Dreaming of Fairyland

The Martian Chronicles, cover by Robert WatsonThe Week 8 reading assignment for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World was Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

I first read this book when the 1979 BBC-NBC mini-series came out.  I remember exactly where I was won over: in the second chapter, “Ylla”, I read the following:

“Here’s your scarf.” He handed her a phial. “We haven’t gone anywhere in months.” […]

From the phial a liquid poured, turned to blue mist, settled about her neck, quivering.

I absolutely loved the image of that ephemeral scarf wrapping itself around the Martian Ylla’s shoulders.

Here is my 300-word essay. 

European legends described a magical island in the west: Fairyland, Atlantis, Avalon. America displaced it ever westward as El Dorado and lost islands, until it circled the globe; Bradbury moved it to Mars.

In “Rocket Summer,” the heat of the rocket temporarily brings a hint of Summerland [1], another name for Fairyland. Ancient Mars’s essence is beautiful but elusive, ephemeral [2, 3, 10]. Like High Faeries or the Sidhe, the Martians use glamour and can become changelings [4, 5, 16], but are threatened by the arrival of humans’ tawdry, prosaic, mundane civilisation [6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 17].

The rains come when one wishes really hard and plants grow magically overnight [8]. Like in Fairyland, the flow and direction of Time is uncertain. Time is “unpredictable” [8]; time has a smell, a sound, and a look [10]. Images of Fairyland appear wherever we see Martian cities [2, 3, 6, 10, 13, 17, 19].

When they meet Martians’ powers of illusion, Earthlings merely seek the world of their youth [4, 5, 16]; they try to recreate Mars in its image [7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 17] rather than embrace a vaster dream.

But naming has power; the Earth Men’s new place names symbolically break the Martians’ hold over the landscape [6, 14]. Twice “doubting Thomas” is evoked: Tomas cannot reach the Martian’s magical land [10], and like for Tinkerbell, doubt threatens the fake Tom [16].

A few humans try to recapture lost Fairyland and imagination on Mars, sometimes using robots and technology [6, 15, 18]. Can they grasp wisps of the fading magic and build a new world, human but Martian?

Bradbury always said he wrote fantasy, not science fiction [20]. Indeed, The Martian Chronicles offer glimpses of Fairyland, inviting us like stranded settlers to move past the mirage of our idealized past and build a new world in the Martian cities of imagination [19].

Works Cited

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (1950):

[1] Rocket Summer

[2] Ylla

[3] The Summer Night

[4] The Earth Men

[5] The Third Expedition

[6] And The Moon Be Still As Bright

[7] The Settlers

[8] The Green Morning

[9] The Locusts

[10] Night Meeting

[11] The Shore

[12] Interim

[13] The Musicians

[14] The Naming Of Names

[15] Usher II

[16] The Martian

[17] The Off Season

[18] The Long Years

[19] The Million-Year Picnic

[20] West Coast Live’s archived interview from June 3, 1995 with Ray Bradbury and painter Robert Watson

3 thoughts on “Dreaming of Fairyland

  1. Ah, this week again the peer reviewers generally liked the essay and I got a top grade. But as usual, I still got contradictory comments, one telling me I was overusing references and others praising them. 🙂

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