I’d actually forgotten this was on my Classics Club Book List and just started reading it because I saw it on the shelf. Now I have to write something. But first …
I just read some really exciting literary news that I want to share with you. There’s going to be a web-series re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel in a modern setting (think something like what The Lizzie Bennet Diaries did with Pride and Prejudice). You can find more about it at Yet Another Period Drama blog or The Day Dream blog. It sounds fantastic, and I’m so looking forward to seeing it next year.
Anyway, back to Mars.
*insert obligatory spoiler warning*
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. All I knew was that it was written by Ray Bradbury (which pretty much guaranteed it would be intriguing) and it had something to do with Mars. The inside cover of my edition reads, “Ray Bradbury’s Mars is a place of hope dreams, and metaphor.” With that introduction, I was not expecting more than 20 people to have been killed by page 65 (and many more in the following pages). Warning: this is not a “happy” book.
If you’re not expecting a light, happy read, though, this book is fascinating. I think most of us know by now that Mars is not inhabited (as least not by aliens of this sort), but the world Bradbury creates on Mars still seems entirely possible. He has no trouble convincing his readers into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” probably because he doesn’t try. He just writes these stories as if they are real (but more in the sense of myth than history), and we’re perfectly happy to go right along with this fiction.
One of my favorite parts of the book was actually Bradbury’s introduction (You might be a writer if … you’re as intrigued by the author’s description of his writing process as you are by the book itself). He describes the stories that became The Martian Chronicles as “a series of Martian penseés, Shakespearean ‘asides,’ wandering thoughts, long night visions, predawn half-dreams.” He thought they weren’t anything special, until an editor “suggested that I might have woven an unseen tapestry.”
The Martian Chronicles was published in 1950. Since then, it has never been out of print, and my edition notes that it “has been read by more readers around the world than almost any other work of science fiction.” But Bradbury himself didn’t think of it as “science fiction.” This is what he said this book was:
It is King Tut out of the tomb when I was three, Norse Eddas when I was six, and Roman/Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten: pure myth. If it had been practical technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road. But since it is a self-separating fable, even the most deeply rooted physicists at Cal-Tech accept breathing the fraudulent oxygen atmosphere I have loosed on Mars. Science and machines can kill each other off or be replaced. Myth, seen in mirrors, incapable of being touched, stays on. If it is not immortal, it almost seems such.” — Ray Bradbury, introduction to The Martian Chronicles
Religion on Mars
There are so many threads that weave together The Martian Chronicles. It covers book banning, inadvertent genocide, the nature of man, implications of telepathy, ethics of murder — the list goes on and on. So I’m going to pick just one “thread” to talk about here, and that’s religion.
On Mars, science and religion are not incompatible — they are interconnected. Unfortunately, we only learn this after most of the Martians are already gone and it is too late for the knowledge to help mankind put back together what we separated.
Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” — Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
Mankind has it all wrong, according to one character who may or may not have lost his mind. Instead of letting science, religion, and art flow into each other, as the Martians did, we tried to separate them. In the process, we lost ourselves and our faith. Then, not content with damaging one world and its people, we moved on to Mars, and killed it.
But The Martian Chronicles isn’t just about all the mistakes humanity made as a whole. It’s about the individuals who lived, loved, killed, and died for a whole host of different reasons. It’s about the priest who believes that even the glowing blue lights on Mars — the last Martians — have a soul and deserve to hear about Christ. It’s about the father who launched his family toward an abandoned Mars to save them from a dying earth. It’s about the young Martian whose telepathy turned him/her into a chameleon as he/she tried desperately to cure their loneliness by becoming a human family’s dead child. It’s about how these people respond to the unknown, and what beliefs they cling to in the end.
I read this book quickly, because I was so intrigued by it, but not so quickly as I have read other novels. It demands more than a cursory glance, and I think it warrants at least one re-reading. If you like “thinking books,” or sci-fi of any kind, I highly recommend giving The Martian Chronicles a try.