The 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 , 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 . Like in Fairyland, the flow and direction of Time is uncertain. Time is “unpredictable” ; time has a smell, a sound, and a look . 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 , and like for Tinkerbell, doubt threatens the fake Tom .
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 . 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 .
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (1950):
 Rocket Summer
 The Summer Night
 The Earth Men
 The Third Expedition
 And The Moon Be Still As Bright
 The Settlers
 The Green Morning
 The Locusts
 Night Meeting
 The Shore
 The Musicians
 The Naming Of Names
 Usher II
 The Martian
 The Off Season
 The Long Years
 The Million-Year Picnic
 West Coast Live’s archived interview from June 3, 1995 with Ray Bradbury and painter Robert Watson