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 OLD ONES
The reader will have noted by now that some of the short vignettes achieve something like a stand-alone quality, while others are little more than brief introductions to the stories that follow. “The Old Ones” is the latter, a brief introduction to the the notion that once Mars was reasonably tamed, the elderly came too, and “The Martian” tells a story about one such couple…
Bradbury is commonly pretty sparse with his prose, his tone bordering on the humorous and light-hearted, even when telling a pretty sinister story. Perhaps especially while telling a sinister story – that’s part of his effect. The simple language juxtaposed against the terrible twists of fate. “The Martian” then is a very different feeling story, much sadder and more elegiac than normal.
I won’t belabor the plot which is simple enough. The LeFarges lost a son on earth named Tom a long time ago, and they have come to Mars to forget. One night, though, a boy appears in their yard, and the next morning their long dead son is in their house.
The mechanism by which this is possible is no mystery given the presence of “The Third Expedition” earlier in the book. A Martian, using telepathy, has taken on the form of their son and come to live with them. They learn not to ask questions and simply enjoy having him, until they make the mistake of taking him to town where the longings of others pull the Martian from them, and eventually kill him, as so many see the Martian in the image of the loved one they miss, and this intense longing from so many directions seems to ‘blow a fuse’ of sorts in the Martian who can’t handle it all.
Running through the the story are the twin ideas of loneliness and longing. We get glimpses of several people, not just the LeFarges, who long for someone absent, and we see that while some of the Martians have survived the catastrophic epidemic that killed the rest, they are lonely for company and companionship. As LeFarge contemplates this very idea, we read, “Who is this, he thought, in need of love as much as we? Who is he and what is he that, out of loneliness, he comes into the alien camp and assumes the voice and face of memory and stands among us, accepted and happy at last?”
As with the story “Night Meeting,” Bradbury continues to humanize the aliens, who after both the accidental and the deliberate killings of the first expeditions, might have needed a little humanizing. He also portrays the longings of the human heart with poignancy at our selfishness, especially when each person at the end is so driven by what they want, they overload the Martian and then slink away through the rain, leaving him dead. Their longings have destroyed him, and they leave him behind as he no longer can provide them with what they want.
A final footnote here, as we haven’t seen the last of the Martians. The figure of the Martian running through the town being pursued by various parties who want him/her to be the person they have been missing, seems to LeFarge to have a face “like silver shining.” This silvery hue to the face seems new, as the few descriptions early on don’t mention it. I point it out now, since it’ll come up again & we’ll reflect when we see it again on what this might mean.
Next time, we’ll look at “The Luggage Store” and “The Off Season.”