This post is part of a series on Ray Bradbury and his book, “The Martian Chronicles,” which will run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
THE SUMMER NIGHT
In the second short vignette, the telepathy element of Ylla gets more play here, as Bradbury pictures an unseen connection between the people of Mars and the approaching rocket with the second expedition on it. Bits of music, poetry and more come unbidden into the minds of various Martians – including a fragment of Lord Byron, who is referenced again in the title for the story that recounts the fourth expedition – and a sense of unease spreads across the planet.
The exchange near the end of “The Summer Night” between nameless Martians raises it above mere filler between actual stories. The exchange goes as follows:’
‘Something terrible will happen in the morning.’
‘Nothing can happen, all is well with us.’
I think, beyond describing the apprehension of Mars as a rocket with earth men approaches for the second time, the exchange summarizes the feel of the post-atomic age in which Bradbury wrote. All around the world, people went about their days, filled with normal routines and the appearance that all was as it had ever been, when in truth, the atomic genie was out of the bottle and was never going back in.
Again, I think its a stroke of genius that Bradbury has turned the tables so that Mars, not Earth, is the planet dealing with this looming fear, though when the second expedition lands, the tables will be turned again…
THE EARTH MEN
Even as “Ylla” juxtaposed a feel of innocence & beauty with the sinister killing at the end, so “The Earth Men” juxtaposes the lighthearted, even comic feel of Captain Williams’ plight with the sinister finale. That is one of the things Bradbury was best at, setting you at ease in some way before swooping in at the end with some dark conclusion.
“The Earth Men” continues the telepathy angle, suggesting that in a world proficient with telepathy, mental illness might often present with delusions that involve that telepathic, hallucinatory power. The result is Captain Williams’ sad and exasperating attempt to get someone, anyone, to believe that he really is from Earth.
When he and his crew (note the total size of the second expedition is 4, rather than the 2 sent the first time) are locked up in an asylum overnight, they think they have finally been welcomed to Mars, and it is a powerful scene that goes first from delight at their accomplishment being realized to despair as they understand at last why no one takes them seriously.
Perhaps the story serves as something of a warning about the danger of never questioning your own presuppositions. Mr. Xxx executes Captain Williams, even given the evidence the Captain presents that he really has come from outer space, and then, when the rocket doesn’t disappear with Williams’ death, Mr Xxx would rather doubt his own sanity then that he’d been mistaken.
Two details to observe. One is that we learn during a speech from Mr. Xxx as he is marveling at the details of Captain Williams’ hallucination that Martians have six fingers, a fact we can add to the other things we’ve gleaned about what makes their appearances different. Also, we meet a Martian early on who calls the planet Mars Tyrr. Tyrr seems a fitting choice for Bradbury to have Martians themselves use for the planet Mars, since after all, Mars is the name of the Roman god of war, and Tyr is the name of a norse god often considered a god of war.
So now we have had two expeditions land, both exterminated without any serious interchange between cultures. One was slaughtered by a jealous husband, and the other couldn’t find anyone to listen to them or believe their story. Now, unfortunately, with these two failed attempts marring the attempt to make friendly contact, it looks all too likely like Earth and Mars are on a collision course for something much less pleasant than the friendly exchange sought by these expeditions…
Next week, we’ll look at “The Taxpayer” and “The Third Expedition.”