Sunday, July 12, 2020

Bradbury 100 - time to subscribe!

The Bradbury 100 podcast begins soon. The first episode will be released on July 25th 2020, with weekly episodes to follow. (This means there will be a new episode released on Ray Bradbury's birth date of August 22nd.)

You'll be able to listen to the episodes directly from this blog, or from Facebook or YouTube. Or from a number of other podcast websites. But...

Why not subscribe using the podcast app on your phone? That way, you'll have easy access to episodes when they drop, and will be able to listen on the move. (Currently, the podcast feed has two trailers in it - enough for you to find the podcast and get it working.)

Here's a list of ways to access the podcast. Take your pick:

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-323858140

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/60mqo99OKrFNJ84nMvS448

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG9-0adFWxpkSgVHJIE_GZA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bradburymedia

TuneIn: https://tunein.com/podcasts/Arts--Culture-Podcasts/Bradbury-100-p1340534/

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bradbury-100-celebrating-the-centenary-of-ray-bradbury/id1521151939

Google Podcasts: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5zb3VuZGNsb3VkLmNvbS91c2Vycy9zb3VuZGNsb3VkOnVzZXJzOjg0NDg0MTEyMi9zb3VuZHMucnNz

Friday, July 10, 2020

My new podcast, Bradbury 100, is getting closer! The first episode will be released on July 25th. I currently have five interviews in the can, with another three lined up to be recorded in the coming week.

Here's the new trailer to give you a taste of what's ahead...



Saturday, June 27, 2020

Coming Soon... Bradbury 100 podcast



Bradbury 100 is my new podcast - a celebration of the centenary year of Ray Bradbury. This will be a limited-run series, with about ten episodes, where I aim to bring together fans, friends and scholars of Bradbury.

Among the interviews I already have in the can are those with the novelist and author of Searching for Ray Bradbury, Steven Paul Leiva; and the managing director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, Jason Aukerman.

You'll be able to subscribe to the podcast through any good podcast app, or listen here on Bradburymedia. Watch out for updates, where I will give all the details.

UPDATE! You can now subscribe to Bradbury 100 via iTunes/Apple Podcasts, and other podcast directories will follow. At present, your podcast feed will only pick up the trailer, but episodes will begin to appear in August late July.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Bradbury Centenary: Dandelion Wine live reading

The Ray Bradbury centenary/centennial year continues with various events taking place online instead of in the real world. Of course, we've lost some big events such as Comic-Con San Diego, which was due to celebrate Bradbury 100, but some previously localised events will now be accessible globally, such as...



Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine Arts & Music Festival - this event usually takes place in Ray's home town of Waukegan, in the city's Bowen Park. This year, it is going online. One of its centrepiece events will be a non-stop reading of the novel Dandelion Wine, starting at 10am CDT and projected to run through to 8pm CDT.

We are promised "celebrity Bradbury fans reading from around the galaxy". I'm not sure who else is in the cast list, but one of the readers will be me, so the event certainly has an intercontinental reach... I'm due to read the section of Dandelion Wine which ws originally published as the short story "The Night" (1946).

The Dandelion Wine reading will be streamed live on Facebook. If you'd like to dip in, you'll find further information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1124476531218342/ 

When I read through the story this morning to refresh my memory, I was reminded that this story refers to a number of streets and landmarks in "Green Town", the fictionalised version of Waukegan where Dandelion Wine is set. I blogged about the parallels between the fictional and real town some years ago, here: http://bradburymedia.blogspot.com/2006/10/green-town-illinois.html

And "The Night" also plays on the town's fear of murderous criminal "the Lonely One". Although fictionalised by Bradbury, there really was a "Lonely One" in Waukegan. I researched him a few years ago, and exclusively revealed his true story here: https://bradburymedia.blogspot.com/2009/09/revealed-lonely-one.html

I hope you will be able to join us for the reading.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Lockdown Choices: Something Wicked This Way Comes

This is another in my series of Lockdown Choices, where I seek to entertain you while in coronavirus-isolation, and remind you of Ray Bradbury's great works in this, his centenary year.

In these posts, I cover each of Bradbury's books, say something about the contents, then pick the best stories and adaptations.


Lockdown Choices: Something Wicked This Way Comes

First edition, Simon & Schuster 1962. Cover art by Gray Foy.


The Book

Something Wicked is Ray Bradbury's twelfth(ish) book, depending how you count them. At this point, I've more or less given up! It is - definitely - his first true novel. What do I mean by that? Well, The Martian Chronicles looks something like a novel, but it's really a collection of previously-published short stories, stitched together into a new patchwork. Fahrenheit 451 is barely long enough to count as a novel (it's more of a novella), and in any case is an expansion of a previously published short story, "The Fireman". And Dandelion Wine also looks something like a novel, but is really another collection of previously-published short stories, stitched together into a new patchwork.

And that leaves us with the present volume, the definitely, no question about it, never before published original novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. 

Except... It's not an original work... Now, before you start screaming, let me explain: this novel has its origins in a previously-published short story, "The Black Ferris" (1948). Bradbury used this short story as the springboard for an expanded work called The Dark Carnival.

"Dark Carnival? Yeah, I've heard of that. Bradbury's first book, long out of print."

Er, no. THE Dark Carnival, a film script Bradbury wrote for Gene Kelly in the 1950s. A film script which Kelly was unable to get studio support for, and which was therefore abandoned, never to be filmed. Leading Bradbury to re-write it as the novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Something Wicked, therefore, is a novelisation of a film script!

"The Black Ferris" is a fast-moving short story whose location is barely dwelt upon, but passing references to a lake, a ravine and a boarding house clearly place this story in the familiar Bradbury universe. It’s not explicitly named as Green Town, Illinois, but it’s clearly the same place. It's about two boys who sneak out to a fairground, and accidentally witness some strange shenanigans: a man climbs aboard a ferris wheel, runs it backwards, and gets off - but when he gets off, he's a small child. The child runs into town, commits a crime, then returns to age himself once again on the ferris wheel. The story is pure fantasy, of course, but with a great central gimmick.

Mr Cooger, after the ferris wheel runs out of control. Illustration for "The Black Ferris", Weird Tales, May 1948.
By the time Ray got round to developing this story into something longer, he had settled on a carousel for the ageing/de-ageing device. I have a pet theory on how this happened: a ferris wheel has no obvious sense of going forwards or backwards. A carousel, on the other hand, has horses to indicate the direction of spin; if you see a carousel going backwards, you know something is awry.

British first edition of Something Wicked. Hart-Davis, 1963. Cover art by Joe Mugnaini.

"The Black Ferris" gives us one incident that would later be expanded in Something Wicked. But all the other elements and characters come from that screenplay I mentioned, which Bradbury drafted between 1955 and 1959. This contains most of the plot and characters that you find in the novel, although there are some key differences. The principal one is that the character we know as Mr Halloway in the novel is actually a merger of two characters from the screenplay (one is a father, the other a library janitor). It was fairly late in the drafting of the novel that Bradbury hit upon the idea of merging them into one. Other differences include the character names - Peter and Hank, rather than Jim and Will, for example. This reveals the connection to "The Black Ferris", whose twin protagonists are also Pete and Hank. Oh, and Mr Dark - such an important and iconic figure of evil in the novel - is unnamed and rarely seen in the screenplay. He was something of an afterthought, and only really developed as Bradbury converted his screenplay into a novel.

