesting not only because of the number and variety of transformations it contains, but also because of the mythlike transfiguration at the end of it. The death and burial of the beautiful young girl and her subsequent rebirth in the form of a flower are, of course, paralleled by similar events in numerous well-known myths. In his Metamorphoses, Ovid, in fact, organized much of the mythology of Greece, Rome, and Babylonia around the theme of transformation; and, among the many different kinds of transformation he described, those involving the death of an individual and the subsequent rebirth of that individual in the form of a flower were amply represented. Because of their popularity with Renaissance poets such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Marvell, the Ovidian stories involving such myths (those about Narcissus, Hyacinthus, and Adonis, for example) are the best-known today. Overall, the transformations depicted in Metamorphoses are more numerous and more varied than some of us will remember them to be: Chaos is transformed into an ordered universe, the coral “plant” into a rock, Syrinx into a reed, Daphne into a tree, the Thracian women into oaks, Ascalaphus into an owl, the nephew of Daedalus into a partridge, Daedalion into a hawk, Cadmus into a snake, Lyncus into a lynx, Lycaon into a wolf, Callisto into a bear, Galanthis into a weasel, Atlas into a mountain, Cyane into a pool, Arethusa into a spring, a dog into a marble statue, a city into a heron; nymphs are transformed into islands, ships into nymphs, and on, and on.

Over a hundred years ago Nietzsche suggested a relationship between our dream thinking and what he called the “whole thought” of primitive man. On the basis of dream analysis, Freud came to a related conclusion; he held that myths are the “distorted vestiges of the wishful phantasies of whole nations, the [age-long] dreams” of primitive man. And, finally, Jung himself wrote, “The conclusion that the myth-makers thought in much the same way as we still think in dreams is almost self-evident.”23 With these ideas about the nature and functions of night-dreams, daydreams, and myths in mind, we are now ready to turn to Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.

Near the middle of “Usher II,” one of the stories in The Martian Chronicles, Mr. Stendahl, lover of fantasy and re-creator of the House of Usher, says of his architectural accomplishments, “I nurtured a medieval atmosphere in a modern, incredulous world.”24 Apt though they are for describing the house and grounds Stendahl created on Mars, Stendahl's words would have made an even more appropriate epigraph for The Martian Chronicles itself. Although superficially a book about a technologically superior world of the future, The Martian Chronicles is in reality a collection of atavistic daydreams, daydreams which derive much of their power from mythlike transformations.

One of the most mythlike stories in the book is “The Martian,” a haunting tale of a Martian “boy” capable of changing his shape to accommodate the desires of the settlers from Earth. In what seemed like, in the words of the narrator, a “repeated dream,”25 he moved among the settlers, assuming the shapes of their dead relatives and acquaintances. Always fearful of being “trapped” by the settlers, he eventually met his end beside a Martian canal, as members of a hysterical crowd struggled to hold him: “Before their eyes he changed. … He was melting wax shaping to their minds. They shouted, they pressed forward, pleading. He screamed, threw out his hands, his face dissolving to each demand. … They snatched his wrists, whirled him about, until with one last shriek of horror he fell.”26 This story, of course, reminds us of the myth of Proteus. A shape changer who also had to be constantly on guard against being caught and forced to satisfy the desires of his captors, Proteus, a god of the sea, sometimes assumed “the shape of a young man, at another transformed into a lion; sometimes he used to appear … as a raging wild boar, or again as a snake … or else horns transformed him into a bull.”27

In “The Third Expedition,” a spaceship from Earth lands near what appears to be a small Martian town. The commander of the ship is Captain John Black. A man eighty years old, Black, “through the grace of God and a science that … knows how to make some old men young again,” is as agile and alert as the chronologically younger men accompanying him. Nearing the town, he and two of his men hear someone “softly, drowsily,” playing “Beautiful Dreamer” on a piano. Minutes later, exploring the “dreaming” afternoon streets of the town, the Earthmen find that it appears to be in every way identical to the small, Midwestern towns of their youth; and shortly, in an “amazing dream of reality,” Black is happily reunited with his long-dead “brother,” “father,” and “mother.”28

But during the night, lying beside his “brother” in a bedroom like the one they shared as children, Black begins to awaken from his “dreaming hypnosis”: “Suppose these houses are really some other shape, a Martian shape, but, by playing on my desires and wants, these Martians have made this seem like my old home town, my old house. … Sometime during the night, perhaps, my brother here on this bed will change form, melt, shift, and become another thing, a Martian. It would be very simple for him just to turn over in bed and put a knife into my heart.” By morning, the Martians have, in fact, killed all sixteen men from the rocket ship. At their funeral, the “mayor” of the town, “his face sometimes looking like the mayor, sometimes looking like something else,” makes a sad speech, while the faces of Black's crying “relatives” melt from familiar shapes “into something else.”29

The transformations witnessed by Captain Williams and his crew in a different story, “The Earth Men,” are even more bizarre than those encountered by Captain Black in “The Third Expedition.” Taken for a hallucinating psychotic because he claims to have come from Earth, Williams, along with his crew, is locked in a Martian insane asylum, where he must spend the night surrounded by constantly metamorphosing “paranoids”:

A man squatted alone in darkness. Out of his mouth issued a blue flame which turned into the round shape of a small naked woman. …

The captain nodded at another corner. A woman stood there, changing. First she was embedded in a crystal pillar, then she melted into a golden statue, finally a staff of polished cedar, and back to a woman.

All through the midnight hall people were juggling thin violet flames, shifting, changing, for nighttime was the time of change and affliction. …

Little demons of red sand ran between the teeth of sleeping men. Women became oily snakes. There was a smell of reptiles and animals.30

Convinced that Williams is a highly imaginative Martian who has transformed himself into a startlingly effective image of an Earthman, a Martian psychologist excitedly envisions a scientific paper on Williams's feat: “I'll write this into my greatest monograph! I'll speak of it at the Martian Academy next month! Look at you! Why, you've even changed your eye color from yellow to blue, your skin to pink from brown. And those clothes, and your hands having five fingers instead of six! Biological metamorphosis through psychological imbalance!”31 Finally, having judged Williams's case incurable, the Martian psychologist resorts to euthanasia, only to find that, even after the death of Williams, his supposed hallucination, his Earthman's body, continues to exist.

An exhaustive account of the many kinds of transformation taking place in the other stories in The Martian Chronicles would require more space than I have been allotted for the rest of this essay, but perhaps I can at least suggest their variety and number before turning to similar materials in Lem's Solaris. In the stories and the bridges between the stories, a frosty Ohio winter is transformed into a brief summer by the heat from the exhausts of a rocket ship; Spender, a sensitive archaeologist, is (in spirit, at least) transformed into a Martian; Benjamin Driscoll, a latter-day Johnny Appleseed, turns a Martian desert into a green paradise; Pikes, a man of ten thousand faces, is able to transform himself into “a fury, a smoke, a blue fog, a white rain, a bat, a gargoyle”; Stendahl's guests, after being forced to don masks, are “transformed from one age into another”; a Martian woman, slain by the vulgar and crass Sam Parkhill, turns into “ice, snowflake, smoke,” and is blown “away in the wind”; and, at the end of the book, the Hathaway family, having destroyed the rocket ship which brought them to Mars, become “Martians.”32 This list might be considerably extended, but it should suffice.

Finally, before leaving The Martian Chronicles, I must say something about the book's special use of metaphor and simile. All metaphors and similes are, of course, by their very nature transformational. If I, for example, say that “my love is a soft, soft cloud,” I am, at some level of understanding, for a brief moment at least, transforming her. What is unusually interesting about the metaphors and similes of The Martian Chronicles, however, is the high frequency of what I shall call “biomorphic” figures of speech—metaphors and similes with inanimate tenors and animate vehicles. And among the many biomorphic figures of the book, those of greatest interest to me are the figures in which the tenors are machines. Here are a few examples: “the … house … turned and followed the sun, flowerlike”; “From [the evil weapon] hordes of golden bees could be flung out with a high shriek”; “Up and down green wine canals, boats as delicate as bronze flowers drifted”; “the rocket had bloomed out great flowers of heat and color”; “[the rocket] had moved in the midnight waters of space like a pale sea leviathan”; “The rockets came like locusts”; “It was a machine like a jade-green insect, a praying mantis, delicately rushing through the cold air”; and “the great ships turned as lightly as moon thistles.”

In interviews during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Bradbury repeatedly stated that he had never flown in an airplane, that (whenever possible) he avoided riding in automobiles, and that he disliked telephones and television sets.34 Consistent with Bradbury's openly negative attitude toward machines, Mr. Hathaway at the end of The Martian Chronicles says of life during the last half of the twentieth century, “Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness. …”35 Only last year in an interview, Bradbury insisted, “We must learn to humanize the machine.”36 In light of his general mechanophobia, it is not, I think, therefore surprising to find in The Martian Chronicles and in Bradbury's other works numerous, probably unconsciously generated, biomorphic figures of speech.

According to Jung, fantasy thinking, although mainly a spontaneous product of the unconscious, contains elements of consciousness. The degree of influence an individual will allow his unconscious is dependent on the degree of rationalism prevailing in his immediate environment. Today, the countries officially most committed to a rationalist position are the socialist states of Europe and Asia, and the most read and most admired socialist writer of fantasy and science fiction is Stanislaw Lem of Poland. In recent public statements about his stories, Lem has revealed that, although he is officially a staunch rationalist, his attempts to rationalize the creative process have hitherto met with failure:

I have tried all thinkable, rational, optimization procedures (tactics of writing). All in vain. I do not know where my ideas come from. … They come in dreams, but this is very rare; sometimes while reading scientific papers, especially mathematical ones. But then, there is no evidence of a rational linkage between a new idea and the said paper. … And truly I never know what I am writing—if it will be a short story, a novel, a serious thing or something grotesque—what problems may emerge, and so on. This is one hell and damnation, especially since I AM a rationalist, but it is so.37

Of even greater relevance to the concerns of this essay, though, are Lem's statements about the composition of his best novel, Solaris:

I had no knowledge, not an atom of it, when I wrote the first chapter, what Kelvin would encounter on Solaris Station. I went forward in the same way that Kelvin went, and spoke for the first time with Snow, not knowing what was going on. Then, as I approached the end, again I did not know how to end the story, and it took a whole year—one day there came this illumination, and so it was. I do not like this kind of creative work, because I am myself a rationalist, and I would prefer to write in a planned, “rationalistic” way. … There were no plans, no elaborated preconceptions, no tactics, no nothing. …38

Surprisingly enough, then, Lem's metaphysical masterpiece appears to have been just as much the product of fantasy thinking as Bradbury's less intellectually challenging Martian Chronicles. All the extrinsic evidence supports that conclusion.

In addition, considerable intrinsic evidence can be marshaled in support of the same proposition. To begin—throughout Solaris, as throughout The Martian Chronicles, a dreamlike atmosphere prevails. Kelvin has, in fact, hardly set foot upon Solaris Station when he exclaims, “I must be dreaming. All this could only be a dream!”39 Shortly thereafter, he encounters Gibarian's nightmarish mistress in a corridor of the space station and his long-dead wife, Rheya, in his own room. At first, he is convinced that he is only dreaming of Rheya, but little by little he begins to entertain the possibility that she is real:

My first thought was reassuring: I was dreaming and I was aware that I was dreaming. … I closed my eyes and tried to shake off the dream. … I thought of throwing something at her, but, even in a dream, I could not bring myself to harm a dead person. … the room, Rheya, everything seemed extraordinarily real. A three-dimensional dream. … I saw several objects on the floor. … When I wake up, I told myself, I shall check whether these things are still there or whether, like Rheya, I only saw them in a dream. … We kissed. … Was it possible to feel so much in a dream, I wondered. … Was it then that I began to have doubts? I went on telling myself that it was a dream, but my heart tightened.40

To further complicate matters for Kelvin, Rheya herself begins to dream doubtful dreams: “I have dreams. … I don't know whether they really are dreams. Perhaps I'm ill.”41 And then, ironically, Kelvin, who had earlier tried to convince himself that he was dreaming, now dreams of Gibarian trying to convince him that he is awake: “Oh, you think you're dreaming about me? As you did with Rheya? … No, I am the real Gibarian. …”42

While Kelvin sleeps, the sentient ocean which inhabits Solaris probes his unconscious, and its invasive presence is reflected in the erotic, terrifying imagery of his nightmares. Two of these nightmares are vividly transformational. The first comes approximately halfway through the novel: “The night transfixed me; the night took possession of me, enveloped and penetrated me. … Turned to stone, I had ceased breathing. … I seemed to be growing smaller. … I tried to crawl out of bed, but there was no bed; beneath the cover of darkness there was a void. I pressed my hands to my face. I no longer had any fingers or any hands. I wanted to scream. …”43 Even more horrifying is the dream near the end of the book:

Out of the enveloping pink mist, an invisible object emerges, and touches me. … I feel this contact like a hand, and the hand recreates me. … Under the caress of the hesitant fingers, my lips and cheeks emerge from the void, and as the caress goes further I have a face, breath stirs in my chest—I exist. And recreated, I in my turn create: a face appears before me. … This creature—a woman?—stays near me and we are motionless. The beat of our hearts combines, and all at once, out of the surrounding void. … steals a presence of indefinable, unimaginable cruelty. The caress that created us … becomes the crawling of innumerable fingers. Our white, naked bodies dissolve into a swarm of black creeping things, and I am—we are—a mass of glutinous coiling worms … and I howl soundlessly, begging for death and for an end.44

In these nightmares, Kelvin undergoes transformations symbolic of the painful transformation he must in reality suffer on Solaris. That transformation begins when he first steps from his space capsule, which resembles a “burst cocoon,” onto the space station.45 After a series of tense encounters with Snow, Sartorius, and the “visitors” sent to the station by the ocean, Kelvin expresses his doubts and fears to Rheya in language not unlike that which he employs in describing his frightening transformational dreams: “After what has happened already, we can expect anything. Suppose tomorrow it turns me into a green jellyfish! It's out of our hands.”46 Much later, at the end of the novel, a more subdued Kelvin stands on the shore of the ocean and repeatedly reaches out to the waves which, without actually touching them, envelop his hand and his feet. Eventually, the ocean tires of this “game,” but Kelvin, having undergone a kind of baptism, has been radically changed. His attitude has now become one of complete and total acceptance: “Although I had read numerous accounts of it, none of them had prepared me for the experience as I had lived it, and I felt somehow changed. … I … identified myself with the dumb, fluid colossus; it was as if I had forgiven it everything, without the slightest effort of word or thought.”47

While Kelvin dreams his transformational nightmares and slowly metamorphoses into the sadly wise man who at the end of the novel waits patiently for another chance, for another “time of cruel miracles,” the ocean itself is “engaged in a never-ending process of transformation, an ‘ontological autometamorphosis.’” This “Polytherian form” of the category “Metamorph,” this “mass of metamorphic plasma,” is capable of infinitely varied “matter transformations.”48 Most of the time it busies itself with the shaping and unshaping of unique forms, for which a Solarist had in the past created the broad taxonomic categories of “extensor,” “mimoid,” “symmetriad,” and “asymmetriad”; but, in the course of the novel, the protean ocean also at one time or another assumes the shape of a garden, a huge building, an enormous child, distorted tools, and, most important of all, the “visitors.”

Of the last group, the “visitors,” only two are ever very fully revealed to the reader—Gibarian's giant, steatopygic Negress and Rheya. Near the beginning of the novel, Kelvin characterizes the former as a “monstrous Aphrodite,” and near the end of the book, Snow partially repays the compliment (or insult?) when in the presence of Kelvin he sardonically addresses Rheya as “fair Aphrodite, child of Ocean.”49 Both applications of the name are apt. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, was literally born from the sea, and the myths about her all exemplify the power of love.

Also apt are the names of the spaceships which figure in the novel. The Laakon and the Ulysses, for example, remind us of ancient myths about the sea. In one, Laocoön, a priest of Poseidon, the god of the sea, angers Apollo, who sends two huge sea serpents to kill Laocoön and his sons. In another, Ulysses, sailing a troubled sea, frequently runs afoul of Poseidon, Lord of Proteus, the old shape changer. In light of these and other mythic resonances within the novel, Kelvin's speculative question near the end seems particularly acute: “Are we to grow used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow comic with repetition?”50

Although in many ways very different, The Martian Chronicles and Solaris are, then, alike in at least one demonstrable way. Both incorporate significant amounts of dreamlike and mythlike transformational materials. An obvious question now comes to mind: are such transformational elements ubiquitous in works of fantasy and science fiction? Certainly, additional examples are easily adduced—the transformation of the animals into beast men and back into animals in The Island of Dr. Moreau, the transformation of the robots into human beings in R. U. R., the transformation of individual Gethenians alternately into “males” and “females” in The Left Hand of Darkness, the transformation of Mrs. Grales into Rachel in A Canticle for Leibowitz, the transformation of the Mark IV computer into Mike in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the transformation of the world's children into the Overmind in Childhood's End, the transformation of David Bowman into the Star Child in 2001, the transformation of matter into various forms in Cosmicomics, and on, and on. A definitive answer to this intriguing question would obviously, however, require the transformation of this essay into a monograph, and, for the time being at least, I shall let it rest in embryo.


  1. Poul Anderson, quoted in Jeffrey M. Elliot, “Poul Anderson: Seer of Far-Distant Futures,” in Science Fiction Voices #2, ed. Jeffrey M. Elliot (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Pr., 1979), pp. 44–45.

  2. Poul Anderson, “Poul Anderson Talar Om Science Fiction,” Algol 15, no. 3 (1978): 14.

  3. Lester del Rey, quoted in Darrell Schweitzer, “An Interview with Lester del Rey,” Science Fiction Review 5, no. 3 (1976): 8.

  4. L. Sprague de Camp, quoted in Darrell Schweitzer, “L. Sprague de Camp,” in Science Fiction Voices #1, ed. Darrell Schweitzer (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Pr., 1979), p. 60.

  5. Gregory Benford, quoted in Nancy Mangini and Jim Purviance, “Interview with Nebula Nominee Gregory Benford,” SF & F 36: A Science Fiction Fanzine, no. 6 (1978): 8, 7.

  6. “In dreams and fantasies the sea or a large expanse of water signifies the unconscious” (C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia, 2d ed. [1956; reprint ed., Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1974], p. 219).

  7. Joe Haldeman, “Great Science Fiction About Artichokes & Other Story Ideas,” Algol 15, no. 3 (1978): 21.

  8. Ibid.

  9. A. E. Van Vogt, quoted in Jeffrey Elliot, “Interview: Van Vogt,” Galileo, no. 8 (1978): 11.

  10. Ibid., p. 10.

  11. Ibid., pp. 8–9.

  12. Stephen R. Donaldson, quoted in Neal Wilgus, “An Interview with Stephen R. Donaldson,” Science Fiction Review 8, no. 2 (1979): 29.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Richard Lupoff, quoted in Jim Purviance and Nancy Mangini, “Interview with Nebula Nominee Richard Lupoff,” SF & F 36: A Science Fiction Fanzine, no. 6 (1978): 14, 15.

  15. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, pp. 11, 21.

  16. Ibid., p. 17.

  17. C. G. Jung, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” in C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, Essays on a Science of Mythology (New York: Pantheon, 1949), pp. 102, 103.

  18. Ray Bradbury, “How Not to Burn a Book; or, 1984 Will Not Arrive,” Soundings 7, no. 1 (1975): 19, 22, 13.

  19. Ray Bradbury, quoted in Jeffrey M. Elliot, “Ray Bradbury: Poet of Fantastic Fiction,” in Science Fiction Voices #2, ed. Jeffrey M. Elliot (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Pr., 1979), pp. 21, 24.

  20. Jung, “The Psychological Aspects of the Kore,” in Jung and Kerényi, p. 241.

  21. Ibid., p. 235.

  22. Ibid., p. 238.

  23. Nietzsche and Freud quoted by Jung. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, p. 24.

  24. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (New York: Bantam, 1975), p. 108.

  25. Ibid., p. 126.

  26. Ibid., p. 130.

  27. Ovid, Metamorphoses (Baltimore: Penguin, 1967), p. 198.

  28. Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, pp. 35, 39, 43.

  29. Ibid., pp. 46, 47, 47–48.

  30. Ibid., pp. 26, 27.

  31. Ibid., p. 29.

  32. Ibid., pp. 110, 112, 138.

  33. Ibid., pp. 2, 11, 14, 32, 78, 80, 140.

  34. See, for example, Richard Donovan, “Morals from Mars,” The Reporter, 26 June, 1951, pp. 38–40; Matt Weinstock, Los Angeles Mirror-News, 11 July, 1955, p. 10; Lawrence Lipton, “The Illustrated Man: Ray Bradbury,” Intro Bulletin 1, nos. 6,7 (1956): 9; Maggie Savoy, “Ray Bradbury Keeping Eye on Cloud IX,” Los Angeles Times, 15 Mar., 1970, sec. E, p. 1.

  35. Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, pp. 179–80.

  36. Bradbury, quoted in Elliot, p. 26.

  37. Stanislaw Lem, quoted in Daniel Say, “An Interview with Stanislaw Lem,” The Alien Critic 3, no. 3 (1974): 8.

  38. Stanislaw Lem, “Stanislaw Lem, Krakow Poland,” S F Commentary 24 (1973): 28.

  39. Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, trans. Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1971), 16.

  40. Ibid., pp. 60, 61, 62.

  41. Ibid., p. 117.

  42. Ibid., p. 141.

  43. Ibid., p. 99.

  44. Ibid., pp. 187–88.

  45. Ibid., p. 11.

  46. Ibid., p. 153.

  47. Ibid., p. 210.

  48. Ibid., pp. 17, 24, 26, 30, 82, 211.

  49. Ibid., pp. 37, 192.

  50. Ibid., p. 211.

Gary K. Wolfe (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8580

SOURCE: Wolfe, Gary K. “The Remaking of Zero: Beginning at the End.” In The End of the World, edited by Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 1-19. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Wolfe surveys the major characteristics of Bradbury's post-holocaust science fiction.]

In Ray Bradbury's 1950 short story “The Highway,” a poor Mexican farmer who has lived for years beside a highway from the United States, enjoying such odd fruits of this link to technology as sandals made from tire rubber and a bowl made from a hubcap, is startled one day by the sudden appearance of cars speeding northward in great numbers, all filled with apparently panic-stricken American tourists returning home. The farmer, Hernando, cannot account for this sudden flood of traffic. At the end of the flood, however, comes an aging Ford, topless and packed with young Americans who stop at Hernando's shack to ask for water for their failing radiator. The driver explains the reason for the exodus: “The war!’” he shouts, “‘It's come, the atom war, the end of the world!’”—and the tourists are all trying to return to their families. After the young people leave, Hernando prepares to resume his plowing. When his wife asks him what has happened, he replies, “‘It's nothing,’” and sets out with burro and plow, pausing momentarily to muse to himself, “‘What do they mean, “the world?”’”1

This little parable of holocaust raises, in Bradbury's best elliptical form, some of the most fundamental issues of stories that begin at or near the “end of the world.” Bradbury suggests that Hernando's simple and apparently self-sufficient world will continue much as it has (though, one assumes, without the interruption of tourists), while the “world” that has been destroyed is the world of technology and profligate wealth represented by the highway to the north. As in most post-holocaust fiction, the “end of the world” means the end of a way of life, a configuration of attitudes, perhaps a system of beliefs—but not the actual destruction of the planet or its population (though this population may be severely reduced). For this reason, it is perhaps most enlightening to regard such stories as tales of cosmological displacement: the old concept of “world” is destroyed and a new one must be built in its place. The world—in the sense of economic and political systems, beliefs and behavior patterns—may be destroyed; but more often than not the earth abides—and so, at least in part, does humanity. This kind of “end of the world” has occurred fairly often in human history, most obviously in such dramatic holocausts as the destruction of American Indian civilizations or the Nazi death camps, but also, to some extent, in such broader historical movements as the Industrial Revolution. Often such holocausts are associated with new technologies or the introduction of technologically superior weaponry, and in fact many of the apocalyptic anxieties of the last few decades seem to arise from just such a technological innovation—nuclear weapons. But in the fiction of holocaust, the world is often transformed by a reversal of this historical process: available technologies are removed from the world, rather than new ones introduced. Much of the impact of such fiction arises from the speculations it offers about the effects of the loss of technology on machine-dependent populations—such as the population that Hernando in “The Highway” watches flowing past him.

Bradbury's story reveals a number of themes common to post-holocaust fiction. The highway represents the mobility of a society that contrasts sharply with Hernando's own deep relationship with his little plot of land by the river, but that will quickly have to learn the value of such a relationship. Technology appears in the story in four guises. First, the “big long black cars heading north” suggest a whole complex of industrial civilization: the availability of trained mechanics; the dependability of industries that produce petroleum products, rubber, metal, and plastic; the efficiency of governments in maintaining roads and bridges. After this initial flood of technological marvels has passed, a second, more ominous image of the same technology appears: the dilapidated Ford, its top gone and its radiator boiling over. While this machine is part of the same society that produced the earlier ones, dependence upon it is clearly a precarious matter. It has begun to wear out, it no longer offers full protection from such discomforts of the natural world as rain, and it must be repaired frequently by whatever means are available—in this case, well-water from a farm for the radiator. Significantly, the Ford is driven by young people, since it is the young who will have to make do with such machines in a post-holocaust world: the decaying detritus of a mechanical civilization that has lost the means to service and maintain its machines.

But there is a yet more ominous image of what is to come for these young people. At the bottom of the river that runs by Hernando's hut lie the remains of one of the big American cars that had crashed there years earlier. Sometimes the wreck is visible, and sometimes it is obscured by the muddy waters; in a few years the sediment of the river will cover it entirely. From this wreck Hernando has salvaged the tire from which he carved his rubber sandals, just as his hubcap-bowl has been salvaged from a hubcap that had flown off another car. These images suggest what may become of technology after even the old Fords are gone: the machines themselves turned into raw materials, their parts stripped for primitive implements and clothing before they are reclaimed by the natural world, covered by silt like the car in Hernando's river.

A fourth image of technology suggests what might happen still later, when even salvaging the remnants of technology is insufficient. This image, the last in the story, is essentially one of life and hope: Hernando sets his plow in the furrowed soil and begins tilling the land. It is at this point that he wonders, “‘What do they mean, “the world?”’” and the question is an appropriate one, since Hernando's present world resembles closely the world that may come to pass after industrial technology has faded altogether and the survivors are forced to return to that most basic of all machines, the plow. In the end, Bradbury's story is optimistic in its suggestion of a return to a simpler, less complex life and the promise of a better world to come. Such a vision is presented also in Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (1950), in which the Martian colonists, like the Americans in “The Highway,” return home en masse at the outbreak of nuclear war on earth. One family, however, escapes to Mars, and there the father ceremonially burns such symbols of the old world as stocks and bonds.2 This suggestion of starting a new world symbolically cleansed of the sins of the old is not only in keeping with earlier millenarian traditions, but is also common in literary works that begin at or near the world-ending holocaust. As we shall see later, one of the richest of such novels, George R. Stewart's Earth Abides (1949), conforms closely to the pattern implied by Bradbury's “The Highway.”

