Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Lockdown Choices - Issue #4: The Golden Apples of the Sun

This is the fourth 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 #4: The Golden Apples of the Sun

First edition. Doubleday, 1953.

The Book

The Golden Apples of the Sun was Ray Bradbury's fourth book, a collection of science-fictional, fantasy, and "realistic" tales. With Bradbury, of course, "realism" can be very far from our everyday reality, but what I mean here is the type of story which does not hinge upon a science-fictional or fantastical premise.

The book collected twenty-two stories, most of which had previously been published in various magazines between 1944 and 1953. Like Bradbury's first book, Dark Carnival, the stories are presented as is, without any attempt to connect them through a linking narrative. It is therefore the first of Bradbury's Doubleday books to be allowed the luxury of being an undisguised short story collection. (Remember that editor Walter Bradbury (no relation) had asked of Ray, "We've disguised The Martian Chronicles as a novel, do you think we can somehow do the same thing with The Illustrated Man?")

As well as being "just" a collection of short stories, Golden Apples has the distinction of collecting a number of stories which had won awards or had been published in venues of some prestige. "Power House", for example, had won an O. Henry Prize; "The Big Black and White Game" had been selected for Best American Short Stories 1946; and "I See You Never" for Best American Short Stories 1948. And by now, Bradbury's short stories were being collected not just from pulp magazines, but from major-market publications such as American Mercury, Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker. Appearing in these majors brought more than just prestige: they brought better income.

Another distinctive feature of Golden Apples is the art direction. For the first time, Bradbury's work was surrounded by the work of artist Joe Mugnaini. Mugnaini provided both the cover art (see above) and a uniform series of line drawings, one for each story. Mugnaini and Bradbury became good friends, and collaborated repeatedly over the year, to the extent that many readers find the two inextricably linked. Where else might you recognise that Mugnaini style from? For a start, there's that iconic newspaper-fireman from the cover of Fahrenheit 451.

For some reason, the first UK edition of Golden Apples deleted one story, "The Big Black and White Game" - perhaps on the grounds that the baseball theme might be meaningless to British readers. Subsequent UK editions restored the full table of contents, however.

Unfortunately, Golden Apples has become somewhat confusing in more recent times. Somewhere along the line, it became part of a set of editorial mash-ups which resulted in The Golden Apples of the Sun disappearing, and being effectively supplanted by The Golden Apples of the Sun AND OTHER STORIES. This latter title (which usually has "and other stories" written as a whispering footnote) scrambles the order of the stories and mixes in others from elsewhere. And - blasphemy! - removes the Mugnaini illustrations.

For some readers, there's no problem here. It's just a collection of short stories. But to others (i.e. me), the art direction and the running order is all part of "the book". If you're a person who puts their MP3s on shuffle, you probably don't care about this. But if you like to hear, say, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with all the tracks in the right order, then this is a very big deal indeed.

In fact, according to Eller and Touponce, the visual theme of the original book was Bradbury's concept, and was his alternative way of having a consistent authorial thread running throughout the book (Ray Bradbury: the Life of Fiction, p. 367). So taking away the Mugnaini artwork would be the equivalent of removing the linking material from The Martian Chronicles.

Check the small print to see whether you have an actual Golden Apples, or an ...and other stories edition. Current paperback, HarperCollins.

Find out how The Golden Apples of the Sun finally allowed Bradbury to break out of the fantasy/science fiction "ghetto" and gain respect in the mainstream in myBradbury 101 video below. And scroll further down the page for my pick of the best stories from the book.


The Stories

Because of its eclectic nature, pulling in science fiction, fantasy and realistic stories, Golden Apples feels less coherent than any of Bradbury's previous books. But that does set a pattern which would continue through most of his subsequent short-story collections. Here are my personal story picks, perhaps heavily influenced by the fact that this is the first Bradbury book I ever read.