That 1950s screenplay has been published, albeit in a limited edition, Dawn to Dusk: Cautionary Travels (Gauntlet Press, 2011). There you will see it presented as "a screen treatment", although it is sufficiently long and detailed as to really be a full, first draft screenplay. "First draft" really needs to be emphasised, since this version of the story is somewhat unstructured. It has some beautiful scenes which would carry over into the novel virtually unchanged, but the story logic that gets us from scene to scene is sometimes lacking. This isn't a criticism, it's just a fact of life with first draft scripts. In all my study of Bradbury's screenwriting over the years, I've seen very little evidence of Ray starting out with a structured outline. On the contrary, all the evidence points to him just sitting at the keyboard and typing whatever came into his head, exactly the process he recommended for writing short stories. The structure would come later, as he found it within the first draft, and worked to shape it and strengthen it in later drafts.

Dawn to Dusk, Gauntlet 2011. Edited by Bradbury's bibliographer Donn Albright, this limited edition contains one of Bradbury's 1950s screenplay drafts for The Dark Carnival, the basis for the 1962 novel Something Wicked. The wraparound cover art reproduces a Joe Mugnaini painting.

Once Bradbury was sure that the screenplay wasn't going to be filmed, he set about novelising it. In the various stages of his process, he experimented with point of view. One draft of the novel was written in the first person, from the viewpoint of Will Halloway. The working title at this stage became Jamie and Me. Finally, Bradbury switched back to third person narration as he finalised the novel into the form we know it today, and eventually settled on the Shakespearean title Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you've ever wondered why the book seems to spend a bit more time with Will and his thoughts (rather than Jim and his thoughts), it's probably because Will was the narrator during those earlier stages.
 

The Stories

In this section I usually write about individual stories making up a collection, but in the case of a novel that doesn't really work. Instead, as I did with Fahrenheit 451, I'll write about the best scenes in the book.


Mr Cooger becomes a child - the scene developed directly from "The Black Ferris". For all of the effectiveness and economy of "The Black Ferris", the developed version of the scene in the novel approaches perfection. Remember that here Bradbury needs to establish the logic of how this familiar-yet-strange machine works. It has to support not just a single episode in a short story, but the whole weight of the novel - since the carousel turns out to be critical to the novel's denouement. Heavily condensed, here is how Bradbury does it (in chapter 18):
          With a pop, a bang, a jangle of reins, a lift and a downfall, a rise and descent of brass, the carousel moved.
          [...] The merry-go-round was running, yes, but . . .
          It was running backward.
          [...] Jim nodded frantically at the man in the machine as he came around the next time.
          Mr. Cooger's face was melting like pink wax.
          His hands were becoming doll's hands.
          [...] The small shape stepped down from the silent world, its face in shadow, but its hands, newborn wrinkled pink, held out in raw carnival lamplight.

From this, you get the mechanism, you get the effect, you get a developing evil. And, carefully controlled on the page through the use of short paragraphs, you get a very clear visual picture of the whole sequence. Bradbury the novelist is here Bradbury the screenwriter, giving us very clear shots and camera angles.



Hiding in the drains - there comes a point (chapter 35) when Will and Jim are on the run from the evil carnival. They hide in a storm drain, and have to suffer in silence as they witness the evil Mr Dark verbally sparring with Mr Halloway, directly above them. This scene comes directly from Bradbury's earliest screenplay drafts, and it plays out the same way there as it does in the novel. Once Bradbury has a good, strong scene, he knows it, and will hone it to perfection, as he has done here.
          The cloudy sun poured light through all the sky.
          The two boys, boxed in light-slotted pit, hisstled their breath softly out through gritted teeth.
          [Will] gazed up . . . Dad looked even smaller up there than he had last night.
          [...] "Sir," said the man named Dark, probing Charles Halloway's face [...], "the Cooger-Dark Combined Shows have picked two local boys, two! to be our special guests during our celebratory visit!"
          [...]"Two selected from photos snapped on our midway yesterday. Identify them, sir, and you will share their fortune. There are the boys.
          He sees us down here! thought Will. Oh, God!
Again, Bradbury beautifully controls the "camera" through which we witness events. We shift seamlessly from down below with the boys, to up above with the two men, and back again. By having one scene play out, witnessed from below, he is able to rack up the Hitchcockian suspense of the scene. It's no surprise that this scene turns up almost unchanged in the 1983 feature film which was eventually made of Something Wicked (see below).


In the library - Mr Dark tracks down the boys to the library, but first encounters Mr Halloway again. Dark is amused to find that Halloway has been researching Cooger & Dark's carnival, and mocks Halloway's confidence that a Bible will protect him. "How childish and refreshingly old fashioned," Dark says as he proceeds to riffle the pages of the holy book, blowing smoke on the pages as he does so.

Shortly thereafter, Dark hunts the boys among the library shelves. They are terrified in amongst the books, but Dark quietly, patiently, climbs the shelves until:
          The eyes of the Illustrated Man came abreast of the eleventh shelf.
          Like a corpse laid rigid out, face down just three inches away, was Jim Nightshade.
          One shelf further up in the catacomb, eyes trembling with tears, lay William Halloway.
          "Well," said Mr. Dark.
          He reached a hand to pat Will's head.



The Adaptations

You're probably aware of the 1983 Disney film based on the novel, which has a screenplay credited to Ray Bradbury himself. But there had been a series of earlier attempts to get the novel on the screen - even after Ray had given up his 1950s efforts with Gene Kelly.

In the 1970s, Bradbury teamed with the legendary Sam Peckinpah, and created quite the most literal screenplay adaptation of a novel I've ever seen. Perhaps influenced by Peckinpah's claim that he could film the novel just by ripping the pages out of the book and stuffing them into the camera, Bradbury's 1974 script is a scene-by-scene transposition of the entire novel into screenplay form. It runs to 262 pages, which would lead to a running time of around four-and-a-half hours if filmed. Actually, it's a little unfair to call it just a transposition, because it does introduce some small new elements, and it is a very well written script. But it's a bit naive to think that converting every scene into screenplay format will produce a well balanced film.

A couple of years later, Bradbury wrote another screenplay based on Something Wicked. This wasn't a simple condensation of the 1974 script, but a completely new attempt. Finished in 1976, this version was to have been directed by Jack Clayton, for Paramount. Clayton and Bradbury had met in England back in the 1950s, when Bradbury was working on the screenplay for Moby Dick. They had a lot of common interests, and maintained a long-running correspondence for years, always hoping that at some point they would work together on a film. In 1976, it looked as if Something Wicked would be it. Unfortunately, the project fell apart as film projects often do - changes at the top of the studio, that sort of thing.

