Sunday, March 11, 2012

The World the Children Made

"The World the Children Made" was the title given to Bradbury's story "The Veldt" when it made its first appearance, in Saturday Evening Post on 23 September 1950.

In that first appearance, the story was accompanied by a magnificent painting (left) by Al Parker. Rather than showing a room which contains a virtual-reality African veldt, Parker paints a veldt which is somehow disrupted by the opening of a door. The painting puts the children firmly in control of this room, by keeping the adult outside, and by giving the boy a stance that says "What do YOU want?"

The story has since become one of Bradbury's classics, anthologised countless times. It has been collected in three of Bradbury's own books: The Illustrated Man, The Vintage Bradbury and The Stories of Ray Bradbury. And it has been adapted for radio, film, television and stage.

The story is an odd morality tale. As so often in Bradbury stories, the people who have a lesson to learn are not the children but the adults. In this story, the children are at best amoral. The adults suffer, but ultimately it's their bad parenting that brings them to a terrible end. (Note how I am trying to avoid discussing the detail of the plot. If you haven't read this story, you really should read it. Now!)

What did the first readers of this story make of it, back in 1950? The letters column of the Saturday Evening Post gives us an answer. Here are some of the readers' comments:

...Let me tell you that Ray Bradbury's story in the September 23rd Post, THE WORLD THE CHILDREN MADE, is a gem. A horribly good story...

...Brother, all I can say is that I'm glad my kiddies are still in the one- and two-syllable reading stages, because if they could soak up that story, I wouldn't dare sleep nights, childhood being what it is...

...I thought it had no interest at all, particularly the ending. Who ever heard of imaginary lions eating real people?...

For those who can't even conceive of what the last reader was describing, the Post provides a little cartoon:


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