Thursday, June 7, 2012

October country

Eve Tushnet writes about my favorite Bradbury novel in "Ray Bradbury: The Lightning-Rod Salesman":
It was cloudy this morning in Washington, D.C., a cool June day with rain behind it and sunshine ahead. But when I saw that Ray Bradbury had died I thought I felt a different season. His name will always make me feel the honeyed, shallow heat of Indian summer, and that first cold acrid little wind which comes twisting through the heavy air promising autumn. Bradbury played many roles as a writer—kaleidoscopic fantasist, visionary techno-skeptic—but for me he will always be the cartographer of what he called the October Country, and his great book will always be 1962′s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Something Wicked is a strange book, and one which shouldn’t really work. Its prose is lurid and in most hands would become histrionic. Its hero is a young boy who seems old before his time, and its primary concerns are aging and regret. The book is about Will Halloway’s love for his father, yes, and about his love for his best friend Jim Nightshade, a kid with little guidance for his powerful and inchoate desires. But it’s also about the adults in Will’s small town, who feel that life has passed them by. It’s a Stephen King novel in disguise, about people whose deepest shames will be revealed by a merciless intruder: the nightmare carnival, which pulls into town at three in the morning when the sorry citizens of the town are lying in bed sleepless and restless and longing. ....

Something Wicked is an atmospheric book, creating a sense of dread and a lingering sadness. The bravery with which Will’s elderly father battles real evil doesn’t entirely dispel the book’s sense of sorrow, of lost opportunities; it’s a book which seems written in the subjunctive tense, all would-have, might-have. It’s a book which suggests that temptations will recur throughout one’s life, that vanquishing evil once doesn’t protect you forever. October will come around again, and the night wind will carry the sound of a distant calliope as the carnival arrives. .... [more]
More on Bradbury: Thomas Sipos on Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451:
.... Fahrenheit 451 is not about a government that burns books, but about people who disdain books.

Some have described the future America of Fahrenheit 451 as a totalitarian dictatorship. It is not. Part of the book’s genius is that it portrays a democracy engaged in book-burning. An election campaign is airing on TV. Nothing implies that the election is rigged. The telegenic candidate will surely defeat his uglier opponent, yet nothing in Fahrenheit 451 indicates a significant policy difference between them. We don’t know their policies, because the characters don’t care. They’re voting for the handsome guy. More importantly, they’re free to vote. They’re getting the society they want, book-burning and all. ....

The America of Fahrenheit 451 is populated with voluntarily dummied-down people. They anesthetize their intellects with 360 degree TVs: a giant screen on each of a room’s four walls. (Thus did Bradbury foresee flatscreen TVs and virtual reality.) They numb their feelings with prescription drugs. (Valium and Prozac.) They seek mindless thrills, speeding on suburban streets, killing pedestrians. They watch police chases on TV — broadcast live from helicopters. Quickly bored by their materially prosperous but emotionally and spiritually empty lives, they suffer from short attention spans. When the police can’t find and capture Montag in time, they introduce a fake Montag to catch and kill before the last commercial break. (Much like today’s faked “reality” TV.)

Fahrenheit 451 is not about a tyrannical autocracy, but about tyranny of the majority — from liberals’ hypersensitive political correctness (burning books so as not to offend minorities), to conservatives’ mindless, knee-jerk patriotism (there’s a war approaching, which none dare question). Yes, the government spouts propaganda and represses misfits. But the majority enjoy their propaganda and revile the misfits. .... [more]
Ray Bradbury: The Lightning-Rod Salesman « Acculturated, Ray Bradbury, A Writer’s Writer | The American Culture