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 LUGGAGE STORE
Another of the short vignettes that primarily sets up an event in the story that follows, in this case, the long-hinted-at and finally-arriving atomic war on earth. Perhaps the most interesting thing about “The Luggage Store” is the appearance of Father Peregrine. Some may know that Bradbury added a story called “The Fire Balloons” from The Illustrated Man to The Martian Chronicles in a couple of later editions, but most editions that you will find in stores/libraries don’t have this one. (You can still find it in The Illustrated Man if you’re interested, I believe.) Father Peregrine was the central character in that story, and here he is buying a valise for the trip back to Earth…
THE OFF SEASON
I am not a big fan of “The Off Season,” mainly because the story is dominated by Sam Parkhill being a jerk. The reader may recall that Parkhill is a member of the 4th Expedition, and he’s the kind of guy that convinces Spender that we’re going to ruin Mars – obviously with good reason. Let’s talk about the plot briefly, also look at the issue of how the Martians are portrayed physically, then focus on the most important issue, the role of “The Off Season” in the overall structure of the book.