Although in one sense the very notion of beginning a narrative with a climactic holocaust seems perverse, especially if the underlying tone of the novel is going to be optimistic, such a fantasy is very much in keeping with traditions of millenarian thought. As Mircea Eliade writes, “the idea of the destruction of the World is not, basically, pessimistic.”3 Norman Cohn has traced medieval millenarian movements to the unrest, disorientation, and anxiety of the rootless poor who sought to improve their lives but found little cause for hope in existing social and economic structures.4 While modern fictional versions of the end of the world differ in key respects from these earlier millenarianists—few involve supernatural agencies or clearly messianic leaders, for example—they often share the fundamental belief that a new order can come about only through a complete destruction of the old—that, in Eliade's terms, “life cannot be repaired, it can only be re-created by a return to sources.”5 Or, in the words of J. G. Ballard, one of science fiction's own master catastrophists, “I believe that the catastrophe story, whoever may tell it, represents a constructive and positive act by the imagination rather than a negative one, an attempt to confront the terrifying void of a patently meaningless universe by challenging it at its own game, to remake zero by provoking it in every conceivable way.”6 “‘Now we have finished with the past,’” thinks the protagonist of Stewart's Earth Abides after surviving a mysterious plague that all but wipes out humanity. “‘This is the Moment Zero, and we stand between two eras. Now the new life begins. Now we commence the Year One.’”7

The promise inherent in the idea of “remaking zero” is certainly one of the reasons this genre has survived as long as it has, and in so many guises. On the simple level of narrative action, the prospect of a depopulated world in which humanity is reduced to a more elemental struggle with nature provides a convenient arena for the sort of heroic action that is constrained in the corporate, technological world that we know. The “true” values of individual effort and courage are allowed to emerge once again, and power flows to those who possess these attributes—to a “natural aristocracy” uninhibited by political and economic complexities. (Perhaps, in this sense, the ancestry of the modern disaster novel should include James Fenimore Cooper, whose works also depict the emergence of a new aristocracy in the wilderness of a new world where the conventions and constraints of the old have been annihilated.) This simplification of relationships also permits a simplification of the forces of good and evil, making it possible to depict a world of easily discernible heroes and villains. Thus, merely in terms of the action story, the notion of starting the world over is appealing.

As science fiction, end-of-the-world stories provide a convenient means of exploring at least two of the genre's favorite themes without necessitating the sometimes cumbersome narrative apparatus usually associated with these themes. One such theme, the impact of technology on human behavior, is most often dealt with through the introduction of new technologies into fictional worlds—robots, time machines, spacecraft, computers, etc. But the problems of developing both the details of the new technology and the details of the fictional world create a rather complex dialectic for the reader, who must try to understand the impact of a fictional technology on a fictional world and draw from that some insights concerning our own world and our own technology. By removing familiar technology from a fictional world, however, the end-of-the-world story simplifies this dialectic considerably. Rather than introduce new machines, an author can remove or reduce the functioning of the familiar ones and still explore issues of technology and society. A number of science fiction stories—including E. M. Forster's “The Machine Stops” (1909), S. S. Held's “The Death of Iron” (1932), and Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis's Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters (1972)—construct the entire holocaust around the failure of machines; the latter two stories concern worldwide plagues that affect only machine parts such as iron and plastic.

Another science fiction theme made accessible by the device of beginning at the end is that of humanity's relationship to its environment, or its alienation from that environment. Like new machines, new and strange environments are likely to require a great deal of narrative exposition concerning alien planets, climates, and the like. In the post-holocaust story, this problem can be circumvented by defamiliarizing familiar environments through the transformations wrought by the disaster. A city emptied of its people, whether through nuclear disaster or disease or environmental catastrophe, becomes a strange and alien place. Similarly, a pastoral landscape becomes a foreboding wasteland by the implied danger of holocaust survivors reduced to savagery, disfigured by radiation, or given to strange new beliefs. Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorow (1955) and John Wyndham's Re-Birth (1955) depict wasteland journeys detailed with such geographical verisimilitude that they can be traced on current maps of North America; the territory is that familiar, and yet so alien that we can have no idea of what it may contain. Robert Merle's Malevil (1972) spends much time before the holocaust detailing the landscape surrounding the ancient fortress of Malevil, so that after the disaster we can better appreciate the devastating transformation this landscape has undergone. Generally, geography is an important recurrent element in post-holocaust narratives, and almost always it serves to establish a link between the strange new environment and the world we know.

Related to these familiar science fiction themes is what is probably the fundamental reason for the emotional power of post-holocaust narratives: the mythic power inherent in the very conception of a remade world. The sources of mythic power in this genre are at least threefold, for in most post-holocaust narratives we see the reemergence of chaos into the experiential world (and the attendant opportunities this provides for ritualistic heroic action); the reinforcement of cultural values through the triumph of these values in a final, decisive “battle of the Elect”; and the assurance of racial survival despite the most overwhelming odds—a kind of “denial of death” on a cultural rather than individual level.

By “the re-emergence of chaos” I mean the return of Nature as a material adversary in the narrative. The appropriation of chaos and its transformation into cosmos is a fundamental activity of technology, and perhaps of culture. But as the arena for this confrontation moves ever outward, the individual becomes ever more insulated from the central adventure of cultural and technological growth. Much science fiction follows this outward movement; once the natural environment of earth has been subdued, Nature becomes outer space, or alien planets. But the post-catastrophe tale brings this confrontation with Nature closer to home; in these stories chaos may lie just beyond the limits of the village, or outside the family circle, or—especially with “last man on earth” stories—around the next corner. In M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud (1901), the struggle is even internalized; the question is not merely whether Adam Jeffson, apparently the last man on earth, can master the immense environment he inherits, but whether what he calls the “White” forces of his own mind can master the destructive and chaotic “Black” forces that cause him to deliberately burn great cities and almost to kill the only surviving woman. Mythic heroic action depends partly upon confrontation with chaos, and the post-holocaust world repeatedly provides opportunities for such confrontations.

But such confrontation is meaningful only if it can be associated with a set of values, and the reinforcement of such values is another mythic function of the post-holocaust tale. In fact, such tales oftenly become openly didactic, pitting diametrically opposed value systems against one another in a final battle for supremacy. Once the “evil” antagonists are vanquished, such narratives seem to say, so will the evil values they represent disappear, making it possible for the new world to evolve toward greater perfection than the old. One of the most didactic of such novels, Alfred Noyes's No Other Man (1940), pits the devout Catholic protagonist against the mad scientist Marduk, only to vanquish Marduk and thus somehow validate the superiority of religious over scientistic thought. Only slightly less didactic is Alfred Coppel's Dark December (1960), in which the opposed value systems are both military: the conscientious and professional but guilt-ridden (because of his role in the nuclear war as a missile officer) Gavin against the psychopathic, fascistic Collingwood, who sees the devastated environment as an opportunity for men like himself to rise to power. (Needless to say, Collingwood eventually falls off a bridge.) In Merle's Malevil, following the holocaust of nuclear chain-reactions, the rationalistic communal life of Malevil castle under the direction of Emmanuel Comte comes into conflict with an oppressive theocracy imposed on a neighboring village by the hypocritical false priest Fulbert le Naud. The ensuing struggle for supremacy not only validates the humanism of Malevil's system, but also indirectly validates the need for technology, since the struggle convinces the inhabitants of Malevil that they must begin research into the reinvention of weapons in order to protect their interests and values—despite their acute awareness of what the technology of weaponry can ultimately lead to.

A third mythic function of the fictional end of the world is that, ironically, it provides some reassurance of survival. In fact, most such fictions that we conveniently label “holocaust” or “end of the world” stories are in fact quite the opposite, and dwell on the survival of key representative types of individuals and in some cases the key institutions (such as the family) as well. It might be more accurate to label such fictions “almost-the-end-of-the-world” fictions, or “end-of-most-of-the-world” fictions, but works that describe a complete annihilation of the planet and all human life are comparatively rare. And even among this small group of works, such as Poe's “Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” there is some promise at least of spiritual survival. Eliade has suggested that old-fashioned millenialism has suffered under the threat of nuclear holocaust, that modern western thought does not hold out much hope for survival and regeneration. “In the thought of the West this End will be total and final; it will not be followed by a new Creation of the World.”8 But the fiction of holocaust belies this, and does provide some reassurance against nuclear anxiety. With the exception of a few works such as Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7 (1959) and Nevil Shute's On the Beach (1957), most nuclear holocaust stories assure us that humanity can rebuild against the most staggering odds—and the same is true for other types of holocausts as well. This promise of survival redeems even the bleakest of post-holocaust fictions. Wilson Tucker's The Long Loud Silence (1952), for example, details the growing brutality of its protagonist in a shattered world. In terms of the survival of values we discussed earlier, there is nothing much promising about Corporal Russell Gary, who finally rejects all human companionship and—in the novel's unpublished original ending—even apparently resorts to cannibalism.9 A similar bleakness and apparent destruction of values, leading again to cannibalism, characterizes Harlan Ellison's “A Boy and His Dog” (1969). But each of these fictions holds out the promise of survival, and Ellison's even perversely suggests that values, too, will survive, even if they are comparatively trivial and sentimental ones. After all, Ellison's protagonist says after making a meal of his lover to keep his pet dog from starving, “A boy loves his dog.”10

Whether these stories aspire to simple adventure, to intellectual science fiction, or to cultural myth, stories that begin at the end of the world have, over the years, evolved a fairly characteristic narrative formula. The formula may be varied in many ways, with some elements expanded to fill nearly the whole narrative, others deleted, and new ones added, but there are commonly five large stages of action: (1) the experience or discovery of the cataclysm; (2) the journey through the wasteland created by the cataclysm; (3) settlement and establishment of a new community; (4) the re-emergence of the wilderness as antagonist; and (5) a final, decisive battle or struggle to determine which values shall prevail in the new world. While this formula describes specifically works which begin with the cataclysm itself, elements of it may also be found in narratives that begin before the holocaust or in ones that begin long after.

1. Experience or discovery of the cataclysm. Works that begin at the end of the world usually limit their viewpoint to that of one or two central characters, and the manner in which the cataclysm is revealed to these characters traditionally takes one of two forms: either the central character is isolated from others when the event occurs, and thus has no immediate knowledge of it, or the character witnesses the event indirectly from a relatively safe vantage point. The former case, in which part of the drama is the character's gradual discovery of the nature and extent of the disaster, includes Shiel's The Purple Cloud (and Ranald MacDougall's considerably different 1958 film from this novel, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil), Noyes's No Other Man (which coincidentally was also briefly considered for filming by Frank Capra), and Stewart's Earth Abides. Of these, only the Shiel novel attempts to forge a direct moral link between the protagonist's symbolic isolation from human society and the destruction of humanity. Adam Jeffson is off discovering the North Pole when the strange volcanic gas kills all of humanity, but he achieves his goal only by committing a series of murders; furthermore, he describes himself from childhood as being “separate, special, marked for—something.”11 Jeffson sees his subsequent isolation alternately as a monumental punishment for his evil deeds and as a monumental reward for his being “special.” He is cursed by loneliness and madness, but he also inherits the earth and founds a new race—resembling one of the Nietzschean supermen of Shiel's later fiction. Stewart and Noyes each provide some moral justification for the survival of their protagonists; in Earth Abides, Isherwood Williams is helplessly recovering from a snakebite while on an ecological expedition in the woods, and in No Other Man Mark Adams is trapped in a wrecked enemy submarine where he had been held captive. In each case, the character is relieved somewhat of the responsibility of being isolated, since the isolation is enforced by external circumstances. But in neither case is a direct moral link established between the actions of the survivors and the destruction of the rest of humanity.

Stories in which the survivors witness the cataclysm from a protracted vantage point are somewhat more common. The protagonists of both Roshwald's Level 7 (1959) and Coppel's Dark December are military personnel stationed in underground bunkers. Philip Wylie's The End of the Dream (1972) and Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976), both of which deal with complex series of ecological catastrophes, portray isolated strongholds specifically designed to withstand the impending cataclysms. The central characters of Merle's Malevil happen to be gathered in a deep wine cellar whose stone walls protect them from the holocaust of flame, and the collision of earth with another planet is witnessed from aboard a spaceship by characters in Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's When Worlds Collide (1933). In S. Fowler Wright's Deluge (1928) and John Bowen's After the Rain (1958), the good fortune of being on high ground or finding boats save the protagonists from worldwide floods. Geography also protects the survivors of nuclear war in Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon (1959) and Wilson Tucker's The Long Loud Silence (1952); both novels begin in small towns isolated from major target areas. And in one of the few openly comic treatments of this theme, Robert Lewis Taylor's Adrift in a Boneyard (1947), a mysterious thunderclap annihilates everyone except a family in their car on the way to the theatre—clearly suggesting the family was deliberately “chosen” for survival. (Though the two novels may seem odd bedfellows, Adrift in a Boneyard shares with The Purple Cloud the implication that the end of the world is brought about largely to force moral choices upon the main characters of the novel.)

2. Journey through the wasteland. Perhaps because of its mythic aspect, this is often one of the most important elements in post-holocaust fiction; occasionally—as with Robert Crane's Hero's Walk (1954) or Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley (1969)—it occupies virtually the whole of the novel. But extensive journeys also figure in the works mentioned by Noyes, Shiel, Wright, Coppel, Stewart, Taylor, Tucker, Brackett, and Wyndham. Such journeys serve two major functions: to provide an overview and confirmation of the disaster, and to serve as a kind of purgation of despair on the part of the central character. The longest such purgation, in Shiel's The Purple Cloud, takes Adam Jeffson through decades of madness and destruction. In the Noyes and Taylor novels, the journeys also serve to satirize the trivial aspects of pre-holocaust life by revealing people caught up in petty matters at the time of death. Stewart's protagonist sees on his cross-country journey the various ways people may relate to their environment, most poignantly observed in the contrast between a self-subsistent black farm family and a hopelessly technology-dependent Manhattan couple, trying to survive in an empty but still mostly functioning New York.

In Coppel's Dark December and Wright's The Deluge, the journey is motivated by the desire to reunite families separated by the cataclysm, with despair mitigated by the increasingly irrational hope that a wife or husband has somehow also survived. Such hope also motivates some of the survivors in Shute's On the Beach (1957) and Frank's Alas, Babylon. In Tucker's The Long Loud Silence, Brackett's The Long Tomorrow, and Wyndham's Re-Birth, rumors of a better society somewhere beyond the wasteland motivate the journey. And in nearly all these novels, the search for additional survivors with whom one might establish a new community is a central motivation for the journey.

But the journey has another aspect, too: the promise of new frontiers, of exploring a new or remade world. In Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's After Worlds Collide, which begins following the destruction of the earth, the world to be explored is literally a new planet where the survivors hope to settle (though the ruins of an ancient technological civilization make it seem curiously like the landscape of a future earth). But even earthbound disaster fictions suggest that the frontiers have been remade, especially if we remember that the classical nineteenth-century definition of “frontier” was based on low population density rather than simply whether an area had once been explored. These new frontiers thus might include even urban areas. Despair is once again mitigated, then, by the hope, restored by cataclysm, of renewed patterns of growth and exploration, and by the sense of immense freedom that comes from being able to choose openly where and how one will live. Shiel's Adam Jeffson does not hesitate to make himself at home in various palaces (the illustrations accompanying the original appearance of The Purple Cloud in The Royal Magazine even portray him as a sort of Oriental potentate), and the family in Taylor's Adrift in a Boneyard quickly takes advantage of the situation to move into the mansion of an eccentric millionaire, enjoying the security that this provides against ravaging animals and such luxuries as a fine wine cellar as well.

3. Settlement and establishment of a community. Following the confirmation of the cataclysm brought about by the wasteland journey comes the establishment of a permanent settlement which will be the basis of the new community and, by extension, of the new civilization. In Shiel's The Purple Cloud, in which there are only two survivors, this community has to be rather loosely defined, but the novel nonetheless provides the archetype for post-disaster communities, which are frequently associated with the “marriage” of the protagonist, and hence with the prospect of a new family and eventually a new community. Contrary to many readers' memories of The Purple Cloud, Jeffson's discovery of the sole surviving woman, Leda, occurs scarcely more than two-thirds of the way through the narrative, and it is Leda who causes him to cease his restless, destructive wandering and to settle with her: at the end of the novel, when in despair he deliberately abandons her to return to England, her telephone message that the purple cloud has reappeared on the horizon causes him to flee back to her and protect her. It is practically Jeffson's first motivated action since the cataclysm, and the motivation is that of protectiveness and preservation. Jeffson is clearly thinking of a good location for a settled community by the end of the novel. Both Stewart's Earth Abides and Wright's Deluge also associate the founding of the new community with a woman; in the Stewart novel the new community accretes around Isherwood Williams and his newly found wife Emily, while in the Wright novel the community is associated with the simple values of Mary Wittels, an almost archetypal “wise woman” who nurses the wife of the protagonist back to health and is eventually instrumental in reuniting them. Their reunion, we are led to believe throughout the novel, is the single action most necessary to validate the stability of the new community. In Frank's Alas, Babylon and Merle's Malevil, both novels in which the symbolic journey is confined to short exploratory trips in the immediate neighborhood, the growing internal stability of the community occupies a proportionately larger role in the narrative. In Alas, Babylon, the journey motif is effectively replaced by a local ham radio operator who provides the necessary confirmation of the disaster by monitoring messages from other parts of the world. The narrative thus can focus on the problems the small Florida community of Fort Repose faces in defending itself from looters and obtaining necessary supplies. Malevil, perhaps the most determinedly localized of all post-holocaust novels, establishes at the outset the isolated, almost medieval aspect of the French countryside surrounding the small village of La Roque and focuses throughout on the problem of establishing a new social contract and the need for authority. It is interesting that both of these novels, with their paramount concern for the integrity of the village, end with the rediscovery of the necessity for military organizations and weapons, despite their demonstration of the dangers inherent in such institutions.

The novel that perhaps most clearly and thoughtfully explores the relationship between the outward journey and the community is Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976). In this novel, the integrity of the community is intensified by the presence of large numbers of human clones, who form social groups among those cloned from the same “donors.” These “clone families” develop intense empathic relationships with one another, but when the necessity arises to make journeys to urban areas for supplies, they suffer a kind of separation anxiety experienced by ordinary humans during early childhood. As a result, the journeys nearly fail, and the community is forced to turn for guidance to an “outsider,” a normal child born without the genetic permission of the community who has learned the techniques of wilderness survival as a result of his isolation. The dangers of a community turned too much inward are emphasized even more strongly at the end of the novel when this outsider, Mark, establishes a community of normal “exiles” that survives long after the community of clones has failed. Mark's community, it is suggested, may mark a return to savagery compared with the protectiveness of the clone village, but it also represents the dynamic interaction with the environment that must take place in order to rebuild. Civilization cannot be preserved; it must be rebuilt.

4. The re-emergence of the wilderness. By “wilderness” I include not only the encroachments of the natural world on the community—the proliferation of rats, wild animals, disease, etc., and the erosion of such technological support systems as roads and electricity through the elemental forces of weather, fire, earthquakes, and vegetation growth—but also the challenges brought on by unorganized bands of fellow survivors, who commonly revert to savagery and thus threaten the stability of the frontier-type settlement. In many post-holocaust novels, the first great challenge to the survivors, once they have formed a community, lies in making the difficult transition from dependence on the detritus of the destroyed civilization—for example, raiding grocery stores for prepackaged foods—to reinventing an agricultural and mining economy that confronts the wilderness on its own terms. Hence, in Alas, Babylon, a major triumph of the survivors is discovering a natural source of salt to preserve meat following the loss of electrical refrigeration; in Malevil, a triumphant moment occurs with the successful raising of a small wheat crop. Stewart's Earth Abides details, through separate expository passages presented apart from the main narrative, the various ways in which natural forces over the years destroy the remnants of civilization upon which the survivors are initially dependent; and a continuing theme in Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is the growing inability of the isolated community to remain self-sufficient in the midst of growing wilderness.

Traditionally, with the wilderness comes the savage, and savagery in post-holocaust tales usually takes the form of individuals or groups who, rather than attempting to form stable communities of their own, roam in predatory bands across the countryside, threatening what stable communities have been established. Often, these roving bands are presented with some sympathy; one of the most traumatic moments in Malevil follows the massacre of such a starving band, whose pillaging of the wheat crop threatens the survival of the community at Malevil. Similarly, Alas, Babylon features the reluctant murder of outsiders; in both novels, the event teaches the community the necessity of military and police authority as an essential part of the social contract. Other kinds of “savages,” though, are presented less sympathetically: these are often individuals who, fulfilling personal fantasies of power, represent a moral viewpoint antithetical to that of the novel's main characters. Wright, in The Deluge, goes to great pains to explain how weak or repressed individuals—accountants and government functionaries in the pre-holocaust world—find in the new world a chance to seize power by whatever means. Marxism, or anything that resembles it, does not generally fare well in these novels (Malevil in particular, which features a Marxist as one of the secondary characters, repeatedly demonstrates the failures of this character's schemes in reorganizing the new society). But novels in which the antagonists threatening the community represent a strong moral viewpoint usually do not associate such characters with the wilderness; such characters, instead, prepare us for the decisive moral battle discussed below.

5. The decisive battle of the Elect. This phrase, borrowed from Norman Cohn (who sees it as an aspect of Marxist and National Socialist fantasies as well as of medieval millenarianism),12 may seem a rather melodramatic description of the struggle between good and evil that concludes many post-holocaust narratives, but in some cases it is scarcely an exaggeration. Marduk in Noyes's No Other Man, Collingwood in Coppel's Dark December, Fulbert le Naud in Merle's Malevil are figures of almost consummate evil, direct descendants of the “Black powers” that threaten to overwhelm Jeffson in Shiel's The Purple Cloud. These are false prophets whose potential victory would transform not merely a community or an historical movement, but the entire future history of the human race—and in a few cases, such as Bowen's After the Rain, these prophets literally set themselves up as gods, as self-consciously supernatural figures in the mythology of the age to come. “‘You had better begin by worshipping me,’” says the villainous Arthur to his subordinates in After the Rain. “‘What is recorded of your behaviour will live on as revealed religion.’”13 Stephen King's Randy Flagg in The Stand (1978), which begins with an influenza pandemic that nearly annihilates the human race, is a figure of consummate, archetypal evil, the “rough beast” of Yeats's “Second Coming”; and preparations for the final, cosmic battle against him make up the bulk of the very lengthy novel.

Much of what is so threatening about these evil figures lies in the recognition on the part of the reader—and usually on the part of the protagonist as well—of how much they have in common with us. In Shiel, this identification of good and evil is internalized: the struggle for dominance takes place within the mind of Adam Jeffson himself. Coppel's Dark December is not far removed from this. “‘I am you and you are me,’” says Collingwood to the protagonist Gavin. “‘We're two sides of the same coin. … Yin and Yang, if you prefer.’”14 Gavin realizes that such taunts from Collingwood nearly tempt Gavin to murder—which, of course, would be an ironic triumph for Collingwood's point of view. Gavin hates Collingwood most of all, he says, “for making me what I could feel myself becoming.”15 Similarly, the protagonist Martin in Wright's Deluge finds himself fearfully aware that he is learning to adopt the strategies and duplicities of the “savages” he is fighting; and in Merle's Malevil, Emmanuel Comte is compelled to imitate some of the actions of his rival Fulbert le Naud—such as making himself a false abbé in a religion he does not fully accept to counter the sway the false priest le Naud holds over the villagers. Clarke, the narrator of Bowen's After the Rain, is nearly swayed by Arthur's bizarre arguments, at least until Arthur's madness becomes undeniable.

But in each of these cases, a fatal ideological or moral flaw finally separates the protagonist from his opponent. In Dark December, Collingwood eventually reveals himself as nothing less than an agent of Chaos (“‘Chaos is the natural condition of man,’” he claims16), his rationalism nothing more than a front for a vicious brand of fascism. Arthur's flaw in After the Rain is his obsession with natural selection and his reductive view of humans as nothing more than reasoning animals. “‘Imagination,’” he says, “‘is the enemy … when we have destroyed it, we shall have proved ourselves worthy of survival.’”17 In both Malevil and Deluge, sadism and sexual excesses reveal that the actions of the villains are self-indulgent and wasteful, while sometimes apparently similar actions on the part of the hero are revealed to be part of a larger plan for the survival of the human race.

Other novels present this final struggle less as a moral confrontation than as a simple ideological argument. The culminating battle in Wylie and Balmer's After Worlds Collide turns out to be a struggle between democracy and communism after the survivors of a destroyed earth find themselves competing with another band of survivors, from communist nations, for dominance of the new planet. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer (1977), Brackett's The Long Tomorrow, and a number of other works seek to validate the importance of science and technology in the face of post-holocaust neo-Luddite movements. Noyces's No Other Man may be the closest thing we have to the same story told from the neo-Luddites' point of view; in this novel, the apparently last surviving scientist, Marduk, is done in shortly before the two protagonists join a band of Franciscan monks. Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, seems, in the end, to be a validation of sexual reproduction over technological cloning—hardly a burning issue at this point in history—but in a larger sense, the novel also demonstrates the necessity of interacting with the environment rather than withdrawing from it protectively, as the community of clones attempts to do.

This five-part structure for post-holocaust tales might seem at first a bit mechanical, but it appears less so when regarded in terms of a representative novel of this kind. For this, there is probably no better candidate than George R. Stewart's Earth Abides, winner of the 1951 International Fantasy Award and one of the most fully realized accounts in all science fiction of a massive catastrophe and the evolution toward a new culture which follows. The novel has not received the attention it deserves among students of science fiction perhaps in part because it came from outside the genre; indeed, the sources of the novel seem to lie less in the tradition of science fiction catastrophes than in Stewart's own abiding concern with natural forces which seem almost consciously directed against human society. In two earlier novels, Storm (1941) and Fire (1948), Stewart presents these elemental forces as narrative protagonists. His studies of Western American history also often focus on natural catastrophes, while other anthropologically-oriented novels reveal his concern with the way societies evolve. But only in Earth Abides, freed from the constraints of historicism, was Stewart able to fully explore the themes of nature, myth, and society that his other works tended toward.

