Recently I found myself wandering the shelves at the Brooklyn Central Public Library in Grand Army Plaza. I had nothing to do and an hour to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. There I found a copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury and aimlessly pulled it off a shelf.
I used to be obsessed with Bradbury. I’d chewed through Martian Chronicles in a matter of 2 days in High School and still count Dandelion Wine as one of my favorite books. I didn’t realize until a well after reading each that they were actually short story collections that had been glued together to form something resembling a coherent narrative. Conversely, the book I had just picked up was a large volume of unadulterated Bradbury stories organized in some handpicked order and with an introduction by the guy who wrote Thank You For Smoking. The introduction is quite long and begins by name dropping Mad Men in the very first sentence.
This was not a promising start.
The first thing I noticed was how deeply the stories I knew and loved in Dandelion Wine and Martian Chronicles had been massaged into narrative. Stories that I was used to being from a characters perspective were suddenly from different people or unnamed narrators. Stories I hadn’t read previously were arranged oddly, such as 4 pulpy stories in a row about cheating a personification of death. I felt like I was reading a book designed as a reference for experts or a starting point for novices, of which i was neither.
There were two stories here that DID resonate though, each about a family of monsters and immortals living atop a hill in an home that seems to transcend time. One part Addams Family mixed with the sanguine youth and unavoidable horror of Dandelion Wine. These were the tales of the Elliot Family and I shortly thereafter discovered they had been collected and restructured as well in a book called From The Dust Returned.
My goal then seemed clear. I dropped the Bradbury encyclopedia and immediately sought out a copy of Dust, unfortunately only to find that the tinkering that had something magical in previous collections somehow just didn’t work as well here. The transitions do indeed make it more readable as a whole and add to the stories, but the edits created to make them fit more properly in 2001 don’t work and the added material is not Bradbury’s best. The two stories the book revolves around, namely Homecoming and Uncle Einar, were both originally written before 1950. Many of the other stories have been written since and the post WWII “things aren’t what they used to be” tone feels ever so slightly dated. Finally, Homecoming was reworked to serve as an introduction, and in so doing Bradbury was forced to tear much of the mystery and vagueness away. I am not a fan of reworking old material to “make things more clear” – it always makes things worse.
It was then that I realized that despite the strange editing and oddness of reading a slightly different story, reading Bradbury’s originals is truly the best way to experience many of these stories. My initial reservations were silly; the stories I had read as a teenager were the tampered versions, not the ones in front of me. Homecoming, the story I feel is best, is a remarkably well written piece of short fiction that captures all the spirit of Halloween in a few short pages through the eyes of a small human boy who has been adopted by a family of monsters. I highly suggest seeking it out and reading it while thinking of the world in 1946, when it was originally published and the whole of the world was still reeling from WWII. Also note this was occurring as The Addams Family comic strips were beginning to make the concept of friendly monsters palatable and well before the TV series (and its ripoff The Munsters) pushed the concept into absurdity.
The story in its original form has been released many times over in many different collections. In fact if one wanted to read all of Bradbury’s darkest fiction in one place, The October Country would be a better start.