"The Pedestrian" - a really simple concept, and strangely appropriate for the COVID-19 lockdown: in some unspecified future, it is illegal to walk anywhere. Instead, everyone is supposed to stay home and watch TV. Mr Leonard Mead, however, breaks the rules. He goes out (gasp!) for a solitary stroll. Of course, it being the future and everything, he is stopped by what turns out to be... Well, read it for yourself.

According to Bradbury, one day he took his pedestrian out for another stroll - and found himself writing a new story, "The Fireman", which he would later expand into Fahrenheit 451.

Mugnaini illustration for "The Pedestrian".

"The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" - I think this is truly the first piece of fiction I ever read which amazed me, and convinced me that words on a page could be magical and insightful. This when I was, I suppose, twelve years old. It's a simple story of a murder, except that the murderer becomes obsessed with the fingerprints he has left behind. Or probably left behind. Or must have, or possibly left behind. His gradual descent into obsession is masterfully written, and is another fine example of Bradbury constructing a character, even though that's something he is alleged not to be able to do. It's also full of beautifully poetic writing which is also narratively purposeful.

He has forgotten to wash the fourth wall of the room! And while he was gone the little spiders had popped from the fourth unwashed wall and swarmed over the already clean walls, dirtying them again! On the ceilings, from the chandelier, in the corners, on the floor, a million little whorled webs hung billowing at his scream! Tiny, tiny little webs, no bigger than, ironically, your - finger!
As he watched, the webs were woven over the picture frame, the fruit bowl, the body, the floor. Prints wielded the paper knife, pulled out drawers, touched the table top, touched, touched, touched everything everywhere.
 "The Fruit..." was originally published with Bradbury's punning title "Touch and Go!", but he wisely switched to the title the story is now better known by. The significance of the fruit? Our murderous protagonist becomes so obsessed with fingerprints that he cleans even things he knows he didn't ever touch...

"The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" first appeared as "Touch and Go" in Detective Book Magazine, November 1948.

" A Sound of Thunder" - how could I not pick this story? It's one of the most anthologised short stories of all time, and one of the best known science fiction shorts. In case you don't recall this one, it's the one where people go back in time to hunt dinosaurs. Bradbury didn't originate that concept of course, and there are numerous other variations on the theme from other authors. But what Bradbury does so much better than, say, L. Sprague de Camp's "A Gun for Dinosaur", is create a clear connection and contrast between small, selfish actions, and large-scale consequences. And this is why I could also have said, "in case you don't recall this one, it's the one with the butterfly".

"Thunder" was rejected by The Magazine of Fantasy of Science Fiction, whose editor declared it was unbelievable because of the way it handles the time-travel paradox. But Bradbury stuck with his story, believing that the powerful imagery far outweighed any appeal to logic. The story was published instead by the mainstream magazine Collier's. 

"A Sound of Thunder" first appearance. Collier's, 1952.

"The Great Wide World Over There" proof if it were needed that Bradbury can write stories without a science-fictional or fantastical premise. This tale is of Cora, who longs to be like her neighbour and receive letters from far and wide - except that Cora can't read or write. She gets Benjy to send off for things for her. All sorts of things: a free muscle chart, a free health map, information from a detective school, anything that she can eagerly anticipate arriving.

There's a neat little plot within the story, and again a demonstration that Bradbury can craft characters who are tightly bound to his narrative and theme.

Mugnaini illustration for "The Great Wide World Over There".

"Hail and Farewell" - an often overlooked story of a boy who cannot grow up, this is an exquisite example of Bradbury taking a simple fantasy concept (Peter Pan anyone?) and finding the tragedy within it, just as he had done with the earlier story "The Martian" in The Martian Chronicles. The tragedy here comes from the fact that every time the boy (outwardly stuck at the age of twelve, but actually born forty-three years ago) finds himself a family to adopt, he must eventually walk away from them. The reason: they will eventually discover his secret, and will no longer be able to love him: "after three years, or five years, they guessed, or a travelling man came through, or a carnival man saw me, and it was over. It always had to end."