The title of the novel comes from Ecclesiastes 1:4—“one generation goeth, and another cometh, but the earth abideth forever”—and the action of the novel is in many ways a dramatization of the philosophy of that most oddly agnostic of the books of the Bible. Isherwood Williams, a young ecologist, suffers a rattlesnake bite while alone in the mountains and gradually recovers both from the snakebite and from another, inexplicable illness. Upon returning to a nearby village, he finds no other humans; but week-old newspapers tell him that a virulent new disease has attacked virtually the entire world population. Ish begins his wasteland journey by taking possession of a car and traveling to San Francisco, where he finds few survivors but observes that the automated processes of civilization, such as electric street lights and running water, continue to function, adding an eerie note of irony to the cataclysm. Still not certain of the extent of the catastrophe, Ish begins a transcontinental trek through the Southwest, the Plains, and the Midwest. In Arkansas, he finds a black farm family continuing much as they had before the disaster, figures reminiscent of the Mexican family in Bradbury's “The Highway.” For them the world has not really ended at all. But at the end of Ish's journey, in New York, he meets a couple gamely trying to maintain a technology-dependent urban lifestyle amid the vast resources of an empty Manhattan. This couple, Ish realizes, provides a dramatic contrast to the black farmers and will probably be unable to survive once the automatic processes begin to break down and the wilderness begins to reassert itself. Having thus confirmed the range of the cataclysm, Ish returns to California “to establish his life” (p. 82). He adopts a dog named Princess—the first, slight indication of the new community—and locates himself in a place convenient to libaries and food supplies. In his despair, he seeks solace in books, but finds it only in the Bible and specifically in Ecclesiastes, with its “curious way of striking the naturalistic note, of sensing the problem of the individual against the universe” (p. 96). Only when he meets and falls in love with another survivor, however—a black woman named Em—does the third phase of the narrative, the establishment of a community, really begin. The nature and values of this future community are strongly hinted at by the interracial marriage which begins it.

Ish and Em begin to raise a family and take in other survivors, but the re-emergence of the wilderness—the fourth phase of our formula—threatens the budding community from the start. Plagues of ants are followed by plagues of rats from the nearby city and, in the years that follow, insects, crows, and even mountain lions reclaiming the territory they had lost to the advance of human civilization. Later elk, too, appear, balancing the threatening image of the mountain lions with a more uplifting image of wildness. Forest fires rage out of control with no one to fight them; a mild earthquake destroys many of the remaining human buildings, rotted with age; and diseases that might once have been easily dealt with—including the common cold—threaten the community, which nevertheless grows and begins to think of itself as a tribe.

Fighting the encroachments of the wilderness eventually ceases to be the aging Ish's main concern, however. “After twenty-one years … the world had fairly well adjusted itself, and further changes were too slow to call for day-to-day or even month-to-month observation. Now, however, the problem of society—its adjustment and reconstitution—had moved to the fore, and become his chief interest” (p. 159). The struggle to determine which values shall prevail in the new world occupies the entire second half of Earth Abides, and this struggle takes on a much more complex and ambivalent form than it does in such novels as Coppel's Dark December or Noyes's No Other Man. This struggle takes place on two fronts. The first, and more traditional, follows a second wasteland journey, undertaken by explorers of the second generation sent out by the community to see how others have fared in to the two decades since the catastrophe. Returning, the young men bring with them Charlie, who comes as close as any character in the novel to representing the kind of evil usually associated with the battle of the Elect. Charlie threatens to corrupt the youth of the community and is described by one elder as “‘rotten inside as a ten-day fish’” (p. 242)—literally as well as figuratively, since Charlie is a carrier of venereal disease. The elders of the community discuss banishing Charlie, but decide the only safe route is to execute him. The execution is reluctantly carried out, but not before Charlie's venereal disesae spreads throughout the community killing, among others, Ish's son and chosen successor Joey, the only child of the new generation who has learned to read. The community thus assures its survival against the kind of evil Charlie represents—but at the same time it sacrifices, in the person of Joey, its only real link with the precatastrophe culture and the values that culture represents.

The other, more profound struggle of the last half of the novel is involved with the death of Joey. Ish has struggled for years to transmit, through education, the values and traditions of the pre-catastrophe world, but early on he found his repeated imprecations about the need for science and social institutions coming to be regarded as a kind of eccentric obsession, much respected but little attended to by the youth of the community—with the sole exception of Joey. Ish's attempts to train the young people to become self-sufficient repeatedly fail, and he has so strongly tried to inculcate the value of certain symbols of the old world—such as the university library located nearby—that these symbols become totemic. Ish himself unwittingly evolves into a tribal priest, venerated for the magical knowledge he possesses but brutally pinched and tormented when this knowledge fails because the younger members of the tribe no longer perceive the rationalistic basis for this knowledge. Eventually, as an old man, Ish comes to realize that the tribe is indeed becoming more self-sufficient, not because of his teachings, but because of the “forces and pressures” that cause a society to evolve in the first place. “‘A tribe is like a child,’” an ancient Ish says to his only surviving friend, Ezra. “‘You can show it the way by which it should grow up, and perhaps you can direct it a little, but in the end the child will go his own way, and so will the tribe’” (p. 288).

In an essay on Earth Abides, Willis E. McNelly has noted that the names “Ish” and “Em” derive from Hebrew words meaning “man” and “mother.”18 This and myriad other details invite a heavily mythic interpretation of the novel, with Ish and Em standing not for a simplistic equivalent of Adam and Eve, as they might in lesser post-holocaust novels, but for a broad range of human institutions. On the broadest level, Ish and Em are indeed Adam and Eve, and their adventure is the adventure of the human species. But they also stand for a culture, since despite their failure to deliberately inculcate codes of values, they nevertheless profoundly influence the behavior of generations to come. At increasingly narrower levels, they also stand for the tribe, for the family, and even for the individual, and the basic five-part structure we have used to explore this novel reveals new meanings when regarded in each of these separate contexts. And it may be that these complex levels of potential meaning account for the remarkable power and richness of all the best post-holocaust novels. Such novels are, in the broadest sense, epics of the power of humanity to remain dominant in the universe. Read this way, the cataclysm is literally a new creation or genesis, the period of exploration a dispersion or exodus, the establishing of a community the invention of a social contract, the emergence of the wilderness a testing of that social contract, and the final battle of the Elect a confirmation of permanence. At the tribal or family level, the five-part structure becomes the separation from existing family structures through cataclysm, the journey in search of new family members, the founding of the new family in a settled community, the struggle to maintain the family against the encroachments of disorder, and the final battle to preserve the sanctity and integrity of the family from “evil” forces that would pollute or destroy it. The story may even be viewed on a level of individual psychology, as an epic of individuation: the cataclysm becomes the birth trauma, the journey a period of growth and exploration leading toward ego development, the establishment of the community the growing awareness of the super-ego, the emerging wilderness the threat of the unconscious, and the final battle the triumph of the emerging personality over forces that would subsume or disintegrate it. To narrowly allegorize any of these novels according to such a system would of course be dangerously reductive, but to ignore such potential meanings altogether would be reductive in an entirely different way; Earth Abides supports each of these readings at least in part, as suggested by Ish's comparison, late in the novel, of the tribe both with human society in general and with the growth of an individual child. Perhaps, after all, the profoundest question we can ask of such novels is that simple question of Hernando's in Bradbury's “The Highway”: “‘What do they mean, “the world?”’” And perhaps it is for all these reasons that fictions which begin with cataclysm often include some of the most luminous visions of affirmation in the whole of fantastic literature.


  1. Ray Bradbury, “The Highway,” reprinted in The Illustrated Man (Garden City: Doubleday, 1951), p. 62.

  2. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (Garden City: Doubleday, 1950). The symbolic burning of artifacts of the old world is related to the Adamic mythology of the frontier which Bradbury explores throughout The Martian Chronicles, and thus it is not surprising that a likely source for “The Million-Year Picnic” is Nathaniel Hawthrone's 1844 story “Earth's Holocaust,” about an immense, apocalyptic bonfire meant to cleanse the earth of “the weight of dead men's thought.” Bradbury anthologized the Hawthorne story in his 1956 collection The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories.

  3. Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, trans. by Willard R. Trask (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968), p. 76.

  4. Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957).

  5. Eliade, p. 30.

  6. J. G. Ballard, “Cataclysms and Dooms,” in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. Brian Ash (New York: Harmony Books, 1977), p. 130.

  7. George R. Stewart, Earth Abides (New York: Ace, n.d. [1949]), p. 122. Subsequent references to this edition will be by page number in the text.

  8. Eliade, p. 72.

  9. See Bruce Gillespie, “The Long Loud Silence,” in Survey of Science Fiction Literature, ed. Frank N. Magill (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, 1979), III, 1241.

  10. Harlan Ellison, “A Boy and His Dog,” reprinted in The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (New York: New American Library, 1969), p. 254.

  11. M. P. Shiel, The Purple Cloud (New York: Paperback Library, 1963 [1901]), p. 13.

  12. Cohn, p. 308.

  13. John Bowen, After the Rain (New York: Ballantine, 1959), p. 124.

  14. Alfred Coppel, Dark December (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1960), p. 191.

  15. Coppel, p. 197.

  16. Coppel, p. 196.

  17. Bowen, p. 75.

  18. Willis E. McNelly, “Earth Abides,” in Survey of Science Fiction Literature, ed. Frank N. Magill (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, 1979), II, 690.

Ray Bradbury (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: Bradbury, Ray. “Memories Shape the Voice.” In The Voice of the Narrator in Children's Literature: Insights from Writers and Critics, edited by Charlotte F. Otten and Gary D. Schmidt, pp. 132-38. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Bradbury discusses the role of memory in his work.]

When I began to write Dandelion Wine (1975), first I rummaged through my mind for words that could describe my personal nightmares, fears of night, and time from my childhood. Then I took a long look at the green apple trees and the old house I was born in, and the house next door where my grandparents lived, and all the lawns of the summers I grew up in, and I began to try words for all that. I shaped stories from these.

What you have in Dandelion Wine then is a gathering of dandelions from all those years, all the summers of my childhood in one book. The wine metaphor that appears again and again in these pages is wonderfully apt. I was gathering images all my life, storing them away, and forgetting them. Somehow I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.

So from the age of twenty-four to thirty-six hardly a day passed when I didn't stroll myself across a recollection of my grandparents' northern Illinois grass, hoping to come across some old half-burnt firecracker, a rusted toy, or a fragment of a letter written to myself in some young year, hoping to contact the older person I became to remind him of his past, his life, his people, his joys, and his drenching sorrows.

It became a game that I took to with immense gusto: to see how much I could remember about dandelions themselves, or picking wild grapes with my father and brother, rediscovering the mosquito-breeding-ground rain barrel by the side bay window, or searching out the smell of the “goldfuzzed” bees that hung around our back porch grape arbor. Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don't they should, for their feet are dusted with species from a million flowers.

And then I wanted to call back what the ravine was like, especially on those nights when walking home late across town, after seeing Lon Chaney's delicious fright, The Phantom of the Opera, my brother Skip would run ahead and hide under the ravine-creek bridge like the Lonely One and leap out and grab me, shrieking, so I ran, fell, and ran again, gibbering all the way home. It was great stuff.

Along the way I came upon and collided, through word association, with old and true friendships. I borrowed my friend John Huff from my childhood in Arizona and shipped him east to Green Town so that I could say goodbye to him properly.

Along the way, I sat down to breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with the long dead and much loved. For I was a boy who did indeed love his parents and grandparents and his brother, even when that brother “ditched” him.

Along the way, I found myself in the basement working the winepress for my father, or on the front porch Independence night helping my Uncle Bion load and fire his homemade brass cannon.

Thus I fell into surprise. No one told me to surprise myself, I might add. I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths leaped out of bushes like quail before gunshot. I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my past tell me all that was somehow true.

So, I turned myself into a boy running to bring a dipper of clear rainwater out of that barrel by the side of the house. And, of course, the more water you dip, the more flows in. The flow has never ceased. Once I learned to keep going back again to those times, I had plenty of memories and sense impressions to play with, not work with, no, play with. Dandelion Wine is nothing if it is not the boy-hid-in-the-man playing in the fields of the Lord on the green grass of other Augusts in the midst of starting to grow up, grow old, and sense darkness waiting under the trees to seed the blood.

Waukegan, visited by me often since, is neither homelier nor more beautiful than any other small midwestern town. Much of it is green. The trees do touch in the middle of streets. The street in front of my old home is still paved with red bricks. In what way then was the town special? Why, I was born there. It was my life. I had to write of it as I saw fit.

I was amused and somewhat astonished at a critic a few years back who wrote an article analyzing Dandelion Wine and the more realistic works of Sinclair Lewis, wondering how I could have been born and raised in Waukegan, which I renamed Green Town for my novel, and not have noticed how ugly the harbor was and how depressing the coal docks and rail yards south of town were.

But, of course, I had noticed them and, genetic enchanter that I was, was fascinated by their beauty. Trains and boxcars and the smell of coal and fire are not ugly to children. Ugliness is a concept that we happen on later and become self-conscious about. Counting boxcars is a prime activity of boys. Their elders fret and fume and jeer at the train that holds them up, but boys happily count and cry the names of the cars as they pass from far places.

And again, that supposedly ugly rail yard was where carnivals and circuses arrived with elephants who washed the brick pavements with mighty steaming acid waters at five in the dark morning.

As for the coal from the docks, I went down in my basement every autumn to await the arrival of the truck and its metal chute, which clanged down and released a ton of beauteous meteors that fell out of far space into my cellar and threatened to bury me beneath dark treasures.

What the teller of Dandelion Wine tells comes out of the accumulated richness of my childhood. Children are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick for the adult writer is knowing how to tip the cup over and let the stuff run out. And so what went into Dandelion Wine was not the sum of things I've read or imagined or dreamed, but the sum of things I am, or at least was, shaped to its own truth.

The fact is simple enough. Through a lifetime, by ingesting food and water, we build cells, we grow, we become larger and more substantial. That which was not, is. The process is undetectable. It can be viewed only at intervals along the way. We know it is happening, but we don't know quite how or why.

Similarly, in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious goes not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events. This is the storehouse, the file, to which we must return every waking hour to check reality against memory, and in sleep to check memory against memory, which means ghost against ghost, in order to exorcise them, if necessary.

Here is the stuff of originality, the totality of experience reckoned with, filed, and forgotten. For no writer sees the same events in the same order in his life. One man sees death younger than another, one man knows love more quickly than another. Two men, as we know, seeing the same accident, file it with different cross-references, in another part of their own alien alphabet. There are not 100 elements, but two billion elements in the world. All would assay differently in the spectroscopes and scales.

As we can learn from every man or woman or child around us when, touched and moved, they tell of something they loved or hated this day, yesterday, or some other day long past. At a given moment, the fuse, after sputtering wetly, flares, and the fireworks begin. But they only begin after the writer has reached into the storehouse of his whole childhood and allowed these memories to determine a narrative voice.

I have had this happen not once but a thousand times in my life. My father and I were really not great friends, until very late. His language, his thought, from day to day, were not remarkable, but whenever I said, “Dad, tell me about Tombstone when you were seventeen,” or “the wheat fields, Minnesota, when you were twenty,” Dad would begin to speak about running away from home when he was sixteen, heading west in the early part of this century, before the last boundaries were fixed—when there were no highways, only horse paths, and train tracks, and the gold rush was on in Nevada.

Not in the first minute, or the second, or the third minute, no, did the thing happen to Dad's voice, did the right cadence come, or the right words. But after he had talked five or six minutes and got his pipe going, quite suddenly the old passion was back, the old days, the old tunes, the weather, the look of the sun, the sound of the voices, the boxcars traveling late at night, the jails, the tracks narrowing to golden dust behind, as the West opened up before—all, all of it, and the cadence there, the moment, the many moments of truth.

Oh, it's limping crude hard work for many, with language in their way. But I have heard farmers tell about their very first wheat crop on their first farm after moving from another state, and if it wasn't Robert Frost talking, it was his cousin, five times removed. I have heard locomotive engineers talk about America in the tones of Tom Wolfe who rode our country with his style as they ride it in their steel. I have heard mothers tell of the long night with their first born when they were afraid that they and the baby might die. And I have heard my grandmother speak of her first ball when she was seventeen. Their souls grew warm as memories shaped their voices; they were all, at least for the moment, storytellers.

If it seems I've come the long way around, perhaps I have. But I wanted to show what we all have in us, that it has always been there, and so few of us bother to notice. When people ask me where I get my ideas, I laugh. How strange—we're so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in and back. All that is most original lies waiting for our summons. For nothing is ever lost: the continual running after loves, the checking of these loves against one's present and future needs, the moving on from simple textures to more complex ones, from naive ones to more informed ones, from nonintellectual to intellectual ones. If you have moved over vast territories and dared to love silly things, you will have learned even from the most primitive items collected and put aside in your life. From an ever-roaming curiosity in all the arts, from bad radio to good theatre, from nursery rhyme to symphony, from jungle compound to Kafka's Castle, there is basic excellence to be winnowed out, truths found, kept, savored, and used on some later day. To be a child is to do all these things, to be a writer is to recall all these things.

The experience of the child. The labor of the writer. These are the twin sides of the coin which when spun is neither experience nor labor, but the moment of revelation. The coin, by optical illusion, becomes a round, bright, whirling globe of life. It is the moment when the porch swing creaks gently and a voice speaks. All hold their breath. The voice rises and falls. Dad tells of other years. A ghost rises off his lips. The memory stirs, rubs its eyes, ventures in the ferns below the porch, where the summer boys, strewn on the lawn, listen. Story is there. It sounds big in the summer night. And it is, as it always was down the ages, when there was a storyteller with something to tell, and listeners, quiet and wise.

So I have always tried to write and to tell my own story, the stories of man trying to throw the very phosphorescence of his insides long on the wall. Give it a label if you wish, call it science fiction or fantasy or the mystery or the western. But, at heart, all good stories are the one kind of story, the story written by an individual from individual truth.

Green Town did exist, then?

Yes, and again, yes.

Was there a real boy named John Huff?

There was. And that was truly his name.

He truly could pathfind more trails than any Choctaw or Cherokee since time began, or leap from the sky like a chimpanzee from a vine, or live underwater two minutes and slide fifty yards downstream from where you last saw him. He did hit the baseballs you pitched him into the apple trees, knocking down harvests. He did remember all the words to the cowboy songs and the names of all the wildflowers and when the moon would rise and set and when the tides came in and out. He was, in fact, the only god living in the whole of Waukegan, Illinois, during the twentieth century that I knew of. But he didn't go away from me, I went away from him. But, happy ending, he is still alive, forty-two years later, and remembers our love.

Was there a Lonely One?

There was, and that was his name. And he moved around at night in my home town when I was six years old and he frightened everyone and was never captured.

Was Grandma a woman with a broom or a dustpan or a washrag or a mixing spoon always in her hand?

She was. You saw her cutting piecrust in the morning, humming to it, or you saw her setting out the baked pies at noon or taking them in, cool, at dusk. She rang porcelain cups like a Swiss bell ringer, to their place. She glided through the halls as steadily as a vacuum machine, seeking, finding, and setting to rights. She made mirrors of every window, to catch the sun. She strolled but twice through any garden, trowel in hand, and the flowers raised their quivering fires upon the warm air in her wake. She slept quietly and turned no more than three times in a night, as relaxed as a white glove to which, at dawn, a brisk hand will return. Waking, she touched people like pictures, to set their frames straight. And when she came to the end of her life, she slipped into the long dream.

Fire balloons.

You rarely see them these days, though in some countries, I hear, they are still made and filled with warm breath from a small straw fire hung beneath. But in the Illinois of 1925, we still had them, and one of the last memories I have of my grandfather is the last hour of a Fourth of July night sixty some odd years ago when Grandpa and I walked out on the lawn and lit a small fire and filled the pear-shaped red-white-and-blue-striped paper balloon with hot air, and held the flickering bright-angel presence in our hands a final moment in front of a porch lined with uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and fathers, and then, very softly, let the thing that was life and light and mystery go out of our fingers up on the summer air and away over the beginning-to-sleep houses, among the stars, as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself.

I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own still thoughts. I see myself, eyes filled with tears because it was all over, the night was done. I knew there would never be another night like this.

No one said anything. We all just looked up at the sky and breathed out and in and we all thought the same things, but nobody said. Someone finally had to say, though, didn't they? And that one is me.

The wine still waits in the cellars below.

My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark.

The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer.

Why and how?

Because I say it is so.

Is the ravine real and deep and dark at night? It was, it is. I took my daughters there a few years back, fearful that the ravine might have gone shallow with time. I am relieved and happy to report that the ravine is deeper, darker, and more mysterious than ever. I would not, even now, go home through there after seeing The Phantom of the Opera.

Most importantly, did the big house itself, with Grandpa and Grandma and the boarders and uncles and aunts in it exist? I have already answered that.

So there you have it. Waukegan was Green Town, with all the happiness that that means, with all the sadness that these names imply. The people there were gods and midgets and knew themselves mortal and so the midgets walked tall so as not to embarrass the gods, and the gods crouched so as to make the small ones feel at home.

Here is my celebration, then, of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror written by a boy who once hung upside down in trees, dressed in his bat costume with candy fangs in his mouth, who finally fell out of the trees when he was twelve and went and found a toy-dial typewriter and wrote his first “novel.”

A final memory.

Bradbury, Ray. Dandelion Wine. New York: Knopf, 1975.

Peter Stockwell (essay date 1991)

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SOURCE: Stockwell, Peter. “Language, Knowledge, and the Stylistics of Science Fiction.” In Subjectivity and Literature from the Romantics to the Present Day, edited by Philip Shaw and Peter Stockwell, pp. 101-12. London: Pinter Publishers, 1991.

[In the following essay, Stockwell provides a stylistic analysis of “The Night,” focusing on Bradbury's utilization of language and the story's place within the conventions of science fiction.]

This [essay] will be concerned with language in relation to the genre of Science Fiction (SF), and will deal with the practice of stylistics and the reading of texts. In the spirit of SF itself, the discussion will draw on work from a variety of disciplines which will be brought to bear on a short story ‘The Night’, by the American SF writer, Ray Bradbury.1 Firstly, however, to facilitate this discussion I would remind the reader of the story of the roadrunner. In those cartoons, first shown in the 1960s but regularly re-run, the basic plot centred around the efforts of a wily coyote to chase and catch a small, fast bird—the roadrunner. The animators of that cartoon imposed rules on themselves in its production: there was to be no dialogue; the roadrunner was to remain on the road; the bird never directly harmed the coyote; and so on. The coyote employed a variety of tools and techniques to catch the roadrunner, but the roadrunner always escaped, and the coyote was always destroyed by his own plan. Each episode that made up the programme was completely independent of the others, so the coyote could miraculously be brought back to life and start again. But the point to emphasize is that the coyote always began again from scratch. Even if only a small part of a particular plan didn't work, instead of learning from the mistake and improving the plan, the coyote always abandoned it completely in favour of something different. He never learned from his mistakes, and his method of proceeding was to suppose that if a plan of attack did not work perfectly the first time, then it was totally useless. The principle that underlies this procedure is that the failure of part of a theory in action leads to the complete abandonment of the whole theory. I will call the tendency in people to do this the ‘coyote complex’.

This rather frivolous example is used here to make two serious points. One is concerned with pragmatics, about which more later. The other is to suggest that what I've jokingly called the ‘coyote complex’ is a pervasive practice in the methods of most disciplines of inquiry into knowledge, but especially in literary studies. In almost any book on literary theory, the author will spend a substantial part of the book orientating him or herself in relation to other theories or ways of reading a text. Previous theories will be demolished on the basis of a contradiction that is characterized as a ‘fatal flaw’ in the theory, leaving the way open for the author's own views to be presented. This practice of theory-abandonment, on the basis of theoretical discussion without any regard for the practical circumstances of application, is so widespread in literary theory as to have attained the status of a consensus methodology. A good, concentrated example can be seen in surveys of literary theory such as Eagleton (1983). The ‘coyote complex’ is the product of a sort of academic purism and a failure to understand the nature of theory.

One of the best discussions of this for the present purposes is an article by the neo-classical economist Milton Friedman (1971), originally written in 1935. Friedman begins by asking whether a theory, hypothesis, or model can be tested by a judgement of the realism of its assumptions. He decides that the assumptions are irrelevant to whether a theory works or not—in other words, whether it has predictive or usable power. Assumptions allow a theory to be abstract and complete—E doesn't equal mc2 more or less, or only on Wednesdays, but always and exactly, in theory. But when the theory is applied in practice, it changes its nature. It is up to the observer—economist, scientist, linguist or critic—to assess whether the affecting circumstances in practice have any material relevance or significance in altering the results. A theory can be abstract and ideal because it does not have to take account of circumstances in the real world. Friedman uses an example from Euclidian geometry: a line in theory connects two points in the shortest distance. It is a measure only of length, in one dimension. Of course, an actualized Euclidian line is not possible. The theory assumes a line with no width and no depth. But no matter how fine the pencil or how faint the line, a real line drawn on a surface will have volume, will be three-dimensional. This reality does not invalidate the theory. The idea of a Euclidian line is still useful in physics and mathematics, but actual lines must be thought of differently. This is because the theory is a metaphorical representation of an idea from reality. A theory cannot therefore be right or wrong, only applicable or inapplicable in different specific circumstances. A metaphor such as ‘Juliet is the sun’ (to use the favourite example of the academic literature) cannot be said to be true or false; it is, of course, literally false, but this would be an inappropriate response to the metaphor. Theories are useful, says Friedman, only if the economist (or anyone) remembers the significance of circumstances in the actualization of the theory.

There are three points to emerge out of this. Firstly, that theory is only useful when actualized and the circumstances taken into account. Secondly, that theory is abstract and complete, but the actualization does not have to be, and can still be valid. Thirdly, that some circumstances will vary so far from the assumptions of the theory as to render the theory invalid in those circumstances. For example, the significance of ‘error’ is small when a Euclidian line for a building design is actualized with a fine pencil, but the ‘error’ is significant if actualized by a thick marker.

The inherent assumptions of a model often implicitly specify the circumstances under which it will work—in other words, a model only works within its own frame of reference. For example, in physics Newtonian mechanics was the prevailing theory of motion for almost two centuries. Around the turn of this century, it was discovered that Newtonian mechanics only applies in the circumstances of low velocities and short distances, and that strange things happen in the actual circumstances of velocities approaching the velocity of light, which can only be accounted for by relativity theory. Of course it would be silly to abandon Newtonian mechanics completely on these grounds, since it is still applicable in the frame of reference of our every-day world in which we drop objects and drive cars around and so on. If the ‘coyote complex’ held in physics, then perhaps cars would be designed using relativity theory, which could probably be done but which would be extremely circumlocutionary and redundant. No single frame can be applied to all frames of reference. In literary terms, no reading theory has a monopoly on truth. The critic who does not adapt theory to the practice of analysis will end up with an unrepresentative analysis. Chuck Jones, creator of the roadrunner, said: ‘People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped’ (quoted in Hall 1968: 28).

The method of the following discussion will proceed in accordance with the implications of Friedman's guidelines. The assumptions (or, at least, some of them) underlying this paper will be presented as articles of faith that the reader is asked to accept simply so that the discussion can move beyond them. I hope to justify them, not by theoretical argument, but by showing how they apply to the practice of reading; not proof, therefore, but demonstration of the frame theory in its appropriate frame of reference and circumstances. The first article of faith partly underlies what has been said so far.