Finally, around 1981, the film was back on, this time at Disney. Bradbury's script was revised, and they were ready to go. Unfortunately, Clayton also got one of his writer friends (John Mortimer, of Rumpole of the Bailey fame) to give the script a little polish. And omitted to tell Bradbury. It was only when they were facing each other in a script meeting that Bradbury discovered Clayton's working draft was different. This put something of a chasm between Bradbury and Clayton, causing Bradbury to continue to work through gritted teeth all the time that he was talking to the press about the film.

The magnificent Jonathan Pryce as Mr Dark leads the parade in the 1983 Disney film.

It's worth mentioning at this point that Bradbury was generally happy for directors and other writers to make changes to his work. He was occasionally delighted when this happened (as with Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, which has some major points of departure from the novel it is based on), and occasionally disappointed (as with Jack Smight's abysmal The Illustrated Man).

But in the case of Something Wicked, the contractually official title was Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Bradbury was the sole credited screenwriter. To turn up to work and find you had been re-written, behind your back, by a director you considered to be a friend... beggars belief. But it's all too common in Hollywood.

When the completed film was screened to a preview audience, it was considered a disaster. Chances are, it was the wrong audience for the film. This is another thing that's all too common in Hollywood: relying on the judgment of an audience who typically haven't even paid to see the film. (Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons is the classic example of a studio going into a panic after a bad screening.)

But the poor preview screening gave Bradbury an opportunity to take back control. He made strong suggestions for re-editing and partially re-shooting the film, and some of these suggestions did shape the film's re-making. The autumnal scenes that open and close the film were Bradbury's suggestion, as is the voice-over narration (spoken by Arthur Hill), which brings an authorial tone close to what we find in the book.

In later life, Bradbury would go so far as to claim that he had directed the film during this re-make period, but this is a gross overstatement. While he was influential over some of the narrative re-structuring, my own study of the studio memos and call sheets (in the Bradbury papers held by the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis) shows that the real directorial control was in the hands of the Disney special effects department. Clayton was present throughout the re-shoots, and Bradbury made himself as available as he could, but both of them were largely sidelined as the technical team worked to knock the film into shape for release. Most of the changes made were to effects-based sequences, and some non-effects sequences were enhanced by having visual effects added. An example of the latter is the subtle addition of flames as Mr Dark rips pages from a book in the library sequence - and this is an enhancement that really works, making a dramatically powerful scene even stronger.

Sadly, the whole affair broke the friendship of Bradbury and Clayton. While they together stood firm against some aspects of the Disney "machine", once it was over they never spoke again.

While there has been talk of a new film version of Something Wicked, there is still no sign of one at the time of writing. But there have been adaptations for other media. Bradbury wrote a stage play based on his novel, some time in the 1990s. It is available for purchase from Dramatic Publishing. It's a fairly direct adaptation, and (judging by a performance I saw about ten years ago) in some places a little awkward it its use of the stage. But the key scenes that work in the novel also work well in the play.

That same play script was used for the Colonial Theatre radio play production in 2007. This production, inevitably stripped of the constraints of the stage, arguably works better than a conventional theatre production, leaving the listener's imagination to fill in the scenery.

Colonial Radio Theatre used Ray Bradbury's theatrical play as the script for their full-cast audio dramatisation. Only the smallest adjustments had to be made to the script.

BBC Radio also made their own full-cast audio production back in 2011, but using an original script by Diana Griffiths. I don't think this was ever commercially released, but it has been given a repeat airing a couple of time.

And even "The Black Ferris", the short story which started it all, was adapted for The Ray Bradbury Theatre. The 1990 episode was scripted by Bradbury himself, and directed in New Zealand by Roger Tompkins.





Find Out More...

Read my review of the Colonial Theatre radio production of Something Wicked, here.

Learn who else might have directed Something Wicked if history had played out differently, in my blog post here.

British novelist Kingsley Amis was a leading proponent of science fiction, but didn't get on so well with fantasy. Read about his scathing review of Something Wicked, in my blog post here.



See...

Bradbury adapted "The Black Ferris" for his TV series, The Ray Bradbury Theater. You can watch this prototype for Something Wicked here.

In 2011, artist Ron Wimberley created a graphic novel adaptation of the Bradbury book. You can see a preview of some of the pages here.


Next Up...

The next of my Lockdown Choices will be the restrospective re-mix collection, R is for Rocket.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

From Dark Carnival to The Small Assassin...

You'd be forgiven for getting confused over the apparently endless re-shuffling of stories between Ray Bradbury's early collections. I know I am.

To clear my own mind, I created this table which shows the six basic editions of Dark Carnival, The October Country and The Small Assassin.

To get some insight into why this re-shuffling came about, read my "Lockdown posts" on those three books. But, in brief, it was a combination of editor preference for each edition, combined with Bradbury opportunistically tweaking his table of contents each time a new edition was in preparation.

Bradbury once wrote something to the effect that he didn't believe in re-writing his younger self, and that he let his books stand as originally written. Please don't believe him. It's just not true. Ray was an inveterate re-writer and table-of-contents-tweaker!

The table below puts the various stories in alphabetical order. And it probably has some errors, although I've double-checked it eight times over... Click on the table to make it bigger.

The Dark Carnival/October Country/Small Assassin re-shuffle. Click to embiggen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lockdown Choices - The Small Assassin

This is the tenth in my series of Lockdown Choices, where I seek to entertain you while in coronavirus-isolation, and remind you of Ray Bradbury's great works in this, his centenary year.

In these posts, I cover each of Bradbury's books, say something about the contents, then pick the best stories and adaptations.


Lockdown Choices: The Small Assassin


First edition, paperback, Ace 1962. The Small Assassin is a British book with no direct US counterpart. Cover artist unknown.

 

The Book

The Small Assassin is, to us Brits, as essential a Bradbury volume as any other. But it is solely a British volume, with no equivalent in the US. It contains thirteen stories, all of them "leftovers" from the UK editions of Dark Carnival and The October Country. How this came about is bit difficult to explain...

  1. Ray's usual British paperback publisher Corgi Books turned down the option to publish The October Country, as they didn't feel that a book of horror stories matched their usual style.
  2. In 1961, Ace Books stepped in and bought The October Country, but decided to drop seven of the stories ("The Next in Line", "The Lake", "The Small Assassin", "The Crowd", "Jack-in-the-Box", "The Man Upstairs", and "The Cistern". Although they also decided to add "The Traveller", which had appeared in Dark Carnival, but not in The October Country.
  3.  (Are you with me so far? There will be a quiz later.)
  4. In 1962, Ace took those seven deleted stories, put them together with the remaining six stories from Dark Carnival, and issued the result as The Small Assassin. The table of contents of the resulting volume is here.
Another way of looking at it is to say that if you have the UK paperback of The October Country and the UK paperback The Small Assassin, you have in your possession the complete contents of the outt-of-print UK edition of Dark Carnival. (But don't forget that the UK Dark Carnival is a cut-down version of the US edition!)

As far as I am aware, there has never been a hardcover edition of The Small Assassin; it has spent its entire existence in paperback. The last edition to see print was the Grafton edition of 1986. In its twenty-four years in print, it had just three more cover designs, all of them somewhat mismatched to the contents:

The three subsequent covers for The Small Assassin. The art for the middle one is by Richard Clifton-Dey. The others are uncredited. I have a particular dislike for the baby alien/robot on the right, who adorned the first edition I ever owned. He is so obviously a science-fictional creature, and yet this is so obviously not a science fiction book!


