Sunday, February 13, 2011
Three by Bradbury
I will discuss significant elements and the endings of these stories.
These three stories appear in a number of collections and anthologies. I am taking them from a collection of Bradbury's stories titled Twice 22, which includes all of the stories from two other collections: The Golden Apples of the Sun and A Medicine for Melancholy.
"The April Witch"
This is one of those stories that I first read and then dismissed as being lightweight with little substance. Several days later I was still thinking about it, and I began to realize that perhaps it really isn't that lightweight.
It's a tale about Cecy, who, at the age of seventeen, told her folks that she wanted "to be in love."
Her parents responded, "Remember, you're remarkable. Our whole family is odd and remarkable. We can't mix or marry with ordinary folk. We'd lose our magical powers if we did. You wouldn't want to lose your ability to 'travel' by magic, would you? Then be careful. Be careful!"
Cecy's way of traveling was unique, as least for normal humans anyway. She could "sleep in moles through the winter, in the warm earth." She could "live in anything at all--a pebble, a crocus, or a praying mantis." She could leave her "plain, bony body behind" and enter into anything she wanted. She then decides that if she can't be in love in her own body, then she will be in love in someone else's body, sort of a courtship by proxy , I guess.
She enters the mind of Ann Leary, a young woman, and influences her to go to the dance with a handsome young man. The poor fellow becomes confused because while Cecy is in control, she appears to want to be with him, but when Cecy relaxes, Ann takes control and behaves as though she wishes he would go away.
It's clear that Cecy isn't happy being Cecy with magical powers. She just wants to be like everybody else. She'd give up her powers if only he would love her.
It's a "grass is greener on the other side" story. But, what is on her side? She has the power to travel freely without restriction, to enter into the minds of all possible creatures on this planet, and that includes non-living creatures also. She is willing to give that up for love with a normal human being. I wonder how many readers would make this deal. One point isn't clear to me: why does she, for some reason, exclude those of her own kind. After all, her parents have magical powers also. Perhaps it's because she wants "to be in love" now, and there are none of her kind in the vicinity.
Is there something immature in wanting simply "to be in love"? Shouldn't being in love come as a consequence of meeting that special person? Does she really understand what is meant by being in love?
Another part of the story seems to be the lesson that one can't have it all, in spite of the advertisements, self-help gurus, and political pundits who promise everything for everybody. To quote another SF writer, "TANSTAAFL" That's Robert A. Heinlein's famous dictum, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."
There's yet another point I wonder about. Does she realize what's she's giving up? I wonder how many readers would be willing to give up this power "to travel."
The story, of course, is a fantasy. As far as I know, nobody has had such powers. Or . . .
On the other hand, if one looks at what she can do, is it so impossible for us to even come close to this?
In the past month or so, I've been in the mind of a detective chief inspector at Scotland Yard and
in the minds of a late Victorian family that is slowly disintegrating and
in the mind of a young woman who is in a tournament in which winner is the last one alive and
in the mind of a young woman who can visit other minds and
in the mind of a disgraced Chinese detective who manages to get out of a Tibetan work camp and live with Buddhist monks in the almost inaccessible mountains of Tibet and
in the mind of a Prussian magistrate who is forced to cooperate with officers in Napoleon's army of occupation in investigating a series of murders and
in the minds of people and beings from the far past and the distant future and in galaxies far away.
I'm not an April Witch: I'm an Avid Reader.
"The Flying Machine"
"In the year A. D. 400, the Emperor Yuan held his throne by the Great Wall of China, and the land was green with rain, readying itself toward the harvest, at peace, the people in his dominion neither too happy nor too sad."
A man invents a flying machine and has the bad luck to have it observed by the Emperor. The Emperor orders his execution after finding out that he has told no one of his invention. The man, not understanding why, pleads for his life, saying:
"I have found beauty. I have flown on the morning wind. I have looked down on all the sleeping houses and gardens. I have smelled the sea and even seen it, beyond the hills, from my high place. I have soared like a bird; ;oh, I cannot say how beautiful it is up there, in the sky, with the wind about me, the wind blowing me here like a feather, there like a fan, the way the sky smells in the morning! And how free one feels! That is beautiful, Emperor, that is beautiful too!"
The Emperor sadly responds, "But there are times . . .when one must lose a little beauty if one is to keep what little beauty one already has. I do not fear you, yourself, but I fear another man."
. . . . .
"Who is to say that someday just such a man, in just such an apparatus of paper and reed, might not fly in the sky and drop huge stones upon the Great Wall of China?"
This story was published prior to 1953, less than a decade after the two atom bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Considering that and all the lives lost and damage created by "conventional" bombs, what would you do if you had a time machine that could go back to a certain day at Kitty Hawk in December 1903?
"The Golden Kite, The Silver Wind"
"They build their wall," said the Mandarin, "in the shape of a pig! Do you see? Our own city wall is built up in the shape of an orange. That pig will devour us, greedily!"
"Life was full of symbols and omens. Demons lurked everywhere. Death swam in the wetness of an eye, the turn of a gull's wing meant rain, a fan held so. the tilt of a roof, and, yes, even a city wall was of immense importance. Travelers and tourists, caravans, musicians, artists, coming upon these two towns, equally judging the portents, would say, 'the city shaped like an orange? No! I will enter the city shaped like a pig and prosper, eating all, growing fat with good luck and prosperity!"
The Mandarin's daughter suggested rebuilding the city walls in a shape of a club which would drive the pig off. Kwan-Si's people responded by rebuilding their walls in the shape of a giant bonfire which would burn up the club, which was followed by a lake to put out the fire . . . a mouth to drink the lake dry . . . a needle to sew up the mouth . . .a sword to cut the needle . . .a scabbard to sheath the sword. . .
"Sickness spread in the city like a pack of evil dogs. Shops closed. The population, working now steadily for endless months upon the changing of the walls, resembled Death himself, clattering his white bones like musical instruments in the wind. Funerals began to appear in the streets, though it was the middle of summer, a time when all should be tending and harvesting."
Finally the two Mandarins met. "This cannot go on . . . Our people do nothing but rebuild our cities to a different shape every day, every hour. They have no time to hunt, to fish, to love, to be good to their ancestors and their ancestor's children."
"You, Kwan-Si, will make a last rebuilding of your town to resemble nothing more nor less than the wind. And we shall build like a golden kite. The wind will beautify the kite and carry it to wondrous heights. And the kite will break the sameness of the wind's existence and give it purpose and meaning. One without the other is nothing. Together, all will be beauty and co-operation and a long and enduring life."
"And so, in time, the towns became the Town of the Golden Kite and the Town of the Silver Wind. And harvestings were harvested and business tended again, and the flesh returned, and disease ran off like a frightened jackal. And on every night of the year, the inhabitants in the Town of the Kite could hear the good clear wind sustaining them. And those in the Town of the Wind could hear the kites singing, whispering, rising, and beautifying them."
Pure Fantasy! Escapism! Terrible stuff to waste time on. We should get back the real world and its problems. Yet, back when this story was written and for several decades afterwards, the the East and the West were engaged in building nuclear weapons that would give each superiority over the other. Each increase by one side would result in an increase by the other. This was called the Arms Race. If one side had enough weaponry to destroy its enemy twice over, then the other had to have enough to destroy them three times over.
In the story their Walls Race was destroying them. At present, we are trying to insure that our Arms Race doesn't destroy us. Perhaps a little "escapist" co-operation might not be a bad idea, after all.