It is this principle that forms the basis of the descriptive model of language functions in De Beaugrande (1980). De Beaugrande sees the virtual (abstract) system of grammar in language as a default system which texts can override in utilization. In other words, a text can construct its own grammar in reading, and can be found meaningful. Text is an actual system which is derived from the virtual system of language. Any discussion of a text in terms of the virtual system is therefore meaningless. De Beaugrande's orientating frame, also followed in this paper, is based on functionalism and pragmatics. Pragmatics here holds both the everyday meaning of being concerned with the circumstances of specific application, as well as being that branch of linguistics which is concerned with utterances (language in a social context, eg Levinson (1983)). Pragmatics avoids the ‘coyote complex’.

De Beaugrande differentiates between features of textuality (which make a text processible by the human brain), and design which is where he locates qualitative judgement of the text. Design criteria include efficiency (greatest returns for least effort) which gives effectiveness (relevance) and appropriateness (of the text in a particular situation). Qualitatively ‘bad’ texts are thus those which are inefficient, ineffective, or inappropriate. All of these are evidently inherently concerned with a specified reader in a specified circumstance. Evidence from the textual aspect can therefore provide a basis for a judgement of value (ie validate) but it cannot on its own assign value (ie evaluate). Value is a contextual feature of texts that is culture- and subject-based.

De Beaugrande also dismisses discussion of texts that look at potential ambiguities as products of the abstract system of langue rather than the actualized system of parole. Although ambiguities occur in the context of real utterances, these are seldom misunderstood because the brain matches and predicts the probable specific meaning in the context of utterance. However, De Beaugrande does not elaborate the importance of probability, and in later articles he even seems to view it as being less significant. The importance of an understanding of probability can be seen when the process of actualization is applied to the theory. The basic traditional model of probability says that in tossing a coin there are two possible outcomes, so each side has a 50 per cent chance of selection—in theory. But in actualization, this theory must change its nature and a sort of ‘bookmaker’ probability will take over (formalized as that branch of mathematics known as Bayesian statistics). In a race with five horses, simple probability would say that in theory each has a 20 per cent (1 in 5) chance of winning. But no bookie would ever give that as a starting price. This is because bookmaker probability—or, more properly, Bayesian statistics—takes account of circumstances, of previous performance, of expectations; it is cumulative and context-dependent. A coin that comes down 90 times heads and 10 times tails still, in theory, has 50 per cent probability either way. But, in practice, the observant gambler would choose heads. The same is true of the reading process, what De Beaugrande calls ‘utilization’. Readings are thus disambiguated not absolutely, but to an acceptable level of probability in order to be processed under a principle of efficiency—maximum processing returns for least processing effort. A sentence ‘means’ not only in isolation, but based on everything that has gone before it in the text, itself interpreted probabilistically. This is how a text generates its own grammar, rules for its own reading. How else could the reader make sense of a sequence like ‘The king was pregnant’? Ungrammatical in the default system, but perfectly grammatical in Le Guin's The Left Hand Of Darkness (1981:89) since the context has been established of the alien winter-world of Gethen, with its single-sex humans capable of becoming male or female for a few days once a month for the purposes of reproduction. So, a second article of faith.


The appropriateness of this framing theory for the frame of reading interpretation can be demonstrated by looking at the alternative. If cumulative determination did not hold, then the brain, in the primary stage of reading perception, would have to run through every possible entry of a lexical item in its neural network. For such an apparently simple sentence as the opening of ‘The Night’—‘You are a child in a small town’—I calculate 432 possibilities (without metaphorical connections). Longer, more complex sequences would produce hundreds of thousands of potential alternatives. Clearly the brain has neither the size nor the speed to run through this many possibilities. The brain reads pre-selectively, basing its selection on its accumulated rules in the text.

Cumulative interpretation is qualitative not merely quantitative, depending not only on the frequency of occurrence of previous items but also on a judgement of their significance (foregrounding or weighting). And it holds at every level of interpretation, from word-interpretation as shown above, to the history of genres. Hans Robert Jauss (1982) seems to imply this in seeing the reader as a cultural consensus, in the second thesis in Toward An Aesthetic Of Reception:

The analysis of the literary experience of the reader avoids the threatening pitfalls of psychology if it describes the reception and the influence of a work within the objectifiable system of expectations that arises for each work in the historical moment of its appearance, from a pre-understanding of the genre, [and] … from the form and themes of already familiar works.

(Jauss 1982: 22)

The consequence of the two circumstances of cumulative interpretation process and the specificity of context is that every reading is a new and different one, even a second reading of one book by one reader. Doris Lessing articulates this in Briefing For A Descent Into Hell:

Sometimes when you read a book or story, the words are dead, you struggle to end it or put it down, your attention is distracted. Another time, with exactly the same book or story, it is full of meaning, every sentence or phrase or even word seems to vibrate with messages and ideas, reading is like being pumped full of adrenalin.

(Lessing 1972: 155)

Cumulative probability must work right down to the most basic level of decision-making in the brain: the bit (binary digit), which is defined as the operation needed to make a decision between two equally probable events. This leads to the third article of faith.


The idea that language is what it does underlies functional and descriptive linguistics. In terms of inquiry into processes, it is the function that is primary, and deeper levels—whether they are called deep structure, langue, competence, universal grammar or whatever—are inferred from the surface utterance. Michael Johnson, in Mind, Language, Machine (1988), has pointed to the co-incidence of function and identity at every stage of interpretation—from the primary code of syntactic and semantic processing in the language centres in the brain, to the micro-code of conceptual-semantic networks in the neural networks, down to the neurochemical code in basic neuroanatomy. It would seem that this regression of codes has no ending, going down to the DNA code and beyond, with the actual uncoded, untransformed real meaning (S) in the deep structure never attained, ever receding infinitely. Johnson ‘explains’ this by a mystical invocation of Derrida, saying the meaning is continually deferred. This seems to me inadequate as an explanation, and evidence for a more appropriate model can be found in the brain and in evolution, and embodied in a fourth article of faith.


That is, they have common boundaries. The language centres in the brain are predominantly Broca's area and Wernicke's area in the left hemisphere, dealing with syntagmatic structure and paradigmatic structure respectively. These areas are adjacent to the visual areas around Exner's centre and the auditory cortex, which analyses sound. Fossil remains show Broca's area (and thus the origin of language capacity), as enlarged about two million years ago, which, in evolutionary terms, is not long enough for these areas to become totally discontinuously specialized. Writing and reading use existing brain structures wholly, beginning only eleven thousand years ago. So the parts of the brain that deal with environmental orientation are the parts that we use to interpret texts. There is a biological analogy here as well: the area in the brain that reconstructs two-dimensional visual data into three-dimensional space-concepts occupies the same position in the right hemisphere as the language area in the left, suggesting that environmental orientation and textual orientation work in the same way.

This analogy indicates that the grammar of neural connections lies in spatial relations. Different qualities of perception, cognition and emotion activate different nerve cells and fibres, all operating at once (in parallel). So, brain activity must be measured as a dynamic map, as spatial relations in progress. Meaning depends on a configuration of the map; a meaning, in other words, is a frozen mapping—an experience at a point in time. This culminates in, and metaphorically supports, the final article of faith.


Information is form, materially true in the brain. Grammar is topological.

This is how the transformation of encoded meaning proceeds—not forever deferred in infinite and abstract regression, but into a configuration which can be imaged—in much the same way as a computer can image complex fractal repetition structure from relatively simple equations (cf. Peitgen and Saupe (1988) and Gleick (1988: 90–103)). Perhaps one day there will be the technology to map the status of every brain cell and synapse in this complex process. Simmons (1973), in an article on semantic networks, suggested that:

The meaning of any node is an ordering of the rest of the nodes of network with which it is related. Assuming a richly interconnected network, the complete meaning of any particular node may involve every other node in the system.

(Simmons 1973: 78)

But complexity is even less of a reason for abandoning a theory than the ‘coyote complex’.

The roadrunner cartoon was used at the beginning of this paper, not only to make a serious point, but also to provide a link into a discussion of SF. In the April 1968 edition of Psychology Today, Mary Harrington Hall interviews Chuck Jones, the creator of the roadrunner, and Ray Bradbury, the American SF and fantasy author. In the interview, among other things, they discuss what makes a narrative science fiction. Chuck Jones says:

People think there is one set of rules for every form of literature and another set for fantasy, and that's where most mistakes in analyzation are made. The rules are exactly the same.

(Hall 1968: 29)

It is the difference in emphasis of the discourse rules that makes SF. SF is a form of fantasy, but one of the things that differentiates it from pure fantasy is the degree to which it literalizes metaphors—actualizes them, to use consistent terminology. If you can imagine a story in which Juliet really is the sun, and the sun was a sentient being capable of generating solar and magnetic storms to influence the climate in Verona, that story would be a SF story; indeed, the idea of stars having consciousness appears in Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker (1972). Many of Isaac Asimov's stories take metaphysical problems and actualize them in technological form to work them out. Chuck Jones says:

You must build an entire world that is believable. Everything about this world must ring true, and the facts of the imagination must become as acceptable as the facts of reality.

(Hall 1968: 29)

He talks about imaginative facts being actualized as text-facts. Ray Bradbury adds: ‘What you must do is take one simple, fantastic idea and implement it on every sensual level’ (Hall 1968: 29). On every sensual level in a text, means at every linguistic and cognitive level. In creating belief-worlds of this sort, SF has been variously characterized as ‘possibility fiction’, or ‘context manipulation fiction’, or ‘speculative fiction’. I would suggest ‘epistemic fiction’ as a good descriptive label, conveying the idea of a fiction to do with knowledge, the impact of knowledge on humans and how we deal with it. (I mean here something different from Dolezel's (1976) modal categories, under which SF would be part of an alethic system.) A stylistic analysis of an SF text must therefore take account of the knowledge structures that the reader brings to the text. This can be demonstrated by what Chuck Jones calls an ‘analyzation’ of a text—‘The Night’ by Ray Bradbury.

An exhaustive analysis is precluded here because of considerations of space and because only two interrelated aspects of the text are relevant to the previous discussion. The construction of the text-world and the orientation of the reader towards that world are matters of the epistemic features of the text. I have already said—it is the fourth article of faith—that environmental and textual orientation are almost the same process. This assumption underlies the theory of scripts or frames developed in artificial intelligence. In that field it is mainly text-production that is of interest, but Erving Goffman (1974) has given frame theory a textually descriptive and analytic slant. When people frame an event or text in order to make sense of it, Goffman says, they assign the frame a particular operational status. Two of these are keying and fabrication. Keying is the process by which play is derived from ‘real’ activity; reality and game are distinguishable more as a consequence of their assigned status than by inherent properties. A fabrication is an attempt to transform the frame-belief of someone else—it is intentional deception. These seem to me to correspond to the difference between realism and fantasy. Realism in fiction is marked by a process of keying: minimal fictiveness. Fantasy such as SF is based on fabrication: a marked fictiveness that is significantly different from the reader's knowledge of the real world. Fabrication is achieved by building up a new belief-world, and strategies used to do this in SF generally can be seen at work in ‘The Night’.

The construction of the belief-world of ‘The Night’ involves orientating the reader into a new identity, that of the eight-year-old boy, Doug. The narrator does this by orientational sequences that are outside the narrative progression of events in the story, ie the plot. The first paragraph of the story is the most obvious example of these sequences:

You are a child in a small town. You are, to be exact, eight years old, and it is growing late at night. Late, for you, accustomed to bedding in at nine or nine-thirty; once in a while perhaps begging Mom or Dad to let you stay up later to hear Sam and Henry on that strange radio that is popular in this year of 1927. But most of the time you are in bed and snug at this time of night.

(Bradbury 1976: 154)

This establishes the age and location of Doug, the year, and a particular social environment. Throughout the story, these orientational sequences form the knowledge-base accumulated by the reader. Textually, they are characterized by several features. Firstly, there is much direct propositional content such as ‘You are a child in a small town’, or ‘Skipper is your brother’ (p.155), or ‘There are a million small towns like this all over the world’ (p.160). Secondly, there is a high degree of additional informativity, elaborating on details such as ‘Skipper is your brother. He is your older brother. He's twelve and healthy, red-faced, hawk-nosed, tawny-haired, broad-shouldered for his years, and always running’ (p.155). Thirdly, there is a high occurrence of generic propositions. These are propositions with a proverbial flavour which are presented as timeless truths; the classic example, though ironic, is the opening of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice (1813): ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. In ‘The Night’, a sentence like ‘The reedy playing of minor-key violins is the small-towns' music’ is a generic sentence. Finally, these orientational epistemic sequences are characterized by high certainty modality, which is the attitude expressed by the narrator to the subject. This can be seen in many of the modal auxiliaries: ‘You should feel encouraged’ (p.158), ‘You must accept being alone’ (p.159–60)—my emphasis; and also in modal and evaluative adverbs, adjectives and phrases: ‘to be exact’ (p.154), ‘which is natural’ (p.155), ‘certainly’ (p.159).

The certainty of the belief-world thus constructed is then undermined as the story progresses. Uncertainty is expressed by questions in the narration: by low value modality ‘Blackness could come swiftly’ (p. 159), my emphasis; by confusion in collocational clashes such as ‘thick green odour’ (p.157); by the animation of the unknown and inanimate ‘the whole ravine is tensing’ (p.160) and ‘Doubts flush you’ (p.159); and especially by underlexicalization ‘the dark dark dark’ (p.155) and ‘All of the nameless things are there’ (p.158). The certainty of the frame is restored at the end, with the high value modality and directness of the last paragraph (p.162), and the last sentence: ‘It is’. The victory over the unknown, and the reassertion of the timeless certainty of the family united at the end, is what the story is about. It is, then, an epistemic story, a story about knowledge and certainty.

Intertwined with all this is the textual aspect by which the point of view of the narrator is realized. A precise way of examining textual point of view has been developed by Roger Fowler (1986) from work by Boris Uspensky (1973). On the psychological or perceptual plane of point of view,2 Fowler delineates four categories: A, B, C and D. Type A is narrative from within the text, as if from within a character's consciousness. Type B is narrative as if the narrator has knowledge of the character's thoughts and feelings and can move around them at will. Type C is external to the characters, as if an objective reportage of events, with minimal interference (typical of Hemingway). Type D is narrative in which the persona of the narrator is highlighted, trying to reconstruct an event from outside (as in Fielding or Kafka). I have summarized these categories A to D as mimetic, omniscient, objective and interpretative narratives respectively.

The problem with ‘The Night’ is that the narration does not seem to fit any of these categories very well. Starting from the beginning, the first two paragraphs would seem to indicate a type C narrative point of view. It is very factual and apparently objective—it seems to evaluate as little as possible; in fact it seems similar to the ‘invisible’ narration of an instruction manual. However, it is not precisely that. The sense of a narrative presence is strong, realized by evaluative modalities (‘to be exact’ and ‘perhaps’), as if there is a narrator constructing a character, building him up by presenting propositions of his external behaviour; so this is type D. But perhaps it is not an external narration at all, neither C nor D. After all, this narrator seems to know the character, internally. The reader has to be informed of his/her fictive role in the narration, providing the narrator knows more about the character than the character/reader himself (‘him’ because it is Doug). Later, for example, the narration runs: ‘He'll be here, you say, knowing very well that he will be’ (p.156). The narrator here has knowledge of Doug's consciousness, and presents Doug's feelings and evaluations throughout the story as he thinks them; so is it a type A narrative? At times—most notably in the orientation sequences already mentioned—the narration seems more like type B: ‘Is there, then, no strength in growing up? no solace in being an adult? no sanctuary in life? no flesh citadel strong enough to withstand the scrabbling assault of midnights?’ (p. 159). The lexical range here is not that of an eight-year-old boy. The narrative is not even wholly felicitous to the point of view of Doug. Occasionally it moves into the mind of his mother: ‘she cannot look anywhere, in this very instant, save into her heart, and there she'll find nothing but uncontrollable repugnance and a will to fear’ (p. 159). In the third person, this is like the omniscient narrator of a type B narrative point of view.

It would seem, then, that if a story as short as ‘The Night’ can contain all of these narrative points of view, then Fowler's categories are not much use. When this first occurred to me, I tried to save the model by rewriting the categories along the lines of the grammatical person in which the narrative was realized. So, between Fowler's type A (first person) mimetic narrative and his type B (third person) omniscient narrative I inserted a third type of narrative point of view in the second person, which I called the instructive or ghost narrative. It is this ghost narrator that appears in ‘The Night’. A ghost or instructive narrative seems to alternate between being internal and external, present and disengaged: present in the deixis such as ‘that strange radio’ and ‘this year of 1927’ (p. 154); present in the internal knowledge of the character; present in assimilating reported speech into the narrative ‘full with “chocolate on top, yes!”’ (p. 154). Yet at the same time it is disengaged in external comments such as ‘to be exact’ (p. 154) and ‘which is natural’ (p. 155); disengaged in shifting to the future tense ‘Later, when you have grown you'll be given names to label them with’ (p. 158). The shift between the two occurs from sentence to sentence and even within sentences (a phenomenon known as slipping): ‘It is a wide ravine that cuts and twists across the town, a jungle by day, a place to let alone at night, Mother has often declared’ (p. 157)—here a narrative description slips into free direct speech. My point is that the level of narrative presence corresponds with the level of uncertainty at various points in the text. The linguistic and orientational cognitive levels of the text all work together in the thematic progression of the narrative.

My reformulation of Fowler's categories seems, therefore, to work in this instance. However, from a general overview, there are not many narratives that would fall into the category of instructive point of view. It can therefore be borne in mind more as an exception to the rule. What I hope I've done is to demonstrate how a theoretical model has to undergo alteration when it is actualized by application to a text. Fowler's categories remain useful, since my necessary modification of them was derived from components of the theory and selected according to the circumstances of the text. In being aware of this, I avoid the ‘coyote complex’ and retain a useful theory of narrative point of view.

To draw to an accumulated conclusion, I will make some outrageously generalized comments about SF, derived from the previous discussion, in the hope that they will provoke interest and further research. I claim ‘The Night’ as archetypal SF, though it might not seem to be. There are no bug-eyed monsters, no flying saucers, no aliens, no technological hardware. It is not set in the future, there is no time travel besides tense shifting. There are not even any impressive field equations. And yet ‘The Night’ can be read as SF, for the following reasons. Firstly, it is SF by association (metonymically SF?) since it is found in a collection of fantastical stories that are more recognizable as SF, written by a famous writer of SF. The reader will probably therefore come to the story with the expectation of reading in the convention of SF. Secondly, SF deals not with the impact of technology on humans, but with the impact of science on humans (where science is ‘knowledge’, from the Latin scientia). Doug's story is about the impact of knowledge. Thirdly, and very generally, many critics have noted the twentieth-century tendency in literature towards internalization. In mainstream fiction, this tendency has often taken the form of psychological exploration where a character usually corresponds with an individual. In the SF genre, the idea of character often corresponds with humanity itself, and so the cultural tendency towards internalization here takes the form of philosophical and epistemological exploration, since philosophy can be said to be the thought of the mind of humanity. ‘The Night’ is therefore typical of SF in that it is an epistemic story; it is about the state of knowledge of typical eight-year-old boys—in ‘a million small towns like this all over the world’ (p. 160)—when faced with the unknown. Even more modern SF, that problematizes the concept and status of knowledge—in the work, for example, of Philip K. Dick or Brian Aldiss—still concerns itself with epistemological exploration.

Finally, the critic Mark Rose (1981) has identified the area that SF explores as being the relationship of the human to the non-human—reinstating concerns of Romantic literature in the dialogue between humanity and nature, and of previous literatures including medieval romance. The human and the non-human is also the subject and the other, the known and the unknown, the finite and the infinite, which is what confronts Doug at the edge of the ravine. SF, as in ‘The Night’, is an attempt to name the infinite; to bring, through language, as much knowledge as possible within human understanding. In other words, the aim of SF is to transform scientia (knowledge) into sapientia (wisdom—which is knowledge in use, applied knowledge). It is this therapeutic, cathartic, broadly political, non-escapist, practical aspect of art that Bradbury refers to when, in the Psychology Today article, he grandly declares:

The so-called realists are trying to drive us insane, and I refuse to be driven insane. I go with Nietzsche who said: ‘We have art that we do not perish in the truth’.

(Hall 1968: 29)

It is with this kind of overblown statement, which is also typical of SF, that this paper should end.


  1. The short story is ‘The Night’, which is stylistically interesting in that it is written in the second person. It is most easily found in the collection The Small Assassin (Bradbury 1976: 154–162). SF has been, from its ‘pulp’ magazine origins, a genre of the popular paperback, and so page references to this story and to the other SF works mentioned in this paper are from the paperback editions of the books.

  2. For ease of reference I have here summarized the categories of perceptual point of view in narrative, adapted from Fowler (1986: 127–146). For a new approach to point of view in terms of modality, see Simpson (1990).


    Type A: The mimetic narrative, inside a character's mind. Usually in the first person, with high evaluative modality.

    Type B: The omniscient narrative, with knowledge of character's thoughts. Often in the third person.


    Type C: The objective narrative, outside characters' thoughts. Usually in the third person, with no evaluative modality.

    Type D: The interpretative narrative, with persona of narrator highlighted. Typically in the first person.


De Beaugrande, R. (1980), Text, Discourse, and Process: Toward a Multidisciplinary Science of Texts, Norwood (N.J.), Ablex Publishing Corp.

Blakemore, C. (1977), Mechanics of the Mind, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Bradbury, R. (1976), The Small Assassin, St. Albans, Granada.

Dolezel, L. (1976), ‘Narrative Modalities’, Journal of Literary Semantics, 5: 5–14.

Eagleton, T. (1983), Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

Fowler, R. (1986), Linguistic Criticism, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Friedman, M. (1971), ‘The Methodology of Positive Economics’, in Breit, W. and Hochman, H. N. (eds) (1971), Readings in Microeconomics (second edition), Hinsdale (Illinois), Dryden Press, 23–47.

Gleick, J. (1988), Chaos: Making a New Science, London, Cardinal.

Goffman, E. (1974), Frame Analysis, New York, Harper & Row.

Le Guin, U. K. (1981), The Left Hand of Darkness, London, Futura.

Hall, M. H. (1968), ‘A Conversation with Ray Bradbury and Chuck Jones: The Fantasy Makers’, Psychology Today, 1(11): 28–37 & 70.

Jauss, H. R. (1982), Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, Brighton, Harvester Press.

Johnson, M. L. (1988), Mind, Language, Machine: Artificial Intelligence in the Post-Structuralist Age, Basingstoke, MacMillan.

Lessing, D. (1972), Briefing for a Descent into Hell, London, Grafton.

Levinson, S. C. (1983), Pragmatics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Peitgen, H-O and Saupe, D. (eds) (1988), The Science of Fractal Images, New York, Springer-Verlag.

Rose, M. (1981), Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press.

Simmons, R. F. (1973), ‘Semantic Networks: Their Computation and Use for Understanding English Sentences’, in Schank, R. C. and Colby, K. M. (eds) (1973), Computer Models of Thought And Language, San Francisco, Freeman, 63–113.

Simpson, P. W. (1990), ‘Towards a Modal Grammar of Point of View’, Liverpool Papers in Language and Discourse, 3: 40–80.

Stapledon, O. (1972), Star Maker, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Uspensky, B. (1973), A Poetics of Composition, (trn. Valentina Zavarin and Susan Wittig) Berkeley, University of California Press.

Jonathan Eller (essay date 1993-95)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11735

SOURCE: Eller, Jonathan. “The Body Eclectic: Sources of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.University of Mississippi Studies in English 11-12 (1993-95): 376-410.

[In the following essay, Eller traces the creation of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, particularly the influenceson the book.]

There is an intriguing five-year gap between the time that Ray Bradbury first envisioned a book about people on Mars, and the time that he rediscovered that intent and produced his remarkable first novel, The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury's new introduction to the Fortieth Anniversary Edition recalls the crucial moment of rediscovery, a New York luncheon in June 1949 with Don Congdon, Bradbury's literary agent, and Doubleday editor Walter I. Bradbury (no relation). At the urging of California writer Norman Corwin, the twenty-nine-year-old author had traveled to New York from Los Angeles with fifty new stories and enough money to stay at the YMCA for a week. It was an exciting time for Bradbury—O. Henry Prizes in 1947 and again in 1948 were leading to recognition beyond the secondary market of the pulp magazines. He had already published a horror story collection with August Derleth's specialized Arkham House imprint; now, Bradbury and Congdon used the New York trip to showcase his stories for the major publishing houses.

But Bradbury found that story collections by bright new writers weren't selling; Walter Bradbury was the last in a long line of editors that week who asked “Is there a novel in you somewhere?” Like so many times before, Bradbury found himself explaining that he had always been a short story writer, and probably always would be. The other editors had shown no interest, but this time the response was different:

Walter Bradbury shook his head, finished his dessert, mused, and then said:

“I think you've already written a novel.”

“What?” I said, “and when?”

“What about all those Martian stories you've published in the past four years?” Brad replied. “Isn't there a common thread buried there? Couldn't you sew them together, make some sort of tapestry, half-cousin to a novel?”

“My God!” I said.


“My God,” I said. “Back in 1944, I was so impressed by Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, that I told myself I must try to write something half as good, and set it on Mars. I sketched out an outline of characters and events on the Red Planet, but soon lost it in my files!”

“Looks as if we've found it,” said Brad.1

Although the outline was long forgotten, Anderson's masterpiece may have served as a subconscious pattern for the Martian stories which followed; indeed, in his extensive interviews with Professor David Mogen in 1980, Bradbury observed that despite the five-year hiatus, the developing concept of The Martian Chronicles “was all due to Winesburg, Ohio.2

But to assume that in 1949 Bradbury simply plugged his Martian tales into the Winesburg formula is misleading. During the summer of that year, he heavily revised a select group of his Martian stories, added new stories, and wrote eleven bridging chapters for the new book. Even then, Bradbury sensed that the chronicles were something entirely different from the original plan:

By the time our first daughter was born in the autumn of 1949, I had fitted and fused all of my lost but now found Martian objects. It turned out to be not a book of eccentric characters as in Winesburg, Ohio, but a series of strange ideas, notions, fancies, and dreams that I had begun to sleep on and waken to when I was twelve.

(MC 40, ix)

The textual history of The Martian Chronicles remains the great untapped source of information about Bradbury's creative process in writing his first novel. Viewed as a process, the transformation of these tales helps to define the structural and thematic unities of the book, and to determine just what kind of book it is.