So, it's a book of leftovers. Or, alternatively, another one of those remixes which serve only to confuse the Bradbury collector.




The Stories

Now, I have covered some of the Small Assassin stories already, when I blogged about Dark Carnival and The October Country, so I will not repeat myself here - except to say that I heartily recommend "The Crowd" and "The Lake", which I discussed here. As for the others:

"The Small Assassin" - I've mentioned this tale a few times, and it is one of Ray's most anthologised stories - just look at its number of appreances as recorded on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. In case you've somehow managed to avoid being exposed to this classic tale, I'll summarise it by saying it's the one where a woman suspects that her new-born baby is out to kill her. As David Mogen points out (Ray Bradbury, Twayne 1986, p.57) this is a reverse of the monster/innocent victim scenario we would normally expect in a horror tale - and is an instance of "parent abuse" rather than child abuse!

It's classic Bradburyan paranoia of the type we have seen in "The Crowd", "The Wind", "Skeleton" and "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl". And as with most of those stories, the paranoid protagonist turns out to be justified in their paranoia. Bradbury, in his classic horror period, was never one to leave the reader to decide; he nearly always set things up to make you think the hero is crazy, then make you empathise with them, and then vindicate them.

Alice Leiber, the mother, is proof that Bradbury can write strong women characters. You will sometimes hear criticisms that most of his characters are male, especially in something like The Martian Chronicles. But he does have a number of memorable strong females. And if he adheres to the Hitchcockian motto of "torture the heroine", he can at least be defended on the grounds that, actually, he usually tortures his male heroes as well.

The unsung star of "The Small Assassin" is Dr Jeffers, the sceptical doctor whose role is to calm and placate Alice. Until he ends up convinced that she is right...

One last thing to say about "The Small Assassin": it may have its origins, in a sense, in Bradbury's own experience. One of Bradbury's oddest claims was that he remembered his own birth. "Preposterous", I hear you cry; and I cry the same thing. Nevertheless, Ray insisted that he could recall "the camera angle" as he emerged into this world, as well as the pain of being born, and his infant desire to return back to the womb. Whether you believe it or not (and I don't, not for one minute), it was this "memory" which provided the germ of the idea of a child which resents being born, and which desires to exact revenge on those responsible. Bradbury's account is given in countless interviews, but is most clearly explained in Sam Weller's biography, The Bradbury Chronicles (Wm. Morrow, 2005, p. 12).



"The Next in Line" - again, one that I've mentioned before. Again, it's a story with its roots in Bradbury's personal experience, this time based on his visit to Guanajuato in Mexico, where he saw the mummies in the catacombs. The story is what Sam Weller describes as "one of the most powerful stories [...], a psychologically complex creation, dripping with gothic atmosphere [...] Bradbury at his poetic best."

Here's the first view we get as our protagonists enter the graveyard on their way to the mummies:

         It was several mornings after the celebratory fiesta of El Dia de Muerte, the Day of the Dead, and ribbons and ravels of tissue and sparkle-tape still clung like insane hair to the raised stones, to the hand-carved, love-polished crucifixes, and to the above-ground tombs which resembled marble jewel-cases. There were statues frozen in angelic postures over gravel mounds, and intricately carved stones tall as men with angels spilling all down their rims, and tombs as big and ridiculous as beds put out to dry in the sun after some nocturnal accident. And within the four walls of the yard, inserted into square mouths and slots, were coffins, walled in, plated in by marble plates and plaster, upon which names were struck and upon which hung tin pictures, cheap peso portraits of the inserted dead. Thumb-tacked to the different pictures were trinkets they'd loved in life, silver charms, silver arms, legs, bodies, silver cups, silver dogs, silver church medallions, bits of red crape and blue ribbon. On some places were painted slats of tin showing the dead rising to heaven in oil-tinted angels' arms.
And the mummies themselves:

          They resembled nothing more than those preliminary erections of a sculptor, the wire frame, the first tendons of clay, the muscles, and a thin lacquer of skin. They were unfinished, all one hundred and fifteen of them.
          They were parchment-colored and the skin was stretched as if to dry, from bone to bone. The bodies were intact, only the watery humors had evaporated from them.
          "The climate," said the caretaker. "It preserves them. Very dry."
          "How long have they been here?" asked Joseph.
          "Some one year, some five, senor, some ten, some seventy."
 Such precise language in those descriptions - poetic, yes, but with a photographic clarity.

One of the strengths of the story is the way it gradually shifts away from the twin protagonists of Joseph and Marie - they're both together, and Joseph seems to have made their plans for them - to the focus on Marie alone, but with a final shift at the end to Joseph alone (the final shift being for reasons which you will discover when you read the story).

As with "The Small Assassin", there is a strong focus on a central female character here, albeit another "tortured heroine".


 

The Adaptations

"The Small Assassin" has been adapted for visual media a couple of times, and has turned out well each time. The story has a lot of visual suspense built in, such as the baby's carefully placed toy, intended to cause the mother to trip. Bradbury himself adapted it in 1988 for The Ray Bradbury Theater, and director Chris Charles oversaw a short film version released in 2006.

Dr Jeffers, as played by Cyril Cusack (of Fahrenheit 451 fame) in the RBT production of "The Small Assassin".
The chief suspect in the RBT production of "The Small Assassin".
A troubled mother from the 2006 short film...

...and the dastardly deed committed by the evil child.


"The Next in Line", on the other hand, has worked well on radio. While the story could work well on the screen, it also lends itself to the "better pictures" you often get in the sound-only medium, as evidenced by the BBC Fear on Four series, with a 1992 script by Brian Sibley.

Many of the other stories from The Small Assassin have also been adapted: "The Lake", "The Crowd", "The Man Upstairs", "The Tombstone", "The Handler", "Let's Play Poison" and "The Dead Man" all turned up on The Ray Bradbury Theater, all (of course) dramatised by Bradbury himself. In all, eight stories out of the thirteeen in the book were adapted for that series, probably something of a record.



Find Out More...

See my page for The Small Assassin, here.

Read my review of Bradbury's own screen adaptation of "The Small Assassin" here, and my review of the Chris Charles short film here.




Listen and Watch...

Watch Bradbury's TV adaptation of "The Small Assassin" here. And see the trailer for the 2006 short film here.

Read about Brian Sibley's adaptation of "The Next in Line", and listen to a recording of the play here.

 

Next Up...


The next of my Lockdown Choices will be Bradbury's second book of the year 1962: Something Wicked This Way Comes.



Sunday, May 03, 2020

The Breathless 1950s

Ray Bradbury in the 1950s. Photo by Morris Dollens.
If you've been following my posts of late, you will know that I have been working through each of Ray Bradbury's books in order of original publication, explaining a bit about how each book came about, and selecting the best stories and adaptations from each one.

So far, I have covered all the books from the 1940s and 1950s. And what a breathless decade(-and-a-bit) it's been.

