Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ray Bradbury and the Carnival

Ray Bradbury is one of the all time great science fiction writers, although he does not particularly like this label.
“I've only done one science fiction book and that's Farenheit 451, based on reality,”  "And his best known outer space work, the Martian Chronicles, has about as much about the Red Planet as a Mars chocolate bar." (Conceptual Fiction.) Nobody likes to be pigeon holed, apart from pigeons of course, particularly not someone who is the author of more than five hundred published works. All this aside, here on the pages of the Illuminated Showman we search for the Carnivalesque origins of things and yet again we have found what we were looking for. Thanks to Hey Rube Circus for drawing our attention to this.

Ray Bradbury, the Showman, accounts for his habit of writing every day originating in a tale that easily could be believed to be spawned by the man's prodigious imagination. But then again as Edward Gant says with the knowledge of a Guild's man, "The Truths of Life lies least of all in the Facts." So perhaps these Seeds of inspiration for the young Bradbury is as close to truth that is possible.

Lon Chaney Jr as the Hunchback
"Bradbury attributes his lifelong habit of writing every day to two incidents. The first, which occurred when he was three years old when his mother took him to Lon Chaney's performance of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the second, which occurred in 1932 when a carnival entertainer, Mr. Electrico,
touched him on the nose with an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, "Live forever!" It was from then that Bradbury wanted to live forever and decided on his career as an author in order to do what he was told: live forever. It was at that age that Bradbury first started to do Magic. Magic was his first great love. If he had not discovered writing, he would have become a magician." (Wikipedia)
And lo and behold on the glorious interweb we find the Master himself recount the incident of meeting Mr Electrico and the Illustrated man.

Mr Electro, sculpture by Christopher Slatof
In his work, this Carnival truth is supported by his first published collection of short stories being titled: Dark Carnival, and his second The Illustrated Man. The pinnacle of the prodigious writers flirtation with the fairground is found in his 1962 novel 'Something Wicked this Way Comes.' Which title is lifted straight from Shakespeare's Macbeth: 'by the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.'

'The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes. . .and the stuff of nightmare.' (Amazon

The tale is of two boys on their way to adulthood. Together they tread paths through the forest of Good and Evil, shrouded in shadows of the looming mountain of Ageing. All this clad in the guise of a sinister carnival that comes to town. Their meeting with Coogar and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show push the boys to men during one memorable night.

The story is described as a horror or dark fantasy novel, and that may be, but it is also deeply poetic. Bradbury digs deeply into his themes in beautifully crafted sentences and descriptions. Here is an example from a monologue delivered by Charles Halloway, father of Will, one of the story's two boy-protagonists.

"First things first. Let’s bone up on history. If men had wanted to stay
bad forever they could have, agreed?...Somewhere we turned in our
carnivore’s teeth and started chewing blades of grass. We been
working mulch as much as blood, into our philosophy, for a quite a
few lifetimes. Since then we measure ourselves up the scale from
apes, but not half so high as angels…. I suppose one night hundreds of
thousands of years ago in a cave by a night fire when one of those
shaggy men wakened to gaze over the banked coals at his woman, his
children, and thought of their being cold, dead, gone forever. Then he
must have wept. And he put out his hand in the night to the woman
who must die some day and to the children who must follow her. And
for a little bit next morning, he treated them somewhat better, for he
saw that they, like himself, had the seed of night in them…."

In 1983 Disney made a movie based on the book which is surprisingly interesting, in a nostalgic, fairy tale kind of way. I still have fond memories of some of Disney's films from my own childhood, perhaps most notably 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea. But as always when a project is undertaken by the media giant a disneyfication happens. The examples are many and nefarious enough, like how they make Charles Halloway a librarian rather than the janitor at the library.

Although receiving mediocre reviews the movie is not terrible. Here is the trailer and a link to the whole thing, so you can choose how long you would like to dwell on this tale by how interested you are in its themes, and execution. Ray Bradbury served as screen writer for the film and later said it was one of the better adaptions of his work.

Here comes the link to the first in a series of 7 links to the whole movie.

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