The earliest of Bradbury's fancies and dreams about Mars dates to his juvenile reading. By 1932, he had discovered and consumed the romantic Martian tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs; that year, at the age of twelve, he wrote a short story titled “John Carter of Mars” on his toy typewriter.3 But he envisioned a different Mars when, in 1940, he wrote his first serious Martian story, “The Piper.” It appeared (under the pen name of Ron Reynolds) in the fourth and final issue of Futuria Fantasia, the amateur “fanzine” which he had created and edited since his graduation from Los Angeles High School in 1938. The story is lyrical and dream-like, a cautionary tale which describes the exploitation of Mars by Earthmen of the future. Though short (barely 1200 words), “The Piper” anticipates a central theme of The Martian Chronicles and is clearly a forerunner of Bradbury's unique stylistic approach to the genre, but the story was too unconventional to earn a professional sale. With Julius Schwartz, an agent well-known to science fiction editors, Bradbury re-wrote “The Piper” to the fast-action formula required by most of the science fiction pulps, and placed it in the February 1943 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories for the then-significant sum of $60.00.4

But three more years would pass before Bradbury published another Martian story. His experience marketing “The Piper” revealed that his evolving style was not what the science fiction magazines were looking for. He continued to place occasional fast-action stories in the science fiction pulps, but the encouragement of mystery/detective fiction editor Ryerson Johnson led Bradbury to write for detective magazines during the remaining war years. From 1943 through 1945 he placed 43 professional stories, but only one out of every four was a science fiction tale, and most of these were formula pieces.

There were, however, discoveries during these years which would lead to The Martian Chronicles. In 1943 Bradbury wrote a fine space story, “King of the Gray Spaces,” and placed it in the year-end issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. With this story, Bradbury first realized the themes of the space frontier which would inform much of his best science fiction. This stylistic maturity and thematic sophistication began to appear in his horror and fantasy work as well. With “The Wind” (1943), “The Lake” (1944), and “The Jar” (1944), Bradbury hit his stride as a master of the thriller.

Sometime in 1944, fellow writer and longtime friend Henry Kuttner told Bradbury about Winesburg, Ohio, and this discovery led to an outline titled “Earthport, Mars.” The outline, which still exists, lists Winesburg-like title characters for twenty-one stories about Martian settlers from Earth.5 At this point in his writing, the connection was a natural one—the lonely, half-mad piper of his first Martian story was a grotesque figure of dreamlike proportions, rallying the displaced of Mars to rise up and drive out the Earth men. Such characters would appear in later Martian tales, but more and more the emphasis would center on the theme of exploration, of sacrifice, achievement, and the dangers inherent in the desire to make over new lands in familiar images. These themes would subsume the isolated grotesques and center most of the subsequent Martian stories on explorers, settlers, exploiters, and idealists.

The full canon of Martian tales produced during the late 1940's is not too difficult to define. Between 1946 and the publication of The Martian Chronicles in May 1950, Bradbury published twenty-two Martian tales in various magazines. Most of these were sold to the pulps, but Don Congdon (who became Bradbury's agent in 1947) managed to place reprints in major market slick-paper magazines and fiction anthologies. Three new stories appeared in the first edition of The Martian Chronicles, and two more were added to some later editions. Seven more Martian stories were published between 1950 and 1982, but all were written with the others in the late forties. Add to these thirty-four at least four extant story typescripts and three story fragments for Martian tales which never reached print. All of these materials were on hand in some form when Bradbury made his June 1949 trip to New York.


On the evening after his luncheon with Walter Bradbury, he returned to his room at the YMCA and spent most of the night going over the raw materials in his mind:

It was a typical hot June night in New York. Air conditioning was still a luxury of some future year. I typed until 3 A.M., perspiring in my underwear as I weighed and balanced my Martians in their strange cities in the last hours before the arrivals and departures of my astronauts.

(MC 40, ix)

In the morning he gave Walter Bradbury the outline and received in return a contract and a $750 advance. This outline—perhaps the original, but more likely a subsequent draft—still exists, providing invaluable clues about the long night's work. It bears no title other than “chapters,” but for purposes of analysis it can be called the “A-Chronology” in order to identify its priority over later documents. The A-Chronology identifies seventeen numbered chapters with titles that are traceable to actual stories in all cases, with possibly one exception. Five of the chapters are identified as “unfinished.” The completion status of the various titles, their order in the A-Chronology, and the content of the sixteen identifiable stories come together to reveal just how Bradbury first envisioned the completed project.

As his comments indicate, he spent much time that night on the opening third of the book, which relates to Mars at the moment of first contact between Earth men and the ancient, wiser, but extremely xenophobic Martians of Bradbury's imagination. He selected encounters of four kinds, three of which were already in print: “… And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” a novelette from the June 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories; “The Earth Men,” a shorter work from the August 1948 issue; and the chilling “Mars Is Heaven!” from the Fall 1948 issue of Planet Stories. In their original forms these three encounters represented completely unrelated tales of first contact; the only common thread was the Martian culture itself, which was already forming in Bradbury's mind as an identity so alien that most Earthmen would not be able to understand it—or even to perceive its deadly instinct for self-preservation. In both “The Earth Men” and “Mars Is Heaven!”, Earth's astronauts are destroyed by their own inability to sort out illusion from reality. The Martians of “… And the Moon Be Still as Bright” are long dead, but the tension between those Earthmen who would preserve the planet's past and those who would grind it underfoot nearly destroys this expedition as well.

Preceding these titles, Bradbury typed the name “Ylla” from yet a fourth encounter with the Martian culture, an as-yet unpublished tale which subsequently appeared in the 1 January 1950 issue of Maclean's (Canada) as “I'll Not Look for Wine.” Ylla is the central character of this story, a Martian woman, estranged from her husband, and who receives the thoughts of Nathaniel York of Earth's first Martian expedition, still several day's journey out in space. She is terrified, then drawn to the alien consciousness until her husband, sensing the telepathic relationship, seeks out the landing site and kills York and his crew-mate. The story is one of the best Martian tales, written late enough in the sequence that Bradbury had fully developed his vision of a bronze-skin, golden-eyed race with exotic art forms and jaded temperament. By placing this story first, Bradbury had decided to open the book with a long and fascinating look at an ancient civilization on the verge of extinction, a culture clearly unable to assimilate what Earthmen would bring.

The first third of the A-Chronology included two more titles. “Rocket Summer” (identified in A as unfinished) would become the first of the eleven bridge passages, opening the novel with an emotionally charged prelude to the new voyages of discovery. The failed voyages of “Ylla,” “The Earthmen,” and “Mars Is Heaven” appear in that order, followed by “The Death Disease,” a bridge which Bradbury wrote as an explanation for the death of the Martians prior to the action of “… And the Moon Be Still as Bright.” As Ylla's husband succumbs to “The Death Disease,” he realizes that it was carried to Mars by the very Earthmen he had killed. In outline, these first four stories and two bridges chronicle the demise of the Martian culture, leaving Earth's explorers with a precarious claim to the legacy of the Red Planet.

The A-Chronology also indicates that Bradbury had a good idea of the final portion of the book very early on. For the climax of the chronicles, he selected three of his previously published tales which, though independent, share the situational irony of a colonial society whose cultural lifeline is severed by the ravages of atomic war back on Earth. These stories appear in the outline under their original titles: “The Off-Season,” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948), “The Long Years,” (Maclean's (Canada), 15 September 1948), and “The Million Year Picnic,” (Planet Stories, Summer 1946). Between “The Off Season” and “The Long Years,” Bradbury placed a new story titled “There Will Come Soft Rains.” This unpublished story eventually appeared in the 6 May 1950 issue of Collier's, just prior to publication of The Martian Chronicles. One of the most anthologized of Bradbury's stories, “There Will Come Soft Rains” describes the last day in an automated house of the future which has miraculously survived total atomic war only to die, part by robotic part, in the flames of a freak natural accident.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” is not about Mars at all, but it brings the parallel chronology of the mother planet into focus at the moment when war of unimaginable proportions drastically alters the future of the Martian colonies. It follows “The Off-Season,” the story of Sam Parkhill's bittersweet realization of the American dream on the eve of Earth's war. He opens the first hot-dog stand on Mars at a lonely crossroads, envisioning a booming business from future waves of migrant laborers; but before his gaudy neon lights can attract a single customer, representatives of the ancient Martian culture emerge from hiding to offer Parkhill a “gift.” Fearing the loss of his stake in the new world, he kills most of his visitors before realizing that the gift is a deed to vast tracts of the planet. Parkhill cannot comprehend why the Martians have offered him the opportunity to become a “true” Martian until he sees the explosions of Earth's war in the night sky. He is left in shock, while his wife sarcastically describes the tragedy in business terms—they are in for a very, very long “off-season.”

“There Will Come Soft Rains” brings home the mindless destruction of those distant explosions with visceral impact, and sets up a timeline for the two alternate future views of Mars which conclude the collection as first planned. “The Long Years” tells the story of Doc Hathaway, the physician and archeologist who is marooned on Mars when Earth recalls all colonists during an atomic war back home. A rescue ship from a rebuilt Earth finds an aging Hathaway twenty years later, but the crew is mystified that his wife and three children have not aged at all. Hathaway suffers a fatal heart attack from the excitement of rescue, and the crew soon discovers that his “family” is really a marvelous robot family built as exact replicas for the wife and children he had lost years before to plague. The rescuers bury Hathaway, but cannot bring themselves to terminate the lifelike robot family; they are left to continue their ritualized family routine, an endless illusion of life on a dead planet. “The Million-Year Picnic” offers a positive alternative to the death and sterility of “The Lonely Years.” This final tale chronicles a post-holocaust family which comes to Mars not as conquerors, but as refugees. These new “Martians” establish a “Million-Year” future on their new planet by adopting it rather than exploiting it. “The Million-Year Picnic” was the first of his Martian tales to reach print after “The Piper,” but even at this early conceptual stage there are glimpses of the same ancient but incredibly fragile Martian culture that he would develop in the later stories. Bradbury returned to this early vision of the encounter between Earth and Mars to close out the new book with a sense that mankind still has a chance to start over.

From the beginning, conceiving and organizing the middle section of the book presented the most problems. Seven titles appear in this section of the A-Chronology, six of which are readily identifiable. But only three of these stories—“The Martian,” “Usher II,” and “Way in the Middle of the Air”—would find their way into the first edition of The Martian Chronicles. The tentative nature of this section is reinforced by Bradbury's own notation that the other four stories—“The Fathers,” “The Naming of Names,” “Love Affair,” and “The October Man”—were unfinished when the outline was prepared. In fact, none of these seven had as yet reached print, and only three—“The Naming of Names” (Thrilling Wonder Stories August 1949), “The Martian” (Super Science Stories November 1949, as “Impossible”) and “Usher II” (Thrilling Wonder Stories April 1950, as “Carnival of Madness”) would see print before book publication. A survey of all seven titles provides some clues to Bradbury's initial plan for the heart of the book.

Although unfinished at this point, “The Fathers” eventually became “The Fire Balloons,” one of four stories leading off this section of the A-Chronology which involve contact with aboriginal Martian “survivors.” In “The Fathers,” the Jesuit Father Peregrine and a companion search for God among the Martian hills, and find a benign lifesaving force which defies analysis and torments the searchers with hopes that God might once again walk with man. “The Naming of Names” presents a community of settlers which has named and claimed a new frontier, but soon finds itself marooned on Mars by atomic war on Earth. The planet itself becomes proactive, subconsciously implanting a racial memory of the ancient Martian language and a desire to assume the identities of the native names and homesteads. Mars slowly transforms the settlers into Martians, and a rescue ship arriving five years later finds only dark and golden-eyed Martians living far from the colonial settlement. The new crew surveys and names the major landmarks; in this way, “The Naming of Names” begins all over again.

In sharp contrast to the primeval Martian powers of these two stories, “The Martian” portrays a survivor who is tempted by loneliness to enter a human home, using his powers of illusion to appear as the lost son of an old couple living on the edge of a colonial settlement. A fatal journey into the settlement reveals that any strong human memory will trigger a shape-change; the helpless Martian dies in an agony of metamorphosis, overloaded with the identities of long-lost loved ones from the desperate dreams of the humans around him.

“The Love Affair” is the only story other than “Ylla” listed in the original chronology that is written from the Martian point of view. Like “Ylla,” it is a story of a secret sharer, in this case a Martian boy, perhaps the sole survivor of his race, who braves the threat of the Death Disease to meet the isolated Earth woman that he has loved from afar. Although the reader knows that she is a prostitute on vacation from the settlements, this factor only adds more possibilities to the moment of meeting—a meeting which Bradbury leaves to the reader's imagination. The final two stories from the middle section focus entirely on Earthmen who come to Mars to escape repression. “Way in the Middle of the Air” is Bradbury's pre-1950s vision of freedom for Black Americans, who rise up not in rebellion but rather in a successful attempt to leave the old order behind in a new Exodus to Mars. In “Usher II,” a future where imaginative literature is banned drives a rich eccentric to Mars to recreate Poe's House of Usher. When the authorities follow to tear down his creation and burn his books, he is ready for them, with a vengeance worthy of Poe himself.

Poe may also be “The October Man” of the A-Chronology. This title represents the only mystery in the first list of chapters; it appears nowhere else in Bradbury's manuscripts or published stories, but there are clues. In “Usher II,” Bradbury's obsessed millionaire recreates on Mars the perpetual autumn environment of Poe's House of Usher, an “ancient autumn world” which is “always October.” Eventually, Bradbury came to see his own Poe-esque horror and suspense stories as fantasies set in “The October Country,” and collected his best early thrillers under that now-famous title in 1955. But the most compelling clue surfaces in the next chronology, where a second Poe story does appear in the middle of the outline in place of “The October Man.”

At some later date, Bradbury returned to the mid-portion of the A-Chronology and wrote in two more titles—“Grandfathers” and “Night Meeting.” Neither appears in the next Chronology, although they surface again in the third. Their appearance as holograph additions to A may underscore the tentative nature of the original mid-book titles, but it is more likely an indication that Bradbury was working with both the first (A) and second (B) chronologies as he made the substantial revisions to this section which are evident in the third (C) chronology.

At least initially, it appears that Bradbury was more interested in examining the “displaced” than the “displacers” in the central section of the book. The first three stories in the middle section of A are imaginative explorations of the consequences of the social Darwinism and egocentric attitudes that the first Earthmen bring to Mars to replace the fragile Martian culture. The fourth is a love story told, like “Ylla,” from the Martian point of view. “The October Man” is problematic, due to the tenuous nature of its identity. Only the final two stories turn to the pressures that drive men outward from Earth's civilization, and the frontier imperatives that lead to exploration and settlement. The progressive chronology of discovery, exploration and settlement promised by “Rocket Summer” doesn't carry through the center of the A-Chronology. For this section at least, more than revision would be required in the months ahead.


The A-Chronology provides an excellent baseline by which to measure the succeeding stages of large-scale restructuring. The next stage is also recorded in an extant outline, probably prepared not long after Bradbury returned home to California in late June 1949. This “B-Chronology,” as we may call it, includes twenty-one entries. Two titles are dropped from the A-Chronology; six new ones are added. Significantly, the B-Chronology entries have date prefixes similar to those that Bradbury would settle on in lieu of chapter numbers for the first edition text, differing only in the span of years he would identify as inclusive to the final structure of the book. In B, these dates run chronologically (with two typographical errors) from “July 5th, 1985” to “Fall 1999.”

In this phase, Bradbury retained in order the six titles which open his original concept of the chronicles. He even highlighted the chronology by annotating the stories of exploration following “Ylla” as the second, third, and fourth expeditions. In the case of “Mars Is Heaven,” the subtitle “Third Expedition” would eventually become the new title. Bradbury gives this story the date April 3rd, 1986, while “The Death of the Martians” takes place the next day, indicating that in B he already envisioned a strong link between Earth's three ill-fated expeditions and the cultural extinction of his Martians by human bacteria.

Bridges between major sections of the book begin to appear in B. A bridge tentatively titled “Threat of War on Earth” provides a new transition into the final apocalyptic chronicles. Not surprisingly, this section remains largely unchanged, with one major exception. “The Silent Towns,” which had recently appeared in Charm (March 1949), was inserted between “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “The Long Years.” The addition proved very effective. Like “The Long Years,” “The Silent Towns” is a story about the few lonely colonists left behind when the settlers return to friends and families on war-torn Earth. But the sense of loss and brooding isolation in “The Long Years” is effectively balanced by the grotesque characterizations and darkly humorous accommodation to an empty world that is central to “The Silent Towns.” In this story, an itinerant miner named Walter Gripp returns from the hills to find that all the settlements have been abandoned in the rush home. He amuses himself by playing both vendor and consumer in a ghost town where everything is free, but even the eccentric Gripp soon discovers a craving for human company. His ultimate wish is fulfilled when the sultry voice at the other end of a phone call leads him to the only other human on the planet. His odyssey ends in the presence of Genevieve Selsor, a plump chocolate-chewing nightmare; Gripp flees in a panic, never realizing that she is no more grotesque and mannerless than he is.

B clearly shows that the opening and closing sections remained essentially unchanged; but Bradbury was still far from satisfied with the mid-portion of the book. A new bridge, tentatively titled “The Settling In,” leads into the core of the book, but the rest of this section varies significantly from A. “The Love Affair” and “The October Man” drop out (as do the holograph entries for “Grandfathers” and “Night Meeting”). “The Naming of Names,” “The Fathers” (retitled “The Priests”), “Way in the Middle of the Air,” “The Martian,” and “Usher II” remain, but appear in this new order. Three new titles appear in the center of this grouping: “Sketch: what happened to Negroes?”; “Mr. Edgar Allan Poe Comes to Mars”; and “The Passing Years.”

These changes suggest that Bradbury was still looking for an arrangement of material which would give focus and continuity to the entire work while carrying it beyond the scope of a story collection. Two of the new titles play off of material developed in the original chronology. “Sketch: what happened to Negroes?” may be a companion piece to “Way in the Middle of the Air.” The earlier story ends as American Blacks head off to the rocket ports for Mars, leaving the traditional White society to sort it all out. “Sketch” appears to be either a bridge, or Bradbury's initial idea for a follow-up piece; if the former, it becomes “The Wheel” bridge of the C-Chronology; if the latter, it evolves into “The Other Foot,” a story of prosperous Black settlers on Mars who, after a nuclear war on Earth, are confronted with the ironic situation of having to take in a White refugee from war-torn Earth. The story concludes with backlash hatred melting into compassion when the shoe is on “the other foot.”

The book-burning behind the plot of “Usher II” shows that Bradbury was already shaping the material which would bear fruit in Fahrenheit 451 several years later. Both Poe and book-burning resurface in the next new story of the B-Chronology. “Mr. Edgar Allan Poe Comes to Mars” is most likely a planned revision of “The October Man” of the A-Chronology; the new title provides convincing evidence that it would become “The Mad Wizards of Mars,” a story which eventually appeared in the 15 September 1949 issue of Maclean's of Canada. It is closer to whimsical fantasy than any other story considered for The Martian Chronicles. Here Bradbury envisions a writer's graveyard—the mass burning of Earth's literary treasures sends the ghosts of all the great writers to exile on Mars. On the eve of a first expedition to Mars, Poe's ghost leads the other literary masters in an attempt to telepathically terrorize the crew into turning back. They fail, and when the Captain burns the last copies of the masterworks from his ship's library, the ghosts themselves dissolve away.

“The Passing Years” may be the first interior bridge for this section of the book. The title and its date—twelve years after the preceding entry—suggests that the stories of early settlement were to be set off from those chronicling the evolving colonial identity on Mars. But such changes are still tentative in B—in spite of the date entries, there is very little bridging or true chronological depth to the material.

The B-Chronology shows a shift of emphasis in its middle titles; with the deletion of “The Love Affair,” only three remaining stories in this section deal with the old Martians. Although we cannot be sure of their content at this early outline stage, the Poe fantasy and the Negro sketch seem to add to the stories concerned with the transfer of Earth's culture to a new world. As work progressed, Bradbury would continue this trend in his stories as well as his bridging chapters.


The last surviving record of revision appears to be the final chronology that went forward to the publisher with the manuscript; if so, it probably dates from November or December 1949. The most striking changes involve the dating prefixes and the significant expansion of titles—now totaling 29. Bradbury moved the point of departure to the eve of the new century, and expanded the scope of The Martian Chronicles to cover a full quarter century of colonization. (Oddly enough, the perspective of time shows that Bradbury's dates approximate today's tentative timetable for NASA's projected manned Mars missions.)

Even in outline, the C-Chronology appears far more complete than the earlier chronologies. In preparing C, Bradbury deleted three stories from B, but retained the remaining eighteen titles—five bridges and thirteen stories—with some title revisions. Most significantly, he added eleven new titles—five stories and six bridges—and completely reshaped the sequence of stories in the middle portion of the work.

The C-Chronology adds only one story to the opening section, and none to the closing section of the outline; this evidence confirms that Bradbury's initial vision of man's exploitation of a dying culture, and the eventual “second chance” to redeem man's mistakes on Mars, were firmly rooted in the earlier chronologies. The major addition in C is “The Summer Night,” which appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of The Arkham Sampler (as “The Spring Night”), just as Bradbury was finishing his revisions for The Martian Chronicles. “The Spring Night” is, in effect, a 900-word bridge between “Ylla” and “The Earth Men”; the internal evidence of the magazine text indicates that it was probably written, along with “Ylla,” rather late in the series of Martian stories (probably early 1949). “The Summer Night” develops the central mystery of Ylla—her ability to pick up the thoughts of Earthmen as they approach Mars. Martians gathered for a summer evening of music under the stars are astonished when the singer and even the musicians become the media for fragments of alien music of unknown origin. The harsh, almost barbaric quality of the sound terrifies the assembly and drives the Martians home in panic, where fragments of other strange rhymes surface in children's play and even in dreams. The musical echoes are all traditional Anglo-American songs and rhymes similar to those which Ylla reads from the mind of Nathaniel York. The story forms a natural bridge between “Ylla,” where only one very sensitive and very lonely Martian receives the thoughts of Earth's first astronaut, and “The Earth Men,” where a larger crew approaches Mars with stronger (and much more confusing) composite memories.

Bradbury also added “The Taxpayer,” a true bridge between the second expedition of “The Earth Men” and “The Third Expedition” (a title which evolves in C from “Mars Is Heaven!”), and retained “The Disease” as a bridge between the stories of the Third and Fourth Expeditions. In this way, he provided an introductory bridge or bridging story for each of the four tales of exploration which open the chronicles.

In the final section of the C-Chronology, Bradbury developed the opening “Threat of War on Earth” into a bridge titled “The Luggage Store.” The final five stories remain uninterrupted by bridges, but in C “There Will Come Soft Rains” moves down between “The Long Years” and “The Million-Year Picnic.” These three closing stories are now dated 2026, more than twenty years after the war on Earth brought all but a few marooned settlers and explorers home. The revision in chronology accommodates the 20-year timespan required for Doc Hathaway's story in “The Long Years,” but the revised timeline creates a new logic problem for “The Million-Year Picnic” by delaying the Thomas family's pre-holocaust departure for Mars by twenty-one years. Bradbury's solution was to reposition “There Will Come Soft Rains” late in the chronology, revealing that the destruction of Earth did not happen all at once, but rather over a period of years leading up to a final atomic cataclysm. The penultimate position of “Soft Rains” explains how families like the Thomases and their neighbors could have survived the earlier war years and managed to leave for Mars just ahead of Earth's final descent into chaos.

The middle of the C-Chronology reveals a total reworking of Bradbury's vision of the settlement of Mars. He dropped three stories entirely—“The Naming of Names,” “Sketch: what happened to Negroes?”, and “Mr. Edgar Allan Poe Comes to Mars.” These deletions indicate that Bradbury was thinking more of the structure of the book as a whole than of individual stories—each deleted story has a basic plot element that puts it at variance with the general progression of the Chronicles. The Poe piece presents a new ‘first expedition’ story that in no way fits into the fabric of the Martian conquest described and bridged so carefully through the first four stories of the text. Both “The Naming of Names” and “Sketch” are philosophically insightful, but they describe destinies for the Earth settlements on Mars that are at variance with the nearly complete vision of failure and redemption as narrated in the final five Chronicle stories. Under different titles, all three of these stories would eventually find their way into some of Bradbury's best story collections of later years; but as the Chronicles moved closer and closer to completion, it became apparent that these stories would only diffuse the developing unity of the book.

The bridge into the mid-section stories (retitled “The Settlers”) continues to serve this major transitional purpose in C. “The Passing Years” bridge almost certainly becomes “The Naming of Names”—it is the only bridge in C that spans years instead of a single month or day. In this bridge Bradbury chronicles the way that, over time, the Earthmen rename and master the Martian terrain. This context, coupled with the bridge's unique date prefix and the fact that Bradbury had removed (and would eventually retitle) the B-Chronology story of that name, argues well for the assumption that Bradbury simply moved the title from story to bridge in the C-Chronology. But other revisions in the mid-section of C are far more significant. These two bridges and the surviving four stories from B—“The Priests,” “Way [In the] Middle of the Air,” “The Martian,” and “Usher II”—are reordered and merged into a larger body of three new stories and six new bridges. The seven stories now in the book's mid-section work with the eight bridges to tell an integrated story of initial settlement, and the waves of settlers that follow. The new stories present, in turn, an early frontier settlement along the lines of the American West (“They All Had Grandfathers”); a Johnny Appleseed figure, determined to plant a forest of trees and shrubs which bring sweet memories of Earth as well as the essential oxygen exchange which the colonists need to survive (“The Green Morning”); and a night meeting between two lone travelers, one a pioneer from Earth, the other a Martian, both trapped for a moment out of time, and both unsure whether the other represents the past or the future of Mars (“The Night Meeting”). These new settlers are followed by the priests (“The Fathers”), the Negro pioneers from the American South (“Way in the Middle of the Air”), the eccentric millionaire (“Usher II”), and the oldpeople (“The Martian”) who come in successivewaves in the four stories which Bradbury had carried over from both the A- and B-Chronologies. The six new mid-book bridges reinforce the wave-like dynamic of settlement, and the occupational diversity of the settlers. There would be other last minutechanges before publication, but in essence the outlined text of the C-Chronology represents the final contents of The MartianChronicles.

The surviving A-, B-, and C-Chronologies point to a fairly rigorous process ofrevision and expansion by which Bradbury turned these stories into what amounts to afirst novel. But by themselves, the three chronologies cannot provide convincing evidence that the final work is anything more than a collection of imaginative stories linked by common subjects and themes. The true nature of the book only becomes apparent through an analysis of Bradbury's actual revisions, and the new materials which he produced specifically for The Martian Chronicles.


Early magazine versions exist for twelve of the eighteen C-Chronology stories.6 Collations of these texts against those in the first hardcover edition reveal heavy revision which, for some stories, amounts to major rewriting. Much of the revising is structural, providing internal bridges and links between stories. But at least half of the revised passages reveal significant stylistic development as well.

Structural changes often provide clues to the order in which some stories were written. The magazine texts for “Ylla” and “The Summer Night” already show a full development of the Martian culture which the earlier stories of first contact lack.7 Bradbury added similar descriptions as he revised the earlier tales to form subsequent Earth landings in the Chronicles. “The Earth Men,” as transformed into a tale of the Second Expedition, provides good examples. In revision, “The Earth Men” includes descriptions of the colorful masks which symbolize the increasingly illusive nature of Bradbury's fragile Martians:

Magazine text:

The little town was full of people going in and out doors and saying hello to one another. Through windows you could see people eating food and washing dishes.