By the end of 1959, Bradbury had published nine books: three novels (or packaged to appear like novels), five short story collections, and one children's book.

By the end of 1959, at the age of thirty-nine, he had been publishing short stories for twenty-two years, and had totalled 249 of them. That's an average of 11.3 per year, but with a peak of 24 stories in 1950.

Oh, and he had written screenplays for two feature films which had been made (and at least three others which hadn't been made), and had written about seven TV scripts which had been filmed (and others which hadn't).

This was a phenomenal output, and at a level which no mortal would be able to sustain.

How did he manage it?

It came from his commitment to writing. At various times he would recommend that writers should start a new short story every day. Not finish, start; he would do as much as he could, then put the story-in-progress aside for later revision. Each story completed would be circulated to magazine editors, in hope of a sale.

At other times he would suggest that you complete a story every week, in order to guarantee that you turned out something of quality. (He argued that there's no way anyone could write 52 bad stories in a year.) If you complete - and send out - one story a week, by the end of the year you'd have 52 stories in circulation around the various editors.

In the books he published up to and including 1959, Bradbury had:

  • Revised, collected, revised again, and re-collected his best horror/dark fantasy work in Dark Carnival and The October Country
  • Collected his best science fiction stories in The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man (and Fahrenheit 451)
  • Written one of the enduring classic dystopias, Fahrenheit 451
  • Collected his finest semi-autobiographical stories in Dandelion Wine
  • Broken free of the pulp magazine "ghetto"
  • Established himself as one of the leading twentieth-century fantasists
All of this, and more, before the age of forty.

And... he still had another fifty-some years of active writing ahead of him.

Phew!

Take a breather. Then, when you and I are ready, we'll move on to the 1960s.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lockdown Choices - Issue #9: A Medicine for Melancholy OR The Day It Rained Forever

This is the ninth in my series of Lockdown Choices, where I seek to entertain you while in coronavirus-isolation, and remind you of Bradbury's great works in this, his centenary year.

In these posts, I cover each of Ray Bradbury's books, say something about the contents, then pick the best stories and adaptations.


Lockdown Choice #9: A Medicine for Melancholy or The Day It Rained Forever


First US edition, Doubleday 1959; and first UK edition, Hart-Davis 1959. The US version came out a couple of weeks before the UK version.

The Book

A Medicine for Melancholy was never on my radar. As a Brit, growing up in the UK, we had a similar-but-not-really-the-same book instead: The Day it Rained Forever. To this day I consider the UK title much more poetic than the US one, and the book itself more definitive than the American version. This, of course, wouldn't be the first time that A Bradbury book was renamed for the UK market or had a change of contents when crossing the Atlantic. The Martian Chronicles had gone by the name The Silver Locusts over here, and with some small changes in content; and Dark Carnival had been somewhat truncated in the UK due (we are told) to post-war paper shortages.

A Medicine for Melancholy/The Day it Rained Forever is another short story collection, and like Golden Apples of the Sun it mixes genres quite freely. The stories had nearly all been published before, in various magazines, during the period 1948-1958. Note that by now Bradbury had mopped up nearly all of his science fiction stories in The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man; nearly all of his horror stories in The October Country; and nearly all of his small-town Illinois stories in Dandelion Wine. And this means that what remains to be collected here is mostly not-science-fiction, not-horror, and not-Green-Town.This doesn't bother me at all. But it makes the book difficult to pin down, which inevitably confuses critics and book reviewers who wonder "why is this sci-fi guy not putting much sci-fi in his books?"

According to Eller & Touponce's Ray Bradbury: the Life of Fiction, there was a lot of back-and-forth between Ray Bradbury and his Doubleday editor Walter Bradbury (no relation) over the contents of this collection. A number of older stories (originally published in pulp magazines) were rejected for this volume by Walt, partly because of their pulp origins, but partly because of their age. The rejected tales included "Referent" (from Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1948), "Asleep in Armageddon" (Planet Stories, 1948), "The One Who Waits" (Arkham Sampler, 1949), and "Here There Be Tygers" (from the anthology New Tales of Space and Time, 1951).

British editor Rupert Hart-Davis, on the other hand, was happy with these earlier tales, and with the exception of "The One Who Waits" included them all in the UK book. But Hart-Davis had problems with two stories which didn't trouble Walt Bradbury: the two Irish stories, "The First Night of Lent" and "The Great Collision of Monday Last". According to Eller & Touponce, his objection was that the stories were realist tales which sat uncomfortably in what was otherwise a collection of fantasy tales. I suspect, however, that he may also have considered these to be quite flimsy stories, little more than tall tales.

Probably the most confusing re-mix of contents in going from a US edition to a British edition: mapping the contents of Melancholy (US book) to Forever (UK book). Titles in red are unique to their repective editions. And crucially the story called "A Medicine for Melancholy" didn't make it across to the UK edition, perhaps prompting the change of title for the book as a whole. (Click to embiggen if you can't read the small print!)

As with a number of other Bradbury collections, A Medicine for Melancholy/The Day it Rained Forever suffered the problem of reshuffled contents in the years that followed. Beware of Twice 22 (1966) which slams together the contents of Melancholy and Golden Apples. And of Classic Stories 2 (1990), which merges Melancholy with S is for Space. And be especially aware of A Medicine for Melancholy AND OTHER STORIES (1998), which is nothing more than a re-badging of Classic Stories 2, while giving the false impression that it is the original Medicine for Melancholy.

Both the US and UK books have cover art by Joe Mugnaini, but there is alas no interior art in either volume.


The Stories

Although I don't particularly care for the Irish stories "The First Night of Lent" and "The Great Collision of Monday Last", I should mention them briefly here since they mark the first appearance (or not, as far as the British version of the book is concerned) of a wealth of stories which Bradbury came to generate as a result of his time spent in Ireland working with John Huston on the screenplay for Moby Dick (1953-54; the film was released in 1956). There would be plenty more of these over the following decades, as short stories, stage plays, and - eventually - the autobiographical novel Green Shadows, White Whale.

Now, onto my picks of the best stories in the book(s):

"The Day it Rained Forever" - this story was selected for The Best American Short Stories for 1958, the last time that Ray received that particular honour. It's Bradbury at his evocative best. Not only does he make you feel the persistent heat of the drought-stricken ghost of a town, he lets you feel the relief of the eventual rain. And to cap it off, the literal rain is brought by the metaphorical, musical rain of a harp being played:
All night the memory of the sun stirred in every room like the ghost of an old forest fire [...]
Miss Hillgood played.
She played and it wasn't a tune they knew at all, but it was a tune they had heard a thousand times in their long lives, words or not, melody or not. She played and each time her fingers moved, the rain fell pattering through the dark hotel. The rain fell cool at the open windows and the rain rinsed down the baked floorboards of the porch. The rain fell on the rooftop and fell on hissing sand, it fell on rusted car and empty stable and dead cactus in the yard.
I'm pretty sure that I didn't "get" this story the first time I encountered it. Oh, I understood what was happening all right, but I didn't appreciate what Bradbury was doing linguistically. But after many years of reading everything he ever wrote, I have come to admire the ease with which he creates such a powerful impact.