Mugnaini illustration for "Hail and Farewell".


The Adaptations

"The Pedestrian" was adapted for the stage, and later for TV, by Bradbury himself. In both of these adaptations, he was faced with a slight problem: Mr Leonard Mead does most of his walking alone among empty streets, and therefore doesn't have much to say or anyone to interact with; not exactly the most riveting of stories to perform with actors on a stage or on screen. His solution? He gives Mead a walking companion. It's not a bad piece of theatre - see for yourself in the Ray Bradbury Theatre adaptation, here - but it really turns it into a very different story, and I think I prefer the original tale.

"The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" was adapted by Ilona Ference for a British  series, Television Playhouse, in 1963 with Leonard Rossiter in the role of the nervous killer, and adapted by Bradbury himself for an early episode of Ray Bradbury Theater, with Michael Ironside and Robert Vaughn.

"The Meadow" is something of a reverse adaptation: Bradbury wrote the short story first, then adapted it for radio for World Security Workshop. But the radio adaptation appeared in 1947, and the short story in 1953, giving the impression that the story is an adaptation of the play.

"Hail and Farewell" was also adapted for Ray Bradbury Theatre, albeit as a rather non-memorable instalment.

But Golden Apples' biggest stories are the two creature features. Both "The Fog Horn" and "A Sound of Thunder" feature prehistoric creatures, and both have had a long afterlife in media adaptation. "The Fog Horn" was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post under the title "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", and served as the inspiration for Ray Harryhausen's first solo animation feature under that name, and arguably inspired the similarly themed original Godzilla. "Thunder" was not quite so lucky.

"A Sound of Thunder" has been adapted for radio quite successfully, as in the NPR series Bradbury Thirteen, and even the Ray Bradbury Theater version scripted by Ray was OK (apart from the pre-Jurassic Park rubber monster). But it was also the basis of a dodgy feature film directed by Peter Hyams in 2005; Hyams got the job after Bradbury allegedly had an earlier director fired from the project for trying to remove the butterfly from the story. The story also inspired a segment of The Simpsons!

Find Out More...

See my page for Golden Apples, here.

Read about a little-known educational short film adaptation of "The Flying Machine" by Bernard Selling, here.

Listen and Watch...

I took part in a lively discussion of "A Sound of Thunder" and its movie adaptation on the Take Me To Your Reader podcast. Listen to it here.

Watch Tyne Daly bring Cora to life in Ray's dramatisation of "The Great Wide World Over There" for Ray Bradbury Theatre, here.

Next Up...

The next of my Lockdown Choices will be Bradbury's fifth book: Fahrenheit 451.


Lance H said...

One of my favorite adaptations of any Bradbury work is when Tyne Daly starred in "The Great Wide World Over There" in THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. Lovely stuff.

Jeffrey Kahan said...

This is really brilliantly done! Your anecdotal account really captures the reading experience. And, umm...yr enthusiasm is-- "cough!"-- infectious!

Phil said...

Thanks, guys. Lance H: Tyne Daly is one of my favourite actors. We don't usually see her in a non-urban setting, but she is terrific in this episode. Jeffrey: anecdotal is what I'm going for here, so I'm please you -- "cough!" -- caught that!

Dave said...

Ah Ray Bradbury Theatre! I loved watching those when I was in my late teens, early twenties. At one point, I had a relative in Winnipeg who ran one of the local tv stations. I asked him if he would air RBT. I don’t know if my request actually worked but I do know that his tv station did run them at something like 10:30 or 11pm on Saturday nights!

Anyway, I’m re-reading Bradbury’s books (at least the ones I have) along with this series. Besides the stories Phil mentions above, I love The Fog Horn, I See You Never, and Powerhouse (which is not thought of as a classic, but it grabs me somehow).