First edition text:

The little town was full of people drifting in and out of doors saying hello to one another, wearing golden masks and blue masks and crimson masks for pleasant variety, masks with silver tips and bronze eyebrows, masks that smiled or masks that frowned, according to the owner's disposition.


The Earth Men can find no adult interested in their presence, and try to tell their tale to a little Martian girl. In revision, Bradbury has her quickly clap “an expressionless golden mask over her face,” and listen to the story “through the slits of her emotionless mask.” Themselves masters of illusion, the natives believe that the astronauts are merely deranged Martians who can produce the image of strange weapons, spacesuits, and a ship from the stars. When the Earth Men are locked away in an asylum, they are treated by a Martian psychologist who, in the revised text, wears a mask with three faces.

Until revision, the four stories of initial contact with Mars were not interconnected—each originally stood as a distinct vision of first contact. In revision for the Chronicles, Bradbury left “Ylla” largely untouched as a Martian's view of the First Expedition, and added passages to the other stories which placed them in a sequence as the Second, Third, and Fourth Expeditions. But the interweave works even deeper into the book. Bradbury also added two of his protagonists from the concluding stories of the Chronicles to Captain John Wilder's crew of the successful Fourth Expedition—Sam Parkhill, the hotdog stand owner of “The Off Season,” and Doc Hathaway of “The Long Years.” In revising “The Long Years,” he provides further linkage by having Doc Hathaway rescued by Captain Wilder himself, who has been on deep space exploration missions during the twenty years of war on Earth. Here, as well as in “The Off Season,” Bradbury builds on Wilder's conservationist image by revealing how he was sent out to the space frontier to prevent his interference with the colonial exploitation of Mars.

Other changes accommodate the advance of the chronology into the twenty-first century by altering the birthdates of crew members and the years of the expedition landings. Bradbury is also careful to develop a sense for the physical strain of low oxygen on Mars, a consideration lacking from the earlier versions of the contact stories. And in a very important long addition to “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” Doc Hathaway tells Captain Wilder how his scouting mission across the planet uncovers the pathetic end of the Martian culture—the incredibly ancient race has been suddenly and silently exterminated by the chicken pox carried by the crews of the three earlier expeditions.

These changes are significant in tracing the evolution of independent stories into book chapters, but the stylistic changes are an even stronger indicator of the extent of Bradbury's rewriting. Collation reveals that most stories were heavily revised—some as much as seventy percent. The majority of this revision involves stylistic development of dialog and the descriptions, images, and suspense elements of the individual stories.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” is perhaps the most heavily revised story in the Chronicles. Very little is altered in terms of events—it remains the pathetic and tragic story of the death of an automated house, long after the family it serves has been destroyed in the first flash of an atomic blast. But the descriptions become richer and more powerful in revision, as we can see in the descriptions of the little robot mice that scurry about cleaning the house on its final day:

Magazine text:

Out of warrens in the wall, tiny mechanical mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They sucked up the hidden dust, and popped back in their burrows.


First edition text:

Out of the warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs whirling their mustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink, electric eyes faded. The house was clean.


Later in the day, the return of the family dog triggers another descriptive revision:

Magazine text:

Behind it whirred the angry robot mice, angry at having to pick up mud and maple leaves which, carried to the burows, were dropped down cellar tubes into an incinerator which sat like an evil Baal in a dark corner.


First edition text:

Behind it whirred angry mice, angry at having to pick up mud, angry at inconvenience.

For not a leaf fragment blew under the door but what the wall panels flipped open and the copper scrap rats flashed swiftly out. The offending dust, hair, or paper, seized in miniature steel jaws, was raced back to the burrows. There, down tubes which fed into the cellar, it was dropped into the sighing vent of an incinerator which sat like evil Baal in a dark corner.


The full development of the mice is only one of many animal images in “There Will Come Soft Rains” that come alive through Bradbury's revising hand. He adds chemical snakes of fire retardant foam, and a fire that backs off, “as even an elephant must at the sight of a dead snake.” But the most fascinating new passages center on the introduction of an electronic nursery to the story, described in striking detail before the house begins to burn:


The nursery walls glowed.

Animals took shape: yellow giraffes, blue lions, pink antelopes, lilac panthers cavorting in crystal substance. The walls were glass. They looked out upon color and fantasy. Hidden films clocked through well-oiled sprockets, and the walls lived. The nursery floor was woven to resemble a crisp, cereal meadow. Over this ran aluminum roaches and iron crickets, and in the hot still air butterflies of delicate red tissue wavered among the sharp aroma of animal spoors! There was the sound like a great matted yellow hive of bees within a dark bellows, the lazy bumble of a purring lion. And there was the patter of okapi feet and the murmur of a fresh jungle rain, like other hoofs, falling upon the summer-starched grass. Now the walls dissolved into distances of parched weed, mile on mile, and warm endless sky. The animals drew away into thorn brakes and water holes.

It was the children's hour.


Later, as the fire consumes the house, the nursery responds to this final deadly stimulus:

In the nursery the jungle burned. Blue lions roared, purple giraffes bounded off. The panthers ran in circles, changing color, and ten million animals, running before the fire, vanished off toward a distant steaming river. …


In these nursery descriptions, Bradbury was developing the controlling image of one of his most often anthologized horror tales, “The Veldt” (originally titled “The World the Children Made,” 1950). But here, they add yet another image of animal vitality to Bradbury's descriptions of the doomed house. Similar deep revisions can be found throughout “There Will Come Soft Rains.” A side-by-side comparison of the final third of the story reveals just how completely Bradbury rewrote this penultimate story for The Martian Chronicles.

Not all of his revisions were expansive. In story after story, collation uncovers many passages of dialog which are tightened up to great effect in revision for the book. The dialog passages of “The Third Expedition” (“Mars Is Heaven!”) are typical. Captain John Black and his crew find, to their amazement, that they've landed in an exact replica of an early twentieth century midwestern American town, complete with old phonograph recordings, period artwork, and villagers. In one passage, Black and two of his officers question an old lady about the town. A parallel comparison of the pre- and post-revision texts shows how Bradbury deleted forty percent of the passage by eliminating the bewildered echoing lines of the astronauts and the peevish pouting of the old lady—all changes for the better. The serene and motherly old lady of the revised passage surprises the reader—irritability and peevishness were hallmarks of Martian behavior in “Ylla” and “The Earth Men.” The tightened dialog of “The Third Expedition” eliminates this telltale characteristic and allows the Martian woman to set her illusion with much more subtlety—a strategem which is only appreciated in the harrowing conclusion of the tale.

It is this illusion that carries the story, and Bradbury refines the element of suspense by adding material to Black's gradual realization of the terrifying truth. The town seems to be populated by the dead relatives of his crew members; all the men leave their weapons and rush to meet long lost loved ones. Reunited with his own brother and parents, Black is convinced that Mars is a Heaven of sorts, a place where the dead blissfully re-enact their Earthly routines. But later, as he tries to fall asleep in his childhood home, logical thought returns:

And this town, so old, from the year 1926, long before any of my men were born. From a year when I was six years old and there were records of Harry Lauder, and Maxfield Parrish paintings still hanging, and bead curtains, and “Beautiful Ohio,” and turn-of-the-century architecture. What if the Martians took the memories of a town exclusively from my mind? They say childhood memories are the clearest. And after they built the town from my mind, they populated it with the most-loved people from all the minds of the people on the rocket!

And suppose those two people in the next room, asleep, are not my mother and father at all. But two Martians, incredibly brilliant, with the ability to keep me under this dreaming hypnosis all the time?


These memories are Bradbury's, who, like John Black, was born in 1920. Added largely in revision, this passage highlights the deadly subtlety of the Martian illusion. For John Black, this numbing realization precedes his own death by mere seconds.

In just four months, between his return from New York in late June 1949, and the birth of his daughter Susan in early November, Bradbury transformed these stories into chapters of a greater work. But the final sense of completion only came with the writing of new material—the transitional bridges.


Most of the Martian stories were written before Bradbury's June 1949 trip to New York provided the inspiration to fuse these materials into a novel. In fact, all but five of the stories in the C-Chronology preceded the book into print in some form. But the bridges are a different story. Only “Rocket Summer” appears in the A-Chronology, with the note that it is “unfinished.” Presumably all eleven bridges—representing a tenth of the total text but more than a third of the C-Chronology titles—were written specifically for the book.

“Rocket Summer,” although very brief, sets the mood for the possibilities of rocket travel and the opening of a new frontier. It's still winter on Earth, but the rockets are already changing the world: “The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land. …”(13). Many of the bridges end in ellipsis, leading the way to “Ylla” and beyond.

In “The Taxpayer,” Bradbury first reveals the re-awakened need for frontier freedoms that the rocket brings to many. The anonymous taxpayer expresses this need as dissatisfaction with established civilization in the best tradition of American frontier literature: “To get away from wars and censorship and statism and conscription and government control of this and that, of art and science! You could have Earth! He was offering his good right hand, his heart, his head, for the opportunity to go to Mars!” (47). There are also references to atomic war looming on the horizon, a bridge to later stories which gives a sense of urgency to the settlement of Mars.

After the story of the Fourth Expedition, Mars—for a time—will be Earth's. With “The Settlers,” Bradbury begins to document the waves of settlement, continuing through all the bridges in the middle section of the book. In “The Shore,” he extends the wave metaphor to echo the American experience: “Mars was a distant shore, and the men spread upon it in waves. Each wave was different, and each wave stronger” (111). Each successive bridge defines one or more waves:

The first wave carried with it men accustomed to spaces and coldness and being alone, the coyote and cattlemen, …

(“The Shore,” 111)

And what more natural than that, at last, the old people come to Mars, following in the trail left by the loud frontiersmen, the aromatic sophisticates, and the professional travelers and romantic lectures in search of new grist.

(“The Old Ones,” 149)

But Bradbury's waves of settlers are all American waves. Again, the bridges explain:

The second men should have traveled from other countries with other accents and other ideas. But the rockets were American and the men were American and it stayed that way, while Europe and Asia and South America and Australia and the islands watched the Roman candles leave them behind. The rest of the world was buried in war or the thoughts of war.

(“The Shore,” 111)

And the settlers not only were American, but they built American, trying “to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye, to bludgeon away all the strangeness” (“The Locusts,” 101). They brought in Oregon pine and California redwood to work this transformation, and in time, they succeeded: “It was as if, in many ways, a great Earthquake had shaken loose the roots and cellars of an Iowa town, and then, in an instant, a whirlwind twister of Oz-like proportions had carried the entire town off to Mars to set it down without a bump. …” (“Interim,” 113). Finally, the old Martian names and places were buried beneath the new frontier history: “Here was the place where Martians killed the first Earth Men, and it was Red Town and had to do with blood. And here where the second expedition was destroyed, and it was named Second Try, and each of the other places where the rocket men had set down their fiery cauldrons to burn the land, the names were left like cinders, …” (“The Naming of Names,” 130).

The bridges chronicle the way that the pioneering imperative populates the new land and imposes a civilized order over the natural order of the Red Planet. The final bridges reach to events back on Earth, and show how the roots of the new life are not yet deep enough to keep the settlers from returning home when the rumors of war become reality.

Bradbury's bridges complete the transformation of the Martian stories into chapters of an integrated greater work. The bridges chronicle the cosmic scope of the group endeavor to fulfill dreams in a new world; the stories chronicle individuals striving to make the dreams come true. Together, the unbroken chronology of bridge and story reveals in very human terms the wonder and deadly perils of a new frontier, full of recurring reminders that there can be no fulfillment on the frontier without sacrifice and loss.8


As one might expect, the dynamic shaping of The Martian Chronicles did not end with the C-Chronology. Doubleday's May 1950 first edition contains twenty-five of the twenty-nine titles in C. The final revisions deleted the stories “They All Had Grandfathers” and “The Fathers.” “The Disease,” planned as a bridge explaining the extinction of the Martians, also disappears, as does “The Wheel.” A late addition, a bridge titled “The Watchers,” brings the final chapter count to twenty-six, including fifteen stories and eleven bridges.

“The Disease” provided situational irony, but in depicting the death of Ylla's husband by means of the bacteriological legacy of the Earthmen he had slain, Bradbury had sensationalized an otherwise subtle and effective story. The deletion of this bridge improves the impact of “Ylla” and quickens the tempo of the opening stories of first contact. In terms of plot, the deletion was compensated by revisions to the Fourth Expedition's story in the opening pages of “And the Moon Be Still as Bright.” Bradbury's addition of Hathaway and his medical report on the death of the Martians eliminates the need for a bridge between the Third and Fourth Expedition stories, and effectively develops the irony of mankind's unintentional genocide.

“The Wheel” initially provided a whimsical but ineffective epilogue to “Way in the Middle of the Air.” Here again, deletion of a bridge increases the tempo of the chronicles, this time without the need to add material elsewhere. The logic for a new bridge in the final section of the Chronicles is also clear. “The Watchers,” with its repeated radio calls from Earth to COME HOME, provides the final motivation for the return exodus of the settlers.

It isn't clear whether deletion of the two stories was an authorial decision, or was prompted by editorial concern over content. The spiritual implications of “The Fathers” might have been considered controversial, but there is little (other than prostitution) to consider controversial in “They All Had Grandfathers.” (“The Fathers,” much the finer of the two pieces, would appear in the companion story volume, The Illustrated Man, a year later.) Whatever the reason, it is likely that the stories were removed at the last minute—surviving references to Father Peregrine of “The Fathers” remain in two bridges, “The Shore” and “The Luggage Store.”

The subsequent publishing history of the work is no less complicated, and reveals that Bradbury and his agent, Don Congdon, were able to retain a great deal of marketing flexibility as the book quickly won public acclaim. Even after book publication, Bradbury was able to retitle and even repackage some of the stories for reprint in American and English periodicals. In November 1950, Esquire reprinted “The Summer Night,” combined with “The Earth Men,” as “The Great Hallucination.” In February 1951, the English version of Argosy reprinted the same conflation as “Danger Wears Three Faces.” “Ylla” also appeared in the English Argosy under its original magazine title, “I'll Not Look for Wine.” Nearly every other story has a magazine reprint history, but the longest trail belongs to “The Third Expedition.” Argosy of England reprinted it just before book publication as “Circumstantial Evidence.” Over the next few years, it appeared in Esquire under the original title, “Mars Is Heaven!”, in Coronet (condensed) as “They Landed on Mars,” in England's Authentic Science Fiction as “Welcome Brothers,” and in England's Suspense as “While Earthmen Sleep.” Such a recounting doesn't include the many anthology and textbook appearances and even comic book adaptations of the Chronicle tales.

Argosy of England eventually published eight of the stories, and this unofficial serial set up a ready-made reading public for English book publication in 1951. The English first edition deleted “Usher II,” restored “The Fathers” as “The Fire Balloons,” and in a move which probably reflected the altered contents, changed the title of the entire book to The Silver Locusts. (an image found in “The Locusts” bridge of all versions). Two years later, the Science Fiction Book Club of England published yet a third variant text. This edition added a new story, “The Wilderness,” to The Silver Locusts text, and restored the original Martian Chronicles title to the book. Beginning in 1963, some American editions have established a “complete” text, a fourth variant that includes all of the seventeen stories and eleven bridges that ever appeared in any edition of the book. Yet a fifth variant text was recently introduced by Doubleday's Fortieth Anniversary Edition, which restores “The Fire Balloons” to the original text, but does not include “The Wilderness.” Just to add to the confusion, there are editions of the original Martian Chronicles text titled The Silver Locusts, and Silver Locusts texts titled The Martian Chronicles (see Appendix B). Every variant remains in print, in original or paper editions.

But even through the complex weave of the reprint history, it is apparent that The Martian Chronicles has never (in any variation) lost its original richness of design or unity of composition. It remains an imaginative exploration of the romance and reality found in any frontier experience, and reminds us that the invasion of a new frontier has a cost for both the displaced and the displacers. But is it a novel, or a collection of stories linked by ideas and adventures? The unique history of the text suggests an answer to this critical question.


Winesburg, Ohio may, in a general sense, be the spark for the creative fire that became The Martian Chronicles. Both writers are natural storytellers, capable of capturing moments of life with great emotional impact, and linking these moments with unifying elements of place and character. But Bradbury's debt to Anderson stops here. Anderson, already a novelist, wrote his Winesburg tales in a single creative burst during the autumn of 1915. He wrote them quickly, almost exactly in the order of the finished book, and made very few revisions. In contrast, Bradbury initially wrote his stories as truly independent pieces, over a long period of time, without a sequence in mind or the long lost “Earthport” outline at hand. Ultimately, he did not follow Anderson's design for Winesburg; when he did think to unite these pieces, a long and intense process of revision and new writing followed. In terms of process, the textual history of The Martian Chronicles more closely parallels that of Faulkner's Go Down, Moses than it does Winesburg, Ohio. For that project, Faulkner fused ten stories and sketches into a greater whole that centered upon questions of race and man's evolving relationship to the wilderness. The bridging passages added to “The Fire and the Hearth” and “The Bear,” along with the new story “Was,” complete the chronicles of the McCaslin family established in the other stories. Finally, the original stories and sketches, hastily offered for piece money to periodicals, were carefully revised and expanded for the final work. Although the new chapters remain distinct pieces of fiction, they are integral parts of a generations-long chronicle which Faulkner eventually came to regard as a novel; in all later printings, he deleted “and Other Stories” from the volume title.9

The Martian Chronicles shares this creative pattern. The same kind of transformation from a story collection to a unified fable occurs through the intensive rewriting and reshaping of the independent stories. The result is that the Chronicles transcend the classification of “science fiction” that is attributed to its constituent parts. Critics sensed this difference from the start, beginning with Christopher Isherwood, whose early review propelled Bradbury from genre notoriety into the mainstream of American letters. For Isherwood and others, the powerful style and imagination created a Martian setting that, in its totality, became a most compelling American parable.10

Are these unifying factors enough to give the Chronicles recognition as Bradbury's first novel? Traditionally, critics would demur, and for the same reasons given in classifying Winesburg, Ohio. Even Go Down, Moses (along with The Unvanquished) and The Red Pony (not to mention Tortilla Flat and The Pastures of Heaven) are considered cycles of stories, something between a story collection and a novel. In his introduction to the widely-taught Penguin edition of Winesburg, Ohio, Malcolm Cowley suggested that such a cycle has “several unifying elements, including a single background, a prevailing tone, and a central character. These elements can be found in all the cycles, but the best of them also have an underlying plot that is advanced or enriched by each of the stories.” This definition works for the Chronicles as well—at least, as far as it goes. The background is the decline of an Old World, the prevailing tone is the suspense of exploring a New World, and the central character, Mankind. The central plot or fable is the chronicle of the frontier experience.

But in Bradbury's case, a very crucial question remains unanswered by the definition: are these in fact the same stories that existed prior to the evolution of the greater work? The answer rests within the textual record. Here the layers of revision, both in the outlines and the stories themselves, show far more internal transformation than most works of this kind. Of the twenty-six first edition titles, fourteen (eleven bridges and three stories) were here first printed. The twelve previously published stories all show substantive revision.11 In most cases the rewriting involves a third to one-half of the words and punctuation of the text; in some, it involves as much as three-quarters of the material. Of these twelve, only seven appear in the Chronicles with their original titles.

What we find then is a new work in which the sum of the original parts does not equal the revised whole. More than half of the composite text is new or rewritten; nineteen of the twenty-six chapter titles are new or rewritten; and all twenty-six chapter titles are given date prefixes which are, with few exceptions, unique to editions of the Chronicles. Clearly, a textual editor in search of the author's final intent for these stories could not look elsewhere—the copy-text for any authoritative edition of the Chronicles would have to be based on the first edition, or on pre-publication forms of the text that reflect the author's massive revisions. The previously published story texts do not reflect those revisions, and in most cases don't even reflect the author's intent to write the greater Chronicles saga.

The publishing record also demonstrates the coherence of the greater work. Although there are five variant texts to the Chronicles, none offers more than a five percent variation in content. This fact is even more remarkable when the entire canon of Martian tales is considered. Despite the existence of at least twenty-one other Martian tales, the many subsequent editions have added only one brief bridge-like story (“The Wilderness”) which was not in Bradbury's plan for the first edition text. It's also clear that Bradbury felt very strongly that the revised chronicles represented his final intent, even when they stood alone as stories. As Appendix A shows, the various chronicles have been reprinted and collected nearly fifty times, perhaps more widely than any similar work. Anthology and textbook appearances triple this total.12 Yet with few exceptions early on, only the revised form—the chronicle form, if you will—is ever reprinted.

The evolution of The Martian Chronicles makes a strong case for the argument that the textual history of a work can have a crucial impact on its genre classification. From a bibliographical point of view, The Martian Chronicles, like Go Down, Moses, is more a novel than such “bricolage” cousins as Winesburg, Ohio and The Red Pony, where pre-existing parts become a new whole without substantial internal transformation. Discourse of the latter kind works within the framework limitations of the existing materials; that is, the author “assembles” rather than “creates” the larger work, building from extant stories which share unifying elements. From the bibliographer's perspective, one may easily see how more ambitious experiments like The Martian Chronicles transcend the limitations of pre-existing materials through the revising hand of the author.

In sewing together “some sort of tapestry” with his Martian stories, Bradbury essentially wrote an entirely new book. That book became The Martian Chronicles. And that book was his first novel. Once he transformed his stories into chronicles, rewriting them and bridging them together, they were changed forever. They might be pulled out from time to time and republished elsewhere as stories, but together they lock into a work that is more than the “half cousin to a novel” that Walter Bradbury ordered up one June day in New York, a long time ago.


  1. Ray Bradbury, “The Long Road to Mars,” foreword to The Martian Chronicles (NY: Doubleday, 1990), pp. viii-ix. Written for the Fortieth Anniversary Edition. Further references to the foreward are noted parenthetically in the text as MC 40.

  2. The relevant portion of Professor Mogen's 1980 interview with Bradbury appears in Mogen's Ray Bradbury (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986), p. 84. In this interview Bradbury relates a more detailed version of the Winesburg connection, and identifies Henry Kuttner as the writer who first introduced him to Anderson's novel.

  3. Nolan, William F., The Ray Bradbury Companion (Detroit: Gale, 1975), p. 43. This work remains the primary published source of accurate biographical and bibliographical information on Ray Bradbury. Mr. Nolan's experiences as a science fiction writer, editor, and long-time friend of Ray Bradbury provided the basic materials for this study. I am deeply grateful to Bill Nolan and to Professor Donn A. Albright of the Pratt Art Institute, whose long friendship with Bradbury and first-hand knowledge of his work were indispensable in solving many publishing mysteries of The Martian Chronicles. I am also indebted to Donn Albright and to Mr. Jim Welsh of Bethesda Maryland for providing materials from their forthcoming comprehensive bibliography of Bradbury's work.

  4. Moskowitz, Sam, introduction to the original version of “The Piper,” reprinted in Futures to Infinity, ed. Sam Moskowitz (NY: Pyramid, 1970), pp. 181–82.

  5. The original outlines used as Figures 1–4 are the creation and property of Ray Bradbury. Figures 1 and 3 were previously published by William F. Nolan in The Ray Bradbury Companion (1975); Figures 2 and 4 are first published here. Permission to reproduce these materials has been granted by Ray Bradbury. Further reproduction of these materials requires the same permission.

  6. The complete publication history for each of the Chronicles chapters is located in Appendix A; book publication history of The Martian Chronicles appears in Appendix B. Page numbers for the magazine and first edition passages quoted in this article appear parenthetically in the text. Permission to reprint major passages from the magazine and first edition texts of “There Will Come Soft Rains” / “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” has been granted by the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company and by Ray Bradbury. Permission to reprint major passages from the magazine and first edition texts of “Mars Is Heaven!” / “April 2000: The Third Expedition” has been granted by Ray Bradbury. Further publication of these materials requires the same permissions.

  7. In his preface to a reprint of “Ylla” in August Derleth's The Outer Reaches (NY: Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1951), Bradbury describes how he drafted the story seven times before initial publication in Mclean's 1 January 1950 issue. Only Bill Nolan's copy of the final typescript stage survives, but this acknowledged process of revision reveals how “Ylla” stands as the transitional project between the earlier three stories of first contact and the revised form of these stories as they finally appear in The Martian Chronicles.

  8. The major discussions of the frontier themes in The Martian Chronicles and other Bradbury fiction include David Mogen, Ray Bradbury, pp. 63–93, and his two contributions to the Science Fiction Westerns series, Wilderness Visions and New Frontiers, Old Horizons (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1981 and 1987). Other significant studies precede Mogen, and include: Wayne Johnson, Ray Bradbury (NY: Ungar, 1980), pp. 112–19; Edward Gallagher, “The Thematic Structure of The Martian Chronicles, in Ray Bradbury, ed. Martin Greenberg and Joseph Olander (NY: Taplinger, 1980), pp. 55–82; and Gary Wolfe, “The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury,” also in Greenberg and Olander's Ray Bradbury, pp. 33–54.

  9. The principal examination of Faulkner's process of revision in Go Down, Moses remains Joanne Creighton's William Faulkner's Craft of Revision (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), pp. 85–148. Relevant bibliographical studies include James B. Meriwether's “The Short Fiction of William Faulkner: A Bibliography,” in Proof 1 (1971): pp. 293–329, and Joseph Blotner's endnotes to Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, ed. Joseph Blotner (NY: Random House, 1979). Of the many published checklists of collections, the most useful is Meriwether's The Literary Career of William Faulkner: A Bibliographical Study (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Library, 1961; reissued University of South Caroline Press, 1971).

  10. Isherwood's groundbreaking review appeared in Tomorrow (October 1950), pp. 56–58.

  11. As one might expect, the revisions to “I'll Not Look for Wine” [“Ylla”], “Carnival of Madness” [“Usher II”] and “Impossible!” [“The Martian”] are the lightest—these three stories were published in periodicals after Bradbury completed revisions for book publication in the fall of 1949, and show considerable effects of this revising process in the magazine versions. Nevertheless, each appears in The Martian Chronicles with a new title and several hundred words of revised or new text.

  12. Research by Donn Albright and Jim Welsh for their forthcoming Bradbury bibliography October's Friend reveals a total of 144 anthology and textbook reprints of Martian Chronicle chapters through 1992—including 47 different textbook reprints of “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

Kevin Hoskinson (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7438

SOURCE: Hoskinson, Kevin. “The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury's Cold War Novels.” Extrapolation 36, no. 4 (winter 1995): 345-59.

[In the following essay, Hoskinson investigates the link between The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, contending that “though the two fictions are usually read as separate entities, if read as complementary works, they provide a more comprehensive view of a larger whole.”]

In a discussion about the thematic content of The Martian Chronicles with interviewer David Mogen in 1980, Ray Bradbury stated, “The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 come from the same period in my life, when I was warning people. I was preventing futures” (83). In this pairing of the two books, Bradbury suggests a deep kinship between the pieces and indicates the probability that they are more than just successive novels in his overall body of work.1 Though the two fictions are usually read as separate entities, if read as complementary works, they provide a more comprehensive view of a larger whole. As consecutive arrivals in Bradbury's postwar publications, and in their mutual attraction to similar major themes of the cold war era, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 distinguish themselves as Bradbury's “cold war novels.”