"In a Season of Calm Weather" - a story which is also sometimes known by the alternative title "The Picasso Summer" (or just "Picasso Summer"). It's a very slight tale indeed: man obsessed with the artist Picasso visits region associated with Picasso; spies the artist on the beach effortlessly making pictures in the sand; sees the pictures washed away by the waves. What's beautiful here is the understated meditation on ephemeral art. Our hero, for a brief moment, considers grabbing a bucket and scooping up the sand before he realises that the value lies in the images, not in the artist's "canvas".


"Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" - one of Ray's best Martian stories, necessarily dropped out of consideration for The Martian Chronicles because its plot would somewhat pre-empt that book's ending. In "Dark They Were", earth people gradually, literally turn into Martians - so that when a future batch of Earthlings arrive on the red planet, they find what they think are native Martians. If you remember The Martian Chronicles, you'll know that the punchline of the final story is essentially that "we are the Martians now".

One of the older stories in the book, "Dark They Were" was originally published under the title "The Naming of Names" in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1949. Illustration by Rafael Astarita.


"The End of the Beginning" - this one tells of the parents of the first astronaut, and their excitement, elation and fear on the night of their son’s launch into space. It begins with the father mowing the lawn one summer night, a scene straight out of Bradbury’s own Dandelion Wine. Mother declares she never understood the ‘because it’s there’ argument for climbing Mount Everest; Father posits the first space launch as part of a critical turning point in the history of humankind:
"Don’t know where they’ll divide the Ages, at the Persians who dreamt of flying-carpets, or the Chinese who all unknowing celebrated birthdays and New Years with strung ladyfingers and high skyrockets […] But we’re in at the end of a billion years’ trying, the end of something long and to us humans, anyway, honourable".

The father declares that the species will move on out to the planets and the stars, echoing the long American tradition of expansion, and giving a view of space travel that would, over succeeding decades, become distinctively Bradbury’s, not only in fiction but in his personal pontifications in interviews and lectures:

"We’ll just keep on going until the big words like immortal and for ever take on meaning […] Gifted with life, the least we can do is preserve and pass on the gift to infinity […]"
 Although the story is quite slight (I've been using that word a lot in connection with the stories in this book), it somewhat haunted Bradbury. When he wrote his 1961 screenplay for The Martian Chronicles (which was never filmed), he incorporated this story, taking advantage of its double-whammy: the oh-so-domestic setting, and its rich philosophising.

"The End of the Beginning" was also a re-titling: it had first appeared as "Next Stop: the Stars" in Macleans, October 1956. Illustration by Bruce Johnson.


"The Town Where No One Got Off" - this one I like just for it's simple premise: that when crossing the US by train, you see town after town where no one ever gets off. Except that in this story, the protagonist decides that he will. The consequences of this choice are interesting, too. But I'll leave you to explore that for yourself...


"The Gift" - one of Bradbury's shortest short stories. This is the one where a child is taken into space at Christmas, as a gift. It's his first trip, and he is shown the stars. And if the story itself isn't short and sweet enough, just see how it was perfectly illustrated when it was first published:

"The Gift" first appeared in Esquire in 1952, with this perfect reaction-shot illustration by Ren Wickes.

The Adaptations

Melancholy/Forever has spun off some of the oddest adaptations of Bradbury's work. He re-worked "The Gift" into an episode of the TV series Steve Canyon - replacing the trip-into-space with a night flight in an aircraft. It's a decent episode, but a very unexpected transposition of the story.

And then there's The Picasso Summer, the bizarre (in a bad way) expansion of a very short story into a long and meandering film. Ray wrote the original script himself, hoping to talk some French luminary director into making the film. He approached Jean Renoir and Francois Truffaut, both of whom declined the invitation. In the end it was shot by Serge Bourguignon, who did once win an Oscar - but Picasso Summer turned out to be Bourguignon's fourth and last film. Oh, and Bourguignon was dumped after turning in his rough cut; he was replaced by Robert Sallin, who shot a new ending. There's a clue in the screenwriting credits as to how bad it is: the script is by "Douglas Spaulding", an alias for Ray Bradbury, who wanted to distance himself from the disaster that the film became. Even the producer Wes Herschensohn knew what a train-wreck this film was: he wrote a book about the whole sorry affair, Resurrection in Cannes.

Producer Herschensohn tried to persuade the real Pablo Picasso to appear in Picasso Summer - the photo on the left shows them meeting in a restaurant. But the film settled for a stand-in lookey-likey, Deke Fishman. Photos from Herschensohn's book Resurrection in Cannes (A.S.Barnes, 1979).


But there are some good adaptations out there:

Ray himself turned "The Day it Rained Forever" (the short story) into a stage play and, later, a script for The Ray Bradbury Theater TV series. Both are decent pieces of writing, and the TV episode isn't a bad filming of the script. However, at last half of the impact of the short story comes from the evocative, descriptive language - and this can't be directly captured on film.

Ray also did a decent job on "The Town Where No One Got Off" for The Ray Bradbury Theater, one of the early batch of episodes. It starred Jeff Goldblum in a fairly decent recreation of the original story. In these early days of RBT, Ray would introduce each story. For this episode, he acts out a little scene - with legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball! (See "Adaptations" below for a link.)

Ray also adapted "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit" for stage and for screen. The film version, given a limited DVD-only release by Disney in 1998, was directed by horror-meister Stuart Gordon. It sounds an unlikely combination, but Gordon had previously directed a successful theatrical production of the play. Ray would have been 77 when the film was released. Not a bad age to be still receiving a "screenplay by" credit from a major Hollywood studio.

Joe Mantegna and Edward James Olmos were among the stars of Stuart Gordon's 1998 film version of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, scripted by Ray Bradbury.


Find Out More...

Read more about Ray's adaptation of "The Gift" for Steve Canyon in my review, here.

Read "The End of the Beginning" in its first magazine appearance (Macleans), here.


Listen and Watch...

Listen to a full-cast dramatisation of "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" from the radio series Bradbury 13, here.

Watch Ray Bradbury act (with animator Ward Kimball) in the introductory scenes to "The Town Where No One Got Off" from The Ray Bradbury Theater, here.


Next Up...

The next of my Lockdown Choices will be a British book which has no direct US counterpart: The Small Assassin!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Lockdown Choices - Issue #8: Dandelion Wine

This is the eighth in a new series of posts, my Lockdown Choices, where I seek to entertain you while in coronavirus-isolation, and remind you of Bradbury's great works in this, his centenary year.

In these posts, I cover each of Ray Bradbury's books, say something about the contents, then pick the best stories and adaptations.

Lockdown Choice #8: Dandelion Wine

First edition, Doubleday 1957. Cover design by Robert Vickrey.
 


The Book

Dandelion Wine was Ray Bradbury's first book for Doubleday in four years, the last being 1953's The Golden Apples of the Sun. In the interim, he had published a children's book through a specialist publisher and two books with Ballantine. Although it may look like he had gone away from Doubleday and then come back, in reality it was a case of Dandelion Wine being delayed because he was having trouble finishing it.

