Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adventure classics -- Far green hills of Mars?

The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury


“I would go out to (my grandparents’) lawn on summer nights and reach up to the red light of Mars and say, ‘Take me home!’” Ray Bradbury wrote, explaining his debt to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories in an essay The New Yorker prophetically titled “Take Me Home,” published the day before his death.

“I yearned to fly away and land there in the strange dusts that blew over dead-sea bottoms toward the ancient cities. . . I know that ‘The Martian Chronicles’ would never have happened if Burroughs hadn’t had an impact on my life. . . .”

Like the Mars of Burroughs’ hero John Carter, Bradbury’s Mars was a land still unknown enough to harbor adventures. There‘s more than a touch of fear for the future and nostalgia for a simpler time somewhere in the past lurking in the pages of both writers. A nostalgia, in the case of The Martian Chronicles that Bradbury pinpoints in the remembered green American Midwest of his childhood in the 1920’s.

He was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920 and spent much of his childhood there. In The Martian Chronicles, the Waukegan of Bradbury’s childhood would resurface under the name “Green Bluff,” reconstructed by telepathic Martians for a rocket crew from Earth, in the chapter “The Third Expedition.”

“This town out here looks very peaceful and cool, and so much like Green Bluff, Illinois, that it frightens me,” Captain John Black of the ill-fated expedition explains to his men (Bradbury taking for granted in his 1950 story, that space crews would be all-male). Black, like Bradbury, knew you can’t really go back home again.

Ultimately, the defeat of the Martians occurred not through armaments or atomics, but with the scourge of a childhood disease as lethal as terrestrial bacteria had been to the Martians of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. And finally, the invaders from Earth would live to see their own civilization destroyed by the atomic weapons the world had learned to fear by the date of Bradbury’s writing.

That the Mars of Bradbury bore little resemblance to the planet, pictures of whose dusty pink skies and barren landscapes he saw transmitted from robotic rovers long before his death, bothered him not at all. He even resisted being labeled a science fiction writer. “Martian Chronicles is not science fiction -- it’s fantasy,” he insisted. “That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time -- because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”

Even a scientist could agree with that assessment. “Mars,” astronomer Carl Sagan wrote, “has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.”

For more about Bradbury, who died June 5 at the age of 91, see his official site,

(Next Wednesday -- an all-Martian month at Adventure classics concludes with one of Phillip K. Dick’s greatest works, Martian Time-Slip.)


  1. Fascinating, Melissa. You know, that's one of the classics that I haven't read. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thanks, Deborah. Writing this has made me re-read a lot of books from childhood. Amazing how the perspective changes. . .