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!

1 comment:

Dave said...

For my money, Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed is the most quintessential Ray Bradbury story. Add in All Summer in a Day (Medicine for Melancholy version), The Gift (short but so wonderfully memorable), and In a Season of Calm Weather - adds up to my second fav Bradbury book behind The October Country.