Bradbury's original concept for what became Dandelion Wine dates back to the mid-1940s. He drafted various brief outlines - often just a list of short story titles - called The Small Assassins, The Wind of Time, The Blue Remembered Hills and Summer Morning, Summer Night. The project evolved from being a set of stories about children and childhood, to including a conflict between children and the elderly. As with The Martian Chronicles, various short stories would be written and published first, as the book gradually came together as another of Bradbury's "composite novels" or "novelised story-cycles. (See my blog post on The Martian Chronicles for more on this concept.) The end result is a partly-biographical story of one summer in the life of young Douglas Spaulding.

By the 1950s, Bradbury had published a number of the short stories, but still had very little of the linking material that could tie everything together into anything resembling an overall narrative. We can only assume that, once again, he was being driven to create a "proper" novel either from his sense of what consititutes the true output of an author, or that he was being steered to the novel form by his editor. That editor, Walter Bradbury (no relation), was in fact convinced that Summer Morning, Summer Night would be a breakthrough book for Ray, his big opportunity to escape from the genre ghetto(es) that had both started and restricted his career.

Since the Dandelion Wine stories were mainly "realist" (rather than science fiction or fantasy), Bradbury was able to place them in all kinds of magazines. The short story called "Dandelion Wine" appeared first in this issue of Gourmet: the Magazine of Good Living!


Through all this time Bradbury referred to his novel-in-progress, with its fluctuating title, as "the Illinois novel", a shorthand reference to the setting of this semi-autobiographical work. The specific setting was, of course, the fictitious Green Town, a thinly disguised portrayal of Ray's real hometown of Waukegan.

By 1954, Ray had a mass of story material, with way too many characters and plot threads for a single novel. Where he been able to get away with this in The Martian Chronicles because of the enormous spatial and temporal dimensions of that book (it tells the story of two whole planets over a span of thirty years), it would just be confusing with only the small scale of Green Town and one summer as a setting.

Things began to focus in a New York meeting between Ray, Walter Bradbury, and Ray's agent Don Congdon. The three discussed various ways forward, with a proposed three-pronged assault on the overlong text: Ray should trim out some of the characters (and merge some others); he should make the book less episodic, by spreading some of the stories out throughout the book; and he should develop and enrich the secondary child characters, the ones who the central characters Tom and Doug interact with. But even with these three resolutions, Ray struggled to make the book work.

"Summer in the Air" first appeared in Saturday Evening Post in February 1956. Artwork by Amos Sewell.
Reader responses to "Summer in the Air". Bradbury's little story of buying new sneakers clearly struck a chord with Post readers.


The breakthrough came when both Bradburys - Ray and Walter - came to the realisation that there might actually be two books here. There was the beautifully developing narrative of Douglas Spaulding during the year that he realised "I'm alive!" - and there was a set of sketches of the town and the people of Green Town. Ray wasted no time in rearranging the contents, arriving quite rapidly at Dandelion Wine as we now know it, and the set of other stories which would many decades later finally emerge as Farewell Summer (2006).

Oh yes, when you see Farewell Summer advertised as a "sequel" to Dandelion Wine, you are being slightly misled. They genuinely were conceived as two parts of a single work.

Tracking the exact development of the contents of Dandelion Wine as it evolved is far too complex for me to attempt here. Fortunately, however, those super-scholars Eller and Touponce have already done it. In their 2004 book Ray Bradbury: the Life of Fiction they include the following table which shows three stages of development. And since Dandelion Wine is usually published without chapter titles or chapter numbers, this table is also a handy indicator of which parts were originally short stories and which parts were written as bridging material.

Three stages in Ray's development of Dandelion Wine, from Eller & Touponce's Ray Bradbury: the Life of Fiction, p. 231 (Kent State University Press, 2004). Click to embiggen.

Incidentally, there is a Bradbury book called Summer Morning, Summer Night - but this is one of those instances of Bradbury re-deploying a title. The 2008 book with that title is a rag-bag collection of left-overs from the Dandelion Wine/Farewell Summer project.



The Stories

Dandelion Wine is a bit tricky to navigate. Although the bulk of the content is made up of short stories which were originally published separately, there are no chapter headings. If I refer you to "Statues", could you find it in the book?

Unfortunately, there's no way to deal with this issue, so I'll have to leave you to find the stories within the book for yourself...





"Illumination" - OK, this is the easy one. It's the introductory passage. We are introduced to Douglas Spaulding, who introduces his world to us. In fact, he magics the world to life, or at least he thinks he does. Given that Doug is really Ray Bradbury fictionalised, it seems appropriate that Doug is able to awaken the town so that it can play out his story:

He stood at the open window in the dark, took a deep breath and exhaled.

The street lights, like candles on a black cake, went out. He exhaled again and again and the stars began to vanish.

Douglas smiled. He pointed a finger.

There, and there. Now over here, and here . . .

Yellow squares were cut in the dim morning earth as houselights winked slowly on. A sprinkle of windows came suddenly alight miles off in dawn country.

"Everyone yawn. Everyone up."


"The Happiness Machine" - the one about Leo Auffman, inventor, who wants to make a machine that will bring, well, happiness. Eventually, he discovers that such a machine already exists. He takes Doug and Tom to the side of the house to look at the machine. It's nothing more nor less than - a window, through which he can see his family, going about their business. What I find curious about this story is that it represents one of the few moments in the book which has any resemblance at all to Ray's science fiction stories. Of course, here the story denies technology, relying instead on a shift of perspective, a dawning moment for Leo. But then again, isn't all of Bradbury's technology, in all of his stories, just a form of magic?

"The Happiness Machine", Saturday Evening Post, September 1957. Artwork by Fritz Willis.

"Statues" - the one about John Huff leaving town. The whole of Dandelion Wine is about change, discovery and learning - all during what we imagine to be one long, hot summer. One of the things I like about the book is how it captures that childhood feeling that everything goes on forever. Summer holidays did used to last forever, didn't they? But now that you're all grown up, they're over in the blink of an eye. When John Huff, Doug's friend, announces that his family are leaving town, it comes as a devastating blow to Doug, who declares, "You been here in Green Town all my life. You don't just pick up and leave!" I wouldn't exactly say that this is a plotted story - it's more a collection of moments, a series of emotional beats. But that's what makes it ring true.


"The Whole Town's Sleeping" - the one about The Lonely One and the Ravine. If one story sums up Bradbury's fictional Green Town, it's this one. We go with Lavinia Nebbs across town to the theatre, and we travel back with her as she takes a short cut aross the ravine. Which she knows she shouldn't do. And we know it, too. It's a classic tale of suspense. Even if you only ever read one story from Dandelion Wine, please make sure it's this one. Sure, the tone of the story is very different from much of the rest of the book, but it's the fear factor in this story that makes the sugary-sweetness of the rest of the book bearable.