The two works are on the surface entirely different kinds of fiction. The Martian Chronicles is a collection of twenty-six chapters (most originally published as short stories), written between 1944 and 1950 and linked primarily by their setting on the planet Mars between the years 1999 and 2026. Since many of the stories were separately conceived, most of the characters in the finished book are contained within their initial tales and do not cross over into other chapters. And though Mars itself is in many ways the centerpiece of the book, and its treatment by the humans is “chronicled” over a twenty-seven-year period, there is no “protagonist” in the pure sense of the term, nor is there a “plot” common to the separate sections. In contrast, Fahrenheit 451 is structured as a novel, divided into three chapters; it is set on Earth; it is the story of one central protagonist, Guy Montag; and the plot of the novel—Montag's liberation from Captain Beatty and his acceptance of a new purpose in a new civilization—is carefully mapped out.

These surface differences of structure, character, and setting notwithstanding, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 share a distinction as “cold war fiction” because in them, much more deliberately than in earlier or later publications, Bradbury deals with subjects and issues that were shaped by the political climate of the United States in the decade immediately following World War II.2 A number of significant events during these years transformed the character of America from a supremely confident, Nazi-demolishing world leader to a country with deep insecurities, one suddenly suspicious and vigilant of Communist activity within its citizenry. First, Joseph Stalin's immediate and unchecked occupation of Eastern European countries at the close of World War II left many Americans wondering if the United States and the Roosevelt administration hadn't foolishly misjudged Soviet intentions at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Second, the Soviet Union's subsequent acquisition of atomic weapons technology by 1949 would reinforce this position; it would also end the U.S. monopoly on thermonuclear weapons and raise questions about Communist agents in high-level government positions. Third, Senator Joseph McCarthy's public accusations of Communist activity in the State Department in 1950 (together with the inflammatory tactics of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, and a host of other right-wing government agencies) planted seeds of paranoia and subversion in the American culture that would blossom into fear and irrationality throughout the 1950s. As David Halberstam points out, “It was a mean time. The nation was ready for witch-hunts” (9). Through his examination of government oppression of the individual, the hazards of an atomic age, recivilization of society, and the divided nature of the “Cold War Man,” Ray Bradbury uses The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 to expose the “meanness” of the cold war years.

During the Truman years of the early cold war, when the administration attempted to reverse the image of the Democratic party as being “soft” on communism, the U.S. government attempted to silence individuals who were thought to be “potentially disloyal” through various offices such as the Justice Department and the Loyalty Review Board. Truman himself released a press statement in July 1950 that granted authority over national security matters to the FBI. The statement expressed grave concern over “the Godless Communist Cause” and further warned that “it is important to learn to know the enemies of the American way of life” (Theoharis 141–42). For Bradbury, such government-supported conformism amounted to censorship and ultimately led to the fostering of what William F. Touponce labels “mass culture” (46) and what Kingsley Amis calls “conformist hell” (110). We see Bradbury's strong distrust of “majority-held” views and official doctrine positions in several places in The Martian Chronicles; these areas of distrust, moreover, recur in Fahrenheit 451.

In the seventh chapter of Chronicles,“—And the Moon Be Still as Bright” (originally published in 1948), the fierceness of the individual and the official will of the majority clash violently in the persons of Jeff Spender and Captain Wilder. Spender is a crewman on the Fourth Expedition to Mars who feels a sense of moral outrage at the behavior of his fellow crewmen upon landing. While Biggs, Parkhill, and others break out the liquor and throw a party upon their successful mission, Spender is revolted at their dancing and their harmonica playing on the Martian landscape and at Biggs's throwing of wine bottles into canals and vomiting on the tiled city floors. Spender marvels at Martian literature and ancient art forms, and he views the others' actions as sacrilegious, lamenting that “We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things” (73). Like Spender, Captain Wilder also perceives the beauty of the cities; but as the officer of the crew, he does not allow his sympathies with Spender to override his need as commander in chief to preserve authoritative control of the mission. He doles out a perfunctory fifty-dollar fine to Spender for punching Biggs and orders Spender to “go back [to the party] and play happy” (74); later, following Spender's desertion and mutinous killing of several crewmen, Wilder acknowledges that he has “too much earth blood” to accept Spender's invitation to stay on Mars without the others (88).3 Wilder is convinced by this time that he must stop Spender, but he is tormented by an uncertainty over whether he is stopping him because he believes Spender is wrong or whether he simply lacks Spender's individual conviction to lash out against the will of the majority: “I hate this feeling of thinking I'm doing right when I'm not really certain I am. Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? … What is this majority and who are in it? And what do they think and how did they get that way and will they ever change and how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? I don't feel comfortable” (90). In order to preclude the disintegration of the mission, Wilder shoots Spender before Spender can kill anyone else. But the issue of individuality vs. conformity that has been raised by Spender's mutiny has not been resolved for the captain. The next day, Wilder knocks out Parkhill's teeth after Parkhill has shot out the windows of some of the buildings in a dead city. Wilder here releases his inner rage at his own ambivalent compliance with a “government finger point[ing] from four-color posters” described in the book's next chapter, “The Settlers” (94). On the one hand, he has eliminated the disruptive presence of an outlaw; on the other hand, in so doing he has taken the Official Position and removed from the expedition the value of “the most renegade of Bradbury's frontiersmen” (Mogen 85) as well as the one other individual who valued art and creative expression.

Bradbury picks up this theme of distrust for the officially endorsed view again in “Usher II,” the seventeenth chapter of Chronicles (originally published in 1950 prior to the publication of the full book). In this chapter William Stendahl designs a replica of Edgar Allan Poe's House of Usher on Mars. His intent is twofold: to pay tribute to Poe and “to teach [the Clean-Minded people] a fine lesson for what [they] did to Mr. Poe on Earth” (135), which was to burn his works (along with the works of others who wrote “tales of the future”) in the Great Fire of 1975. Here again Bradbury rejects the will of the majority through Stendahl's speech to Bigelow, the architect of Usher II. Stendahl sermonizes to Bigelow that the Great Fire came about because “there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves” (134). Another neurosis Bradbury places in Stendahl's litany of fears has roots in the “red scare” policies enacted through McCarthyist tactics in 1950s America: “Afraid of the word ‘politics’ (which eventually became a synonym for Communism among the more reactionary elements, so I hear, and it was worth your life to use the word!) …”4 Later, at the party Stendahl throws for his invited guests, the Moral Climates people, Stendahl kills all the “majority guests” with different approaches to murders seen in Poe's stories.5 At the end of the chapter, Stendahl mortars up Moral Climates Investigator Garrett into a brick wall because Garrett “took other people's advice that [Poe's books] needed burning” (147). In contrast with “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” where the individual is martyred by the majority, the individual in “Usher II” enjoys a sinister triumph over the majority.

In Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury resumes his attack on government-based censorship encountered earlier in “Usher II.” Set on Earth rather than on Mars, this novel follows the metamorphosis of Guy Montag, a fireman (a starter of fires in this future dystopian society) who comes to question and break free of the government that employs him to burn books. The novel opens with Montag having just returned to the firehouse after igniting another residence, “grinn[ing] the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame” (4). He is clearly of the majority at this point, loyal to his job and proud of wearing the salamander and the phoenix disc, the official insignia of the Firemen of America. But seventeen-year-old Clarisse McClellan, who is dangerous in Beatty's eyes because “she [doesn't] want to know how a thing [is] done, but why” (60), points out some disturbing facts that Montag cannot escape: he answers her questions quickly without thinking; he can't remember if he knew there was dew on early-morning grass or not; he can't answer the question of whether he is happy or not. A growing unrest with his own lack of individual sensibilities creeps into Montag at Clarisse's challenges. As Donald Watt observes, Clarisse is “catalytic” and “dominant in Montag's growth to awareness” (197); her role for Montag parallels the role of Spender for Captain Wilder, planting the seed of doubt that enacts a process of critical self-examination. These doubts about the government he is serving accumulate through the latest suicide attempt by Montag's wife, Mildred (and her casual acceptance of this attempt after she is resuscitated); through his witnessing of a book-hoarding woman who chose to ignite her own home rather than flee in the face of the firemen's flamethrowers; through the government's systematic elimination of Clarisse; through his own growing need to read and understand books.

Montag ultimately realizes that he cannot return to the firehouse. At this point he rejects both the realm of the majority and his association with Chief Beatty, who professes to “stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought” (62). Montag's liberation from the Firemen of America is augmented when he locates Faber (a former English professor and current member of the book-preserving underground), who offers Montag moral counsel and employs him as an infiltrator at the firehouse. Mildred, in the meantime, breaks her silence and sounds a fire alarm at the Montag residence. In a dramatic confrontation of Individual vs. State, Montag refuses Beatty's orders to burn his own house and instead turns the flamethrower on Beatty. This revolt severs Montag from the majority permanently; he then joins the underground movement to preserve books for the future as global war descends on the city.

Another theme of the cold war years Bradbury takes up in both novels is the precariousness of human existence in an atomic age. The eventual “success” of the Manhattan Project in 1945, which resulted in the development of the atomic bomb, came about only after several years' worth of blind groping toward the right physics equations by some of the brightest physicists in the world.6 The scientists were literally guessing about how to detonate the bomb, how big to make the bomb, and, most significantly, how strong the bomb would be. The project itself, in the words of Lansing Lamont, was “a bit like trying to manufacture a new automobile with no opportunity to test the engine beforehand” (50). After studying various reports on a wide range of explosions in known history, the Los Alamos physicists determined that the atom bomb's force would fall somewhere in between the volcanic eruption of Krakatau in 1883 (which killed 36,000 people and was heard 3,000 miles away) and the 1917 explosion of the munitions ship Mont Blanc in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia (killing 1,100)—“hopefully a lot closer to Halifax,” Lamont notes, “but just where [the scientists] couldn't be sure” (51–52). The subsequent explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Americans more “sure” of the bomb's potential but not sure at all about whether the knowledge of its potential was worth the price of having created it in the first place. As a line of military defense against the spread of Nazism, the bomb became a prime example of how science unleashed can, according to Gray Wolfe, produce “the alienation of humanity from the very technological environments it has constructed in order to resolve its alienation from the universe” (128).

It is difficult to comprehend the depth to which the atom bomb terrified the world, and America specifically, in the early cold war era. Richard Rhodes, author of the The Making of the Atomic Bomb, writes that “A nuclear weapon is in fact a total-death machine, compact and efficient” (746) and quotes a Japanese study that concludes that the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “the opening chapter to the annihilation of mankind.” More than any single technological development, the atomic bomb made people think seriously about the end of the world. As a passport to Wolfe's icon of the wasteland, the bomb “teaches us that the unknown always remains, ready to reassert itself, to send us back to the beginning” (147).

Bradbury first captures the general sense of anxiety felt in a new atomic age in the fifth chapter of The Martian Chronicles, “The Taxpayer.” This short chapter identifies fear of nuclear war as an impetus for leaving Earth; the chapter also establishes itself as one of several in Chronicles that serve as precursors to Fahrenheit 451 and centralize many of the early cold war themes Bradbury resumes in the second book: “There was going to be a big atomic war on Earth in about two years, and he didn't want to be here when it happened. He and thousands of others like him, if they had any sense, would go to Mars. See if they wouldn't! To get away from wars and censorship and statism and conscription and government control of this and that, of art and science!” (47).

Once the fear-of-nuclear-holocaust theme is introduced in the book, Bradbury structures the story-chapters so that references to the bomb and to atomic war in Chronicles are periodically repeated, thus sustaining anxiety throughout the novel. One of Jeff Spender's fears in “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” for example, is that war on Earth will lead to “atomic research and atom bomb depots on Mars”; he is willing to kill off the members of the Fourth Expedition in order to keep Earth from “flopping their filthy atom bombs up here, fighting for bases to have wars” (84–85). “The Luggage Store,” a later bridge chapter that echoes the points made in “The Taxpayer,” picks up the theme of atomic war on Earth in the year 2005. In discussing whether or not members of the Earth society transplanted on Mars will return to Earth when the war begins, Father Peregrine explains to the proprietor of the luggage store man's inability to comprehend atomic war from millions of miles away: “[Earth is] so far away it's unbelievable. It's not here. You can't touch it. You can't even see it. All you see is a green light. Two billion people living on that light? Unbelievable! War? We don't hear the explosions” (164). The expanse of the physical distance between Earth and Mars in his dialogue mirrors the uneasy diplomatic distance the United States and the Soviet Union managed to somehow sustain throughout the cold war years, which kept atomic war in the abstract then as well.

In November 2005, however, the Mars inhabitants receive a light-radio message in “The Watchers”: “Australian Continent Atomized in Premature Explosion of Atomic Stockpile. Los Angeles, London Bombed. War” (180). The resulting picture of Mars—and Earth—for the remaining forty-two pages of the novel is desolate and, for the most part, apocalyptic. Viewers on Mars could point a telescope at Earth and see New York explode, or London “covered with a new kind of fog” (181). Bradbury also employs humor in driving home the gravity of nuclear catastrophe. In one of the novel's more ironic and darkly humorous chapters, “The Silent Towns,” Walter Gripp believes himself the only man left on Mars following the wartime emigration back to Earth by most of the planet's inhabitants. Never having found “a quiet and intelligent woman” to marry when Mars was fully inhabited, Walter is shocked by the sound of a ringing phone. On the other end is the voice of Genevieve Selsor. Ecstatic, he arranges to meet her and conjures up a beautiful woman with “long dark hair shaking in the wind” and “lips like red peppermints” (187). When he meets her and sees that she in fact has a “round and thick” face with eyes “like two immense eggs stuck into a white mess of bread dough” (189), he endures a painful evening with her before fleeing for a life of solitary survivalism. Though the chapter provides a moment of levity compared to the ruined civilization chapters that follow and close out the book, the humor in “The Silent Towns” is carefully crafted toward nervousness. It is in the vein of comedy Donald Hassler identifies in Comic Tones in Science Fiction: The Art of Compromise with Nature that “refuse[s] to be tragic and yet [is] filled with pathos because [it] represents just survival” (27). The story's humor serves primarily to deromanticize the last-man-on-earth motif: though atomic war may have made Walter Gripp a master of all he surveys, it has also perpetuated and intensified his isolation.

“There Will Come Soft Rains,” the novel's penultimate chapter, restores the tone in The Martian Chronicles to grimness, depicting the “tomb planet” character of Mars alluded to one chapter earlier in “The Long Years” (193). The “character” in this chapter is an ultramodern home on post-atomic war Earth in 2026, equipped with turn-of-the-twenty-first-century gadgetry. A voice-clock repeats the time of day each minute, and a kitchen ceiling reads off the date. The automatic kitchen cooks breakfast for four; the patio walls open up into bridge tables; the nursery walls glow and animate themselves at children's hour; the beds warm their own sheets; and the tub fills itself with bath water. This technology wastes away mindlessly, however, for “the gods had gone away” (207). This is the wasteland of thermonuclear destruction: the home is “the one house left standing” in a “ruined city” whose “radioactive glow could be seen for miles” (206). The only signs of life (other than the various “small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal”) are a dying dog and the evidence of a family vaporized by atomic explosion: “The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him, a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.” The chapter ends with the house endlessly spinning out its daily mechanical routine to the ghosts of its vaporized inhabitants. It is perhaps the most vivid image Bradbury's cold war novels offer of the synthetic hell man makes for himself from the raw materials of science, technology, and irrationality.

Fahrenheit 451. resumes the examination of precarious existence in an atomic age that Bradbury began in The Martian Chronicles. Fire as the omnipotent weapon in Fahrenheit finds metaphoric parallels in the notion of the bomb as the omnipotent force in the cold war years. The early tests of the Los Alamos project, for example, paid close attention to the extreme temperatures produced by the fissioning and fusioning of critical elements. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and Edward Teller based key decisions in the atomic bomb (and later the hydrogen bomb) designs on the core temperatures created at the moment of detonation.7 Montag and the Firemen of America, likewise, are ever conscious of the key numeral 451 (the temperature at which books burn), so much so that it is printed on their helmets. The linking of hubris with the attainment of power is evident in both the Los Alamos scientists and the Firemen as well. As the Manhattan Project was drawing to a close, the team of physicists who designed the bomb came to exude a high degree of pride in thier mastery of science, but without an attendant sense of responsibility. As Lamont explains, the bomb “represented the climax of an intriguing intellectual match between the scientists and the cosmos. The prospect of solving the bomb's cosmic mysteries, of having their calculations proved correct, seemed far more fascinating and important to the scientists than the prospect of their opening an era obsessed by fear and devoted to the control of those very mysteries” (144). Fahrenheit 451 opens with Montag similarly blinded by his own perceived importance: “He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered” (4). Like the engineers of atomic destruction, the engineer of intellectual destruction feels the successful completion of his goals entitles him to a legitimate smugness. The work of the cold war physicists, in retrospect, also shares something else with Montag, which Donald Watt points out: “Montag's destructive burning … is blackening, not enlightening; and it poses a threat to nature” (198).

Fahrenheit 451 also expands on the anxiety over the atomic bomb and fear of a nuclear apocalypse introduced in Chronicles. In Fahrenheit, Beatty endorses the official government position that, as “custodians of our peace of mind” (59), he and Montag should “let [man] forget there is such a thing as war” (61). Once Montag has decided to turn his back on the firehouse, however, he tries conveying his personal sense of outrage to Mildred at being kept ignorant, hoping to incite a similar concern in her: “How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it! We've started and won two atomic wars since 1990!” (73). Mildred, however, is perfectly uninspired and breaks off the conversation to wait for the White Clown to enter the TV screen. But Montag's unheeded warning becomes reality; the bombs are dropped once Montag meets up with Granger and the book people, just as they became reality in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” and Montag's horrific vision of the bomb's shock wave hitting the building where he imagines Mildred is staying captures a chilling image of his ignorant wife's last instant of life:

Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie's face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wild empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her, carrying her with a million pounds of brick, metal, plaster, and wood, to meet other people in the hives below, all on their quick way down to the cellar where the explosion rid itself of them in its own unreasonable way.


Perhaps Bradbury's own sense of fear at a future that must accommodate atomic weapons had intensified between The Martian Chronicles's publication in 1950 and Fahrenheit 451's completion in 1953; perhaps what David Mogen identifies as Bradbury's inspiration for the book, Hitler's book burnings, affords little room for the comic (107). For whatever reasons, unlike Chronicles, which intersperses the solemnity of its nuclear aftermath chapters with a bit of lightness in the Walter Gripp story, Fahrenheit sustains a serious tone to the end of the book, even in its resurrectionist optimism for the future of the arts.

This optimism for the future—this notion of recivilization—is the third common element between The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 that has early cold war connections. Given such nihilistic phenomena of the cold war era as its tendencies toward censorship, its socially paranoid outlook, and its budding arms race, it may seem a strange period to give rise to any optimism. However, one of the great ironies of the period was a peripheral belief that somehow the presence of nuclear arms would, by their very capacity to bring about ultimate destruction to all humans, engender a very special sort of cautiousness and cooperative spirit in the world heretofore not experienced. Perhaps there was a belief that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had taught us a big enough lesson in themselves about nuclear cataclysm that we as humans would rise above our destructive tendencies and live more harmoniously. One very prominent figure who espoused this position was Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the very man who headed the Los Alamos Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer would emerge as one of the most morally intriguing characters of the cold war. He was among the first in the scientific community to encourage restraint, caution, and careful deliberation in all matters regarding the pursuit of atomic energy. “There is only one future of atomic explosives that I can regard with any enthusiasm: that they should never be used in war,” he said in a 1946 address before the George Westinghouse Centennial Forum (5). He also refused to participate in the development of the hydrogen bomb following Los Alamos, calling such a weapon “the plague of Thebes” (Rhodes 777).8 In one of his most inspired addresses on the cooperation of art and science, Oppenheimer stated that “Both the man of science and the man of art live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it; both always, as the measure of their creation, have had to do with the harmonization of what is new with what is familiar, with the balance between novelty and synthesis, with the struggle to make partial order in total chaos. They can, in their work and in their lives, help themselves, help one another, and help all men” (145).

Such a spirit of hope for renewed goodwill among men of all vocations is the optimistic vein through which society is reenvisioned following the atomic devastation of the Earth in “The Million-Year Picnic,” the final chapter of The Martian Chronicles. Several days in the past, a rocket that had been hidden on Earth during the Great War carried William and Alice Thomas and their children, Timothy, Michael, and Robert, to Mars, presumably for a “picnic.” The father admits to his inquisitive sons on this day, however, that the picnic was a front for an escape from life on Earth, where “people got lost in a mechanical wilderness” and “Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth” (220–21). The father literally plans a new civilization: he blows up their rocket to avoid discovery by hostile Earthmen; he burns up all the family's printed records of their life on earth; and he now awaits, with his family, “a handful of others who'll land in a few days. Enough to start over. Enough to turn away from all that back on Earth and strike out on a new line” (221). When his son Michael repeats his request to see a “Martian,” the father takes his family to the canal and points to their reflections in the water. The book's last line, “The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water” (222), is optimistic without being didactic. It suggests that this new society has in fact already begun, that it is already “making partial order out of total chaos,” as Oppenheimer suggests the cold war future needs to do. William F. Touponce believes that it is “an altogether appropriate ending” that “summarizes the experience of the reader, who has seen old illusions and values destroyed only to be replaced with new and vital ones” (38). It also offers an image that invites the reader to extrapolate on the father's vision of “a new line” and trust the will of the colonizers for once.

Bradbury's optimism for a recivilized world is also evident in the conclusion of Fahrenheit 451. The seed for an optimistic ending to this dystopian work is actually planted just before the bombs strike. As Montag makes his way across the wilderness, dodging the pursuit of the mechanical hound and the helicopters, he spots the campfire of the book people. His thoughts reflect an epiphany of his transformation from a destroyer of civilization to a builder of it: “[The fire] was not burning. It was warming. He saw many hands held to its warmth, hands without arms, hidden in darkness. Above the hands, motionless faces that were only moved and tossed and flickered with firelight. He hadn't known fire could look this way. He had never thought in his life that it could give as well as take” (145–46). This spirit of giving, of creating from the environment, is emphasized throughout the speeches given by Granger, the leader of the book preservers. In his allusion to the phoenix, which resurrects itself from the ashes of its own pyre, Granger's words reflect the new Montag, who can now see the life-sustaining properties of fire as well as its destructive powers; hopefully, Granger's words also contain hope for the American response to Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “we've got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them” (163). The book ends with Montag rehearsing in his mind a passage from the Book of Revelation, which he says he'll save for the reading at noon. Peter Sisario sees in this ending “a key to Bradbury's hope that ‘the healing of nations’ can best come about through a rebirth of man's intellect” (205); Sisario's interpretation of Fahrenheit's ending and Oppenheimer's interpretation of mankind's necessary response to the cold war share a belief in the triumph of the benevolent side of humans.

A fourth theme in Bradbury's cold war novels that has a historical “objective correlative” is the dichotomous nature of the Cold War Man. The Cold War Man is a man antagonized by conflicting allegiances—one to his government, the other to his personal sense of morals and values—who is forced by circumstance to make an ultimate choice between these impulses. This Bradbury character type has roots in cold war political tensions.

During the early cold war years, the United States's international stance frequently wavered between a policy of military supremacy and one of peacetime concessions. One historian notes this phenomenon in the about-face many Americans took toward Theodore Roosevelt's role in the shifting of global powers following World War II: “… both policy and attitude changed with the Truman administration. The rationale behind Yalta—that a negotiated agreement with the Soviet Union was possible and that the development of mutual trust was the best means to a just and lasting peace—was now rejected in favor of the containment policy and superior military strength” (Theoharis 70).

These contradictory stances of peace and aggression in our nation's outlook occasionally found expression in the form of a single man during the early cold war. The figure of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer again becomes relevant. Though primarily remembered for his contribution to physics, Oppenheimer also had strong leanings toward the humanities; as a youth and in his years as a Harvard undergraduates, he developed a range of literary interests from the Greek classicists to Donne to Omar Khayyam (Lamont 19). David Halberstam observes, “To some he seemed the divided man—part creator of the most dangerous weapon in history—part the romantic innocent searching for some inner spiritual truth” (33). For a government-employed physicist, however, this “division” would turn out to be something of a tragic flaw in the cold war years. When Oppenheimer would have no part of the U.S. government's decision to pursue the hydrogen bomb in its initial phase of the arms race with the Soviets, the government began an inquiry into his past. It was “determined” in June of 1954 that Oppenheimer was guilty of Communist associations that jeopardized national security.9 He was then stripped of his government security clearance, and his service with the Atomic Energy Commission terminated. Thus, in Oppenheimer was a man whose pacifistic sympathies eventually triumphed over his capacity for aggression—and in the early cold war years he was punished for it.

The Oppenheimer figure finds interesting parallels in Bradbury's cold war novels. In “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright” in The Martian Chronicles, Spender is torn between the need to serve his Earth-based government (in his participation with the expedition crew on Mars) and the deep personal need to preserve the remains of the native Martian culture, which he believes is threatened by the very kind of expedition he is serving: “When I got up here I felt I was not only free of [Earth's] so-called culture, I felt I was free of their ethics and their customs. I'm out of their frame of reference, I thought. All I have to do is kill you all off and live my own life” (85; emphasis added). Spender's surrender to the personal impulse to defend Mars from Earth corruption over the impulse to follow the government-entrusted group leads to his death. Wilder is forced to shoot Spender when he threatens more killings, and his death-image symbolically reinforces his divided self: “Spender lay there, his hands clasped, one around the gun, the other around the silver book that glittered in the sun” (92). The gun, which is entrusted to him as a member of the expedition and the book, which he found in his walks through the Martian ruins, emblematize Spender's divided allegiances. The image is curiously akin to the image Lansing Lamont provides of Oppenheimer's dichotomous self: “With balanced equanimity he could minister to a turtle and select the target cities for the first atomic massacres” (285). Wilder also exudes characteristics of the dichotomous Cold War Man. The captain's sympathies toward the arts and toward Spender's appreciation of them lead him to bury Spender with an aesthetic touch. Finding a Martian sarcophagus, Wilder has the crew “put Spender into a silver case with waxes and wines which were ten thousand years old, his hands folded on his chest” (93). The scene immediately changes from Spender's ornate sarcophagus to the captain's catching Parkhill in one of the dead cities and knocking his teeth out for shooting at the Martian towers. Wilder's coexistent propensity for violence and aesthetic sensibilities mark his dichotomous cold war sides as well. Stendahl in “Usher II” further reflects both sides of this Cold War Man. He possesses the aesthetic appreciation of a literature devotee, a man with an architectural vision of Usher II, specifying to Bigelow the need for colors precisely “desolate and terrible,” for walls that are “bleak,” for tarn that is “black and lurid,” for sedge that is “gray and ebon” (132–33). Yet this same man furnishes his home with all of Poe's macabre instruments of death: an ape that strangles humans, a razor-sharp pendulum, a coffin for the nailing up of a live woman, and bricks and mortar for sealing up a live victim.

The dichotomous Cold War Man theme is again treated in Fahrenheit 451 Both Montag and Beatty are simultaneously capable of the destructive and appreciative of the artistic. As Donald Watt remarks of Montag, “Burning as constructive energy, and burning as apocalyptic catastrophe, are the symbolic poles of Bradbury's novel” (196). Montag's divided self is clearly displayed by Bradbury at moments when his character is being influenced by the intellectually stimulating presences of Clarisse and Faber. Early in the book, when Montag is just beginning to wrestle with his identity as a fireman, Clarisse tells him that being a fireman “just doesn't seem right for you, somehow” (24). Immediately Bradbury tells us that Montag “felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other.” Later, after offering his services to Faber and his group, Montag considers the shiftings of his own character that he has been feeling in his conflicting allegiances: “Now he knew that he was two people, that he was, above all, Montag, who knew nothing, who did not even know himself a fool, but only suspected it. And he knew that he was also the old man who talked to him and talked to him as the train was sucked from one end of the night city to the other” (102). Fire Chief Beatty also suggests aspects of the Cold War Man. In spite of his wearing the role of the Official State Majority Leader as the fire chief and relentlessly burning every book at every alarm, Beatty acknowledges that he knows the history of Nicholas Ridley, the man burned at the stake alluded to by the woman who ignites her own home. He gives Montag the reply that most fire captains are “full of bits and pieces” (40); however, when he later warns Montag against succumbing to the “itch” to read that every fireman gets “at least once in his career,” he further adds an ambiguous disclosure: “Oh, to scratch that itch, eh? Well, Montag, take my word for it, I've had to read a few in my time to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe” (62). Though Beatty has an alibi for having some knowledge of literature, Bradbury urges us to question just what Beatty may not be telling us. Montag's later certainty over Beatty's desire to die at Montag's hands (122) raises even more questions about Beatty's commitment to the destructive half of his duality.

Through The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury has created a microcosm of early cold war tensions. Though the reader will perceive a degree of Bradbury's sociopolitical concerns from a reading of either novel, it is only through the reading of both as companion pieces that his full cold war vision emerges. From the perspective that America has wrestled itself free of the extremism of the McCarthyists and, thus far, has escaped nuclear war as well, Bradbury's cold war novels may have indeed contributed to the “prevention” of futures with cold war trappings.


  1. There is a lack of decisiveness among Bradbury scholars as to whether The Martian Chronicles is a novel or a collection of short stories with an epicenter of a common world. Much attention has been paid to Bradbury's 1949 encounter with Doubleday Publishing, during which an editor asked Bradbury to piece together his Mars stories and see what happened; no consensus has been reached as to whether the resulting book is a novel or short stories. Mogen describes it both ways, ultimately classifying it in his selected bibliography section of Bradbury's primary sources as a “novel”; Johnson argues for a collection of short stories “adapted and linked together by bridge passages.” Bradbury himself has compared the work to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, but he has also called it a novel in other places, suggesting that the distinction is significant only to critics. I prefer the “novel” classification because it seems a more fitting descriptor for a fictional history of Mars than does “short story collection.” For a fuller examination of the issue, see Mogen, Ray Bradbury 82–93; Johnson, Ray Bradbury; and Gallagher, “The Thematic Structure of ‘The Martian Chronicles.’”

  2. It has been asserted in many places among Bradbury scholarship that the Mars created in The Martian Chronicles is in one way or another a metaphor for twentieth-century America. Two of the more clearly articulated views on this belong to McNelly and Pell.

  3. “Earth” in Bradbury most often equals “Americans.” See Rabkin 115 and Slusser 55.

  4. For two enlightening discussions of the subversive tactics employed by many 1950s right-wing government organizations, see Halberstam and Theoharis.

  5. This organization is strongly suggestive of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a group Halberstam maintains “included a large number of the most unattractive men in American public life—bigots, racists, reactionaries, and sheer buffoons” (12).

  6. These minds were, ironically, “true science fictionists” in the Bradbury sense. Bradbury said in 1976 that “science fiction deals with any ‘idea’ which is not yet born, which wants to come to birth.” The atomic bomb became an idea wanting birth in 1939 when Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard solicited Albert Einstein's help in drafting a letter to President Roosevelt, advising the president that, since Hitler's Germany had successfully produced atomic fission (under Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman), it would be wise to establish the necessary research to develop a nuclear defense weapon. Los Alamos was conceived of at that point, and science fiction moved closer to science fact. See Jacobs 19 and Lamont 23–25.

  7. In fact, the design of the hydrogen bomb was slowed by William Teller's inaccurate calculations regarding the temperature produced when igniting deuterium. The inaccuracy involved the difference between 40 million and 400 million degrees farenheit. See Rhodes 418–20.

  8. The explosion of one hydrogen bomb is the equivalent of 500 atomic bombs. See Rhodes 418.

  9. The actual conviction was one of “‘susceptibility’ to influences that could endanger the nation's security.” Such vagueness pervades the course of the hearings with Oppenheimer. See Lamont 258–91 and Halberstam 342–54.

Works Cited

Amis, Kingsley. New Maps of Hell. London: Lowe and Brydone, 1960.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine, 1953.

———. The Martian Chronicles. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950.

Gallagher, Edward J. “The Thematic Structure of The Martian Chronicles.” In Olander and Greenberg 55–82

Halberstam, David. The Fifties. New York: Villard, 1993.

Hassler, Donald. Comic Tones in Science Fiction: The Art of Compromise with Nature. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982.

Jacobs, Robert. “The Writer's Digest Interview.” The Writer's Digest 55 (Feb. 1976): 18–25.

Johnson, Wayne L. Ray Bradbury. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Lamont, Lansing. Day of Trinity. New York: Atheneum, 1965.

McNelly, Willis E. “Two Views.” In Olander and Greenberg 17–24.

Mogen, David. Ray Bradbury. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Ray Bradbury. New York: Taplinger, 1980.

Oppenheimer, J. Robert. The Open Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955.

Pell, Sarah-Warner J. “Style is the Man: Imagery in Bradbury's Fiction.” In Olander and Greenberg 186–94.

Rabkin, Eric S. “To Fairyland by Rocket: Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.” In Olander and Greenberg 110–26.

Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Sisario, Peter. “A Study of the Allusions in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.English Journal 59 (1970): 201–05, 212.

Slusser, George Edgar. The Bradbury Chronicles. San Bernardino: Borgo Press, 1977.

Theoharis, Athan. Seeds of Repression: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of McCarthyism. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1971.

Watt, Donald. “Burning Bright: Fahrenheit 451 as Symbolic Dystopia.” In Olander and Greenberg 195–213.

Wolfe, Gary. The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1979.

James E. Person, Jr. (essay date 1997)

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SOURCE: Person, James E., Jr. “‘That Always Autumn Town’: Winesburg, Ohio and the Fiction of Ray Bradbury.” The Winesburg Eagle XXII, no. 2 (summer 1997): 1-4.

[In the following essay, Person evaluates the thematic and stylistic influence of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio on Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.]

The river, great symbol of life, is also the great symbol of death, for it is the symbol of samsara, of time … Rivers are irreversible. Clocks are reversible. “You can't go home again” does not mean that you can't turn the clock back (because you can) but that you can't turn the river back. This is true not only of our last exit from home, our final death, but also of a thousand little deaths before it. To be born, we must die to the womb, never to return. To be weaned, we must die to the breast, never to return (though we seek a thousand substitutes). To go to school, we must die to the all-embracing security of the home. To raise a family, we must die to the centrality of the family we came from. To move to a new home, a new job, or a new city, we must die to our old ones. And when we are old and death carries away our relatives, family, and friends, nothing replaces them sometimes except our own loneliness. The supremely lonely act is to die. When we die, we consummate the secret loneliness we inherited at birth. We part from everything—gradually in life, finally in death. All living is parting; all living is dying.1

—Peter Kreeft, from Love is Stronger Than Death


Describing the plaintive lives of small-town characters during the final years of gaslight America, Winesburg, Ohio is in many ways thematically similar to another collection of bittersweet stories, Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. Both books describe Midwestern town life and are based upon the respective authors' firsthand observations. Sherwood Anderson based his setting upon Clyde, Ohio, one of the towns in which he lived during his boyhood. Born nearly two generations later, Bradbury crafted Green Town, the setting of Dandelion Wine, upon his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. Beyond this, the similarities between the two works is not at all speculative or accidental. For in 1944, 24-year-old Ray Bradbury, then a contributor of horror stories and detective fiction to pulp magazines, jotted a note to himself which read, “Do book about people on Mars”; now he needed a framework and benchmark for style and tone for this ambitious work, and he found it in the work of a fellow Midwesterner. “It was Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio that set me free,” writes Bradbury in his preface to a new (1997) edition of The Martian Chronicles. He adds:

Sometime in my twenty-fourth year, I was stunned by [Winesburg's] dozen characters living their lives on half-lit porches and in sunless attics of that always autumn town. “Oh, Lord,” I cried. “If I would write a book half as fine as this, but set it on Mars, how incredible that would be!”2

Elsewhere in the preface he writes:

Will you find traces of Sherwood Anderson here [in The Martian Chronicles]? No. His stunning influence had long since dissolved into my ganglion. You might see a few apparitions of Winesburg, Ohio in my other book-of-stories-pretending-to-be-a-novel, Dandelion Wine. But there are no mirror images. Anderson's grotesques were gargoyles off the town roofs; mine are mostly collie dogs, old maids lost in soda fountains, and a boy supersensitive to dead trolley cars, lost chums, and Civil War Colonels drowned in time or drunk on remembrance.3

Readers of Dandelion Wine and Winesburg would perhaps agree that Bradbury's remarks are not surprising. The following is offered as an introductory comparative essay which will explore such issues as style, world view, and other elements in Dandelion Wine and Winesburg, with points of agreement and of divergence discovered and examined. Overarching all, it will be seen, is the key unifying theme of both works: the authors' belief that all living is parting; all living is dying, with both Dandelion Wine and Winesburg evoking masterfully and touchingly what Peter Kreeft has termed “the secret loneliness we inherited at birth.”

Readers of The Winesburg Eagle are well familiar with the career of Anderson and the story behind his seminal work; perhaps less so with Bradbury and his work. Best known as a science-fiction writer, the latter is also misperceived as a talented optimist, given to infusing his short stories and novels with a latent sense of traditional Judaeo-Christian ethics. While a sense of wonder and evidence of a moral imagination pervade his work, evidence of his latent Christian humanism, Bradbury is under no illusions as to the reality of human depravity and death, with his horror fiction and the novel Fahrenheit 451 being especially vivid in this respect. In a revealing letter to Russell Kirk, Bradbury once wrote that every person 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.”4

This reference to the raving beast indicates a view of the human condition in which something akin to the doctrine of original sin is operative. (Anderson himself believed less in sin than in downturns in luck or chance, which he depicted in such short stories as “Hands,” the tale of a gentle schoolteacher's downfall, and “I'm a Fool”—from the collection Horses and Men—which recounts a likable stableboy's unexpected humiliation.) Bradbury describes even his relatively sunny work Dandelion Wine as a “celebration … of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror. …”5 Indeed there are recurrent hints and outright accounts of fear and impending loss scattered throughout this account of one summer, the summer of 1928, in the life of twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding.

Any comparison of the two works must focus inevitably upon its two central characters, George Willard and Douglas. Like George in Winesburg, Douglas is a product of his hometown and very much involved with the everyday goings-on among the townspeople. As would be expected of a twelve-year-old in a middle-class town, Douglas has a certain gosh-golly enthusiasm toward life—an enthusiasm absent from large sections of Winesburg—which is expressed in conversations with his younger brother, Tom, and with his neighborhood friends. (Explaining to Tom his plan to keep track of the truths he learns over the summer, he says, “Any time this next three months you see something done over and over, tell me. Think about it, and tell me that. Come Labor Day, we'll add up the summer and see what we got!”) As the summer progresses, his coltish view of the world is tempered by the realities of the losses he experiences.

Both George and Douglas are at once active participants in town life and listeners to the opinions and life stories of the townspeople. Where George, the older of the two at age eighteen, experiences sexual initiation with Louise Trunnion (in “Nobody Knows”), attempts to fight with the bartender Ed Handby for the possession of Belle Carpenter (in “An Awakening”), and hears the stories of Wing Biddlebaum (in “Hands”), among others, Douglas takes the final ride on the Green Town trolley on its final day of service before its replacement by bus service, plays the games Kick-the-can and Statues with his friends in the evening, helps his grandfather make dandelion wine, and listens to tales told by Colonel Freeleigh (a Civil War veteran) and old Miss Helen Loomis. (In each book, veterans of the Civil War are still among the living, though fading and dying out, with Anderson's “Book of the Grotesque” and “Godliness” concerning veterans of that conflict, while Colonel Freeleigh appears in two stories in Dandelion Wine.) Douglas, being very much a boy of his era, is a bit too young to be interested in girls yet, while George, on the verge of adulthood, wants very much to woo the banker's daughter, Helen White (in “Sophistication,” especially) and strike out into the world to make something of himself.

Of the two boys, George Willard is especially given to talking to himself, an act which isn't necessarily a sign of craziness, as some people believe. Rather, it's often a habit exercised by people who believe that they are not listened to, or that the thoughts closest to them cannot be shared with anyone else because there is no sympathetic “other” with whom to share. Among people to whom “the secret loneliness we inherited at birth” is especially vivid, talking to oneself is common. (It is perhaps a common trait of writers, who must constantly rummage in solitude through the wardrobe of the imagination, picking through what to say and in what manner, preparing to hold up to a scornful world their closest thoughts and evidence of their best skill.) Douglas doesn't talk to himself as much as does George, as he has a younger brother in whom he confides; but, like George, he records his thoughts on paper, spending the summer recording his insights as to the nature of life and his place in it.

What he learns, long before Labor Day, is sobering. Just as poor, half-mad Alice Hindman learns of Winesburg (in “Adventure”), Douglas Spaulding learns that some people must live and die alone, even in Green Town. Even he must die someday, as he records after much reluctant thought and stubborn effort in his notebook. This point marks the dawning of his own sophistication, as it did for George in the story “Sophistication.” There is a wistfulness about this and the other stories of Doug's summer, as there is in Winesburg, Ohio; for the summer of 1928 in Green Town was a summer of endings and barely comprehended beginnings, of death but no clearly corresponding rebirth, of grief coupled with hope. It was the summer of the last trolley ride, of his great-grandmother's death, of the deaths of Colonel Freeleigh and Miss Loomis, of the end of the Lonely One's career as a deadly town mystery, of the end of Douglas's friendship with his best friend, John Huff. It was a time when even the elderly storefront loafers in downtown Green Town would “savor the very bacteria in their porcelain mouths that would some day stop them cold.” It was the last summer when Douglas's mind romped like that of a young god, convinced that the world about him was a pleasant treasure house of comfort and adventure among beloved people who will never die. (The novel, in fact, begins with Douglas awakening at dawn on the first day of summer, standing before his bedroom window in the cupola upstairs in his grandparents' home, and then pretending to “command” all the town's human activity into motion for the day, one action at a time. Likewise, Dandelion Wine ends with the boy standing in the same cupola “directing” the step-by-step end to all human activity at the end of the evening at summer's twilight.)

The story of Douglas and his companions, in Dandelion Wine, is narrated in a fairly conventional, omniscient third-person manner, interspersed with interior monologues. The narrative style of Winesburg is similar in some respects, though Anderson's work more strongly “retains the language, the pace, and one might even say the gestures of a man talking unhurriedly to his friends.”6 Bradbury has called Dandelion Wine, like Winesburg, a “book-of-stories-pretending-to-be-a-novel,” and his words are true, with some qualification. In each work, the stories are interrelated just enough so that there is a thread of thematic continuity and some spill-over in subject matter, though most of them could be published separately as stories in their own right. As to spill-over, consider, for example, the case of the story “The Teacher,” in which the Reverend Curtis Hartman rushes into George Willard's presence to declare the schoolteacher Kate Swift “an instrument of God bearing a message of truth,” an insight he had discovered as the principal character in an earlier story, “The Strength of God.” In Bradbury, there is a similar case in regard to a serial murderer, a man called “the Lonely One,” who is discussed in several stories throughout the book. (The stories in Bradbury's book are untitled; therefore I refer to no story titles in discussing Dandelion Wine. Several of these stories, however, have been anthologized in collections over the years, notably the story concerning the death of Douglas's great-grandmother, “Good-by, Grandma,” and the principal story concerning the Lonely One, “The Whole Town's Sleeping.”)

There are several “lonely ones” in the Winesburg stories, also, though they are not killers. In the story “Loneliness,” for example, Enoch Robinson possesses a sensitive mind unused to the rough-and-tumble of everyday life, and has pared down his circle of intimates to include only psychological projections of understanding beings—and even these have departed. George Willard visits him once, and upon departing hears Enoch's voice behind his closed door, whimpering and complaining. “I'm alone, all alone here,” said the voice. “It was warm and friendly in my room but now I'm all alone.” Nobody in Dandelion Wine is in Enoch's state by the novel's end; but even Douglas's happy young brother, Tom, knows that there are times of fear and doubt when the human state, even in small-town America, can only be described as “Alone in the universe.”

There were 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 minorkey violins was the small towns' music, with no lights, but many shadows. Oh, the vast swelling loneliness of them. The secret damp ravines of them. Life was a horror lived in them at night, when at all sides sanity, marriage, children, happiness, were threatened by an ogre called Death.7

Grim words, these, coming from Bradbury the “optimist.” But as he has written elsewhere, “I don't write these stories, they write me. Which causes me to live with a boundless enthusiasm for writing and life that some misinterpret as optimism.”8 Exceptional optimism was never a complaint against Sherwood Anderson; he, after all, was the author of a story whose title, “Out of Nowhere into Nothing,” parodies the opening lines of a well-known “baby poem” by the nineteenth-century Scottish fantasist George MacDonald (“Where did you come from, baby dear? / Out of the Everywhere into here”). Anderson held to a vision that could best be described as bittersweet optimism: a belief that while death marks the end of all human endeavor, and there is nothing of eternal life beyond the grave, life is good and embraceable nonetheless. “One shudders at the thought of the meaninglessness of life while at the same instant, and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into the eyes,” offers the narrator of “Sophistication.”

In answer to this, and in closing, I must quote a very telling passage from Bradbury's introduction to Dandelion Wine, written in 1974. The author writes:

A final memory.

Fire balloons.

You rarely see them these days, though in some countries, I hear, they are still made and filled with warm breath from a small straw fire hung beneath.

But in 1925 Illinois, we still had them, and one of the last memories I have of my grandfather is the last hour of a Fourth of July night forty-eight years ago when Grandpa and I walked out on the lawn and lit a small fire and filled the pear-shaped red-white-and-blue paper balloon with hot air, and held the flickering bright-angel presence in our hands a final moment in front of a porch lined with uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and fathers, and then, very softly, let the thing that was life and light and mystery go out of our fingers up on the summer air and away over the beginning-to-sleep houses, among the stars, as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself.

I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own still thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this.

No one said anything. We all just looked up at the sky and we breathed out and in and we all thought the same things, but nobody said. Someone finally had to say, though, didn't they? And that one is me.9

This moment of epiphany, a moment “in which time and the timeless intersect” (in T. S. Eliot's phrase), is common to both Bradbury and Anderson—and indeed the above passage might have been written by Anderson. In the belief system of each, it is the writer who must “say,” for by his recounting the stories and by his spinning new tales, death is for a time held off as the imagination is nourished and the breath of life is affirmed. This is part of what makes life precious, whatever one's theology or philosophy: entering into communion with others, sharing in their lives and stories while knowing that, like Ray Winters in “The Untold Lie,” we must all in time disappear “into the darkness of the fields.” Properly understood, then, the watchword of both of these literary craftsmen might be the words which form Anderson's epitaph: “Life, not death, is the great adventure.”10


  1. Kreeft, “Death as an Enemy,” in Love is Stronger Than Death, Ignatius Books, 1992, pp. 9–10.

  2. Bradbury, “Green Town, Somewhere on Mars; Mars, Somewhere in Egypt,” in The Martian Chronicles, Avon Books, 1997, p. viii.

  3. Bradbury, Martian Chronicles, p. x.

  4. Kirk, “The World of Ray Bradbury,” in Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormity in Literature and Politics, Sherwood Sugden, 1984, p. 118.

  5. Bradbury, “Just This Side of Byzantium: An Introduction,” in Dandelion Wine, Bantam Books, rev. ed., 1976, p. xii. All allusions to Dandelion Wine refer to this edition.

  6. Malcolm Cowley, introduction to Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, Penguin, 1976, p. 6. All allusions to Winesburg, Ohio refer to this edition.

  7. Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, 43.

  8. Bradbury, Quicker Than the Eye, Avon Books, 258.

  9. Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, xiii.

  10. For the purposes of this essay, I have found the following readings especially helpful: Walter B. Rideout, “The Simplicity of Winesburg, Ohio,Shenandoah 13 (Spring 1962): 20–31; and S. K. Winther, “The Aura of Loneliness in Sherwood Anderson,” Modern Fiction Studies 5 (Summer 1959): 145–52.

Publishers Weekly (review date 22 September 1997)

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SOURCE: A review of Driving Blind, by Ray Bradbury. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 39 (22 September 1997): 72.

[The following review provides a positive appraisal of Driving Blind.]

The 21 stories in Bradbury's new anthology [Driving Blind] are full of sweetness and humanity. Despite bizarre actions and abstract twists, all are grounded in the everyday. Here are sketches, vignettes, strange tales, colorful anecdotes, little tragedies, hilarious lies and metaphysics too. Here are a spinster's ancient love letters and the man who wrote them, wholesome small-town folk and conniving sharpsters, a moribund circus camel, a homicidal garbage disposal and a dead man searching for mourners. Much of the text is dialogue, and it works because Bradbury excels at portraying the robust textures of American speech. He is unapologetically romantic: most of the stories have love songs in them, or thunderstorms, or both, and no one seems to need to lock their door. Only four of these tales are science fiction, and one of those sneaks very cleverly out from under the genre's strictures: in the title story, Mr. Mysterious, a black-hooded stranger, is befriended by a boy whom Norman Rockwell might have painted. The reader is led to expect a supernatural change beneath the hood, but the boy has an insight of almost Philip K. Dickian subtlety about the nature of reality and memory that allows Mr. Mysterious to redeem his troubled history with both feet on the ground, while Bradbury leaps to an ecstatically optimistic ending. A few of the entries are less finished. “Mr. Pale,” the book's one outerspace story, leans heavily on certain tropes about the dilemmas of immortality without actually giving them substance. But in the face of Bradbury's craft and humanity, these are minor flaws.

Publishers Weekly (review date 11 March 2002)

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SOURCE: A review of One more for the road, by Ray Bradbury. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 10 (11 March 2002): 51.

[The following review offers a favorable assessment of the collection One More for the Road.]

“You do not build a Time Machine unless you know where you are going.… But I built my Time Machine, all unknowingly, with no destination in mind,” explains a bemused time traveler in Bradbury's latest collection [One More for the Road: A New Story Collection]. Bradbury, who has taken readers on so many marvelous trips, has a similar approach to navigation. In this new volume of stories (17 of the 24 have never been published before), he maintains his unflinching dedication to the magic of everyday life. Relaxing into his favorite themes—memory, loneliness, childhood, love and time—he is not afraid to wax sentimental, but the sharp edge of his prose keeps the tales from cloying. Flaunted settings are common: the ghost town in “Where All Is Emptiness There Is Room to Move”; the Parisian cemetery Pere Lachaise in “Diane de Foret” and the L. A. streets of 1939 in “Tangerine,” in which Bradbury tells the story of a tragically cool man who'd rather be dead than 30. The writer is at his best when he chronicles the child self he has never lost touch with. In “Autumn Afternoon,” Miss Elizabeth Simmons cleans out her attic and discovers calendars she kept as a girl, checking off dates that were once important but are now mysterious, Bradbury, on the other and, seems to remember everything—because at 81, he is still 18 at heart. In “With Smiles as Wide as Summer,” a virtual prose poem about being a boy on perpetual vacation, he notes, “Circling, they knocked the echoes with their voices, plunged, rolled over, spun, jigged, shook themselves, raced off, hurtled back, leapt high, mad with summerlight and heat, unable to stop just being alive.” The pure joy of earthly existence is something Bradbury has never forgotten.

Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 5, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437


Eller, Jon R. “The Stories of Ray Bradbury: An Annotated Finding List (1938-1991).” Bulletin of Bibliography 49, no. 1 (March 1992): 27-51.

Primary bibliography and title index.


Weist, Jerry. Bradbury: An Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor. New York: Morrow, c.2002, 208 p.

Full-length biography of Bradbury.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury. Philadelphia : Chelsea House Publishers, 2001, 159 p.

Full-length critical overview of Bradbury's career that contains bibliographic information.

Boone, Alice. “Usher III.” Proteus: A Journal of Ideas 14, no. 2 (fall 1997): 37-8.

Compares Bradbury's short story “Usher II,” Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List in terms of their treatment of the issues of censorship and freedom of expression.

Green, Roland. A review of One More for the Road, by Ray Bradbury. Booklist 98, no. 15 (1 April 2002): 1312.

Positive review of One More for the Road.

Hamburger, Susan. A review of Driving Blind, by Ray Bradbury. Library Journal 122, no. 19 (15 November 1997): 78.

A laudatory assessment of Driving Blind.

Indick, Ben P. “Ray Bradbury: Still Talking and Still Listening.” Publishers Weekly 248, no. 43 (22 October 2001): 40.

Interview in which Bradbury discusses his fiction and dramatic works.

McGiveron, Rafeeq O. “'Do You Know the Legend of Hercules and Antaeus?' The Wilderness in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 38, no. 2 (summer 1997): 102-09.

Examines the theme of the wilderness in Fahrenheit 451.

McGiveron, Rafeeq O. “'To Build a Mirror Factory': The Mirror and Self-Examination in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 39, no. 3 (spring 1998): 282-87.

Discusses Bradbury's use of mirror imagery and how this relates to the theme of introspection.

Additional coverage of Bradbury's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: American Writers Supplement, Vol. 4; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 15; Authors in the News, Vols. 1, 2; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 1; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 4, 5, 11; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, Vol. 1968–1988; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1–4R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 2, 30, 75; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 3, 10, 15, 42, 98; Contemporary Novelists, Edition 7; Contemporary Popular Writers; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists, Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 2, 8; Exploring Novels; Exploring Short Stories; Literature and Its Times, Vols. 3, 5; Major 20th-Century Writers, Editions. 1, 2; Novels for Students, Vol. 1; Reference Guide to American Literature, Edition 4; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Edition 2; Science Fiction Writers, Edition 2; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 1; Something About the Author, Vols. 11, 64, 123;St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Edition 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Supernatural Fiction Writers; and World Literature Criticism.

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Bradbury, Ray (Vol. 3)