"Good-by, Grandma" - spoiler alert: as the title suggests, this one is about the death of Doug's grandmother. The family can't let her go because, well, who will fix the roof next spring? Although grandma is "just" an old woman, she is clearly the centre of the family's life, depended on for everything. But she wants to go on her terms, not on anybody else's:
 "I don't want any Halloween parties here tomorrow. Don't want anyone saying anything sweet about me; I said it all in my time and my pride. I've tasted every victual and danced every dance; now there's one last tart I haven't bit on, one tune I haven't whistled. But I'm not afraid. I'm truly curious. Death won't get a crumb by my mouth I won't keep and savour. So don't you worry over me. Now, all of you go, and let me find my sleep..."

"Good-by, Grandma" in its first appearance. Saturday Evening Post, May 1957. Artwork by Peter Stevens.

 

The Adaptations

Dandelion Wine is the only one of Bradbury's "classic period" novels to remain unfilmed - in English, that is. There was a Russian adaptation in 1997 which, as far as I can tell as a non-Russian-speaker, looks like it was pretty good. Over the years, there have been several announcements about an English-language film, but nothing has ever come of them. I suspect that, like The Martian Chronicles, there isn't enough of an overarching story for the book to be directly filmable. Although, like Chronicles, it might be suitable for a TV miniseries.

Bradbury himself adapted Dandelion Wine for the stage, in a version which has been presented as straight drama and as a musical. But even he had to invent a whole new storyline to tie everything together: it centers on the mystery of Bill Forrester, a man who returns to Green Town after many years. Bradbury's theatrical script was used for the full-cast audio production of Dandelion Wine made by Colonial Radio Theatre.

A number of stories from the book have been adapted on their own. The out-and-out winner here has to be "The Whole Town's Sleeping", which pre-dates the book by nearly a decade. In fact, the very first public outing of the story was on radio, a good two years before the story ever saw print.

Back in 1948, Ray submitted the story to the radio series Suspense, where it was aired under the title "Summer Night". The story appeared in print in 1950 (in McCall's), then appeared on TV (Suspense, 1952, again as "Summer Night"), and then saw a whole series of repeat radio dramatisations on Suspense and ABC Radio Workshop. The story is also one of Bradbury's most anthologised stories, having appeared in dozens of books and textbooks.

For his TV series The Ray Bradbury Theater, Ray dramatised "The Happiness Machine", "Exorcism" and "The Whole Town's Sleeping".



Find Out More...

  • Read about the Russian film of Dandelion Wine on my page for the film, here.
  • Read about the real-life Lonely One, in my blog post about this petty criminal, here
  • Compare the fictional Green Town to the real-life Waukegan in my blog post, here.
  • Read about Ray's stage play version of Dandelion Wine, which was also the basis for the Colonial Radio Theatre audio production, in my review here.

 

Read...


You can read "Illumination" as it originally appeared in The Reporter, here.

And you can read "Summer in the Air" as it originally appeared in Saturday Evening Post, here.

 

Listen...

"The Whole Town's Sleeping" - the story of Lavinia Nebbs and her fearful crossing of the ravine alone at night - has been adapted for radio countless times. Listen to a version from Suspense, here.


Watch...

View the Russian film Vino iz oduvanchikov here. What's that? You don't understand Russian? Then just watch and try to figure out which stories are being adapted!

 

Next Up...

The next of my Lockdown Choices will be Bradbury's ninth book: A Medicine for Melancholy. Or should that be The Day it Rained Forever?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Best Reference Sources

If you've been following my Lockdown series of posts, you'll know that I like to give background information on Ray's books: how they came to be written and edited. And you might be wondering where I get my information from. Well, here are the answers...

Actually, most of it is in my head, and I simply type it out - and then go fact-checking to make sure I haven't made any mistakes. But how did it get in my head in the first place? I have a number of go-to books, and these are where I have learned most about Bradbury over the years.

The first of these is the magnificent Ray Bradbury: the Life of Fiction, written by the masterful Bradbury scholars Jon Eller and the late Bill Touponce. It's really two books in one, reflecting the authorship of the book, and the specialisms of Jon and Bill. They goes through each of Ray's major works and give you (a) a history of how the book was originally composed, including roads-not-travelled; and (b) a lit.-crit. analysis of each of those works. The history sections are generally the work of Jon Eller, and the lit.-crit. sections are generally by Bill Touponce - although the two did help each other with the revisions of their respective sections.


The reason I find this book so fascinating is that it really uncovers Bradbury's writing process. It's a process of writing, re-writing, and more re-writing. And this is precisely why Bradbury's books tend to be a bit fluid over time, with (for example) various editions of The Martian Chronicles having slightly different contents. And why you will often see the same idea popping up in different works over many years.

My own original research into Bradbury has usually focused on Ray's writing and re-writing in media (film scripts, plays, radio plays etc), and it was amazing to find that Eller & Touponce had uncovered similar quirks in Bradbury's prose fiction as I was finding in his screenwriting. Over the last decade or so, I've had the good fortune of working quite closely with Jon Eller, and there's no doubt that his understanding of Bradbury has rubbed off on me. We both have a fascination with archive materials, and how we can re-construct a sequence of events from a set of archival clues. I was also lucky enough to meet and work with Bill Touponce on a couple of projects, but his approach and mine are very different. Although I admire Bill's analytical and theory-infused writing, it's a form and style that I would struggle to achieve (and usually seek to avoid) in my own writing.

My second go-to book is the profusely illustrated Ray Bradbury: an Illustrated Life by the late Jerry Weist. This is a glorious coffee-table book full of cover art and interior art from nearly all of Ray's career. But it also includes draft artwork, both from the cover artists (especially Joe Mugnaini) and from Ray himself. I'll bet you didn't know that many of Ray's book covers were from Ray's own concepts.



Third is Sam Weller's authorised biography of Ray, The Bradbury Chronicles. It's quite well researched and written in a breezy style. You'll be amazed how quickly Ray's long life flies by as you work through this volume. My only real problem with it as a reference book is that the index is quite inaccurate. Many a time I've looked something up in the index and found that the page references are wrong. I'm not sure what went wrong here. (The ebook version has an obvious advantage, in that you can ignore the index and just do a straight text search.) There are also a couple of instances where Weller reports something that Ray has told him, but hasn't done the follow-up fact-checking that I would expect in a book which generally appears to be well-researched. The case of "the Lonely One" is a particular example which I have discussed before.


Finally, not a book but a whole series of books. Starting with Becoming Ray Bradbury, Jon Eller has produced a trilogy of biographical volumes about Ray and his work. It's sometimes been referred to as a biography of a mind, since it focuses on Ray's developing intellect throughout his career. And since Eller is a meticulous researcher (and the series is published by an academic press), everything is thoroughly referenced and cross-referenced. The third volume, Bradbury Beyond Apollo, is due out later this year, and it traces Ray's evolution through the "space age" and beyond. You'll get to find out how Ray went from being something of an outsider to the science-fiction field to being a spokesman for the genre - and a lauded consultant on anything to do with space and planetary research.


What you won't find a book on is Bradbury's media work - and that's precisely why this Bradburymedia website exists. It was always my aim to focus on this much un-researched area of Ray's activities. So if you're wondering where I get all my film, radio and television-related information from, the answer is: my own research. I've had to dig into archives and find primary sources to track Ray's development as a screenwriter. And I've had a lot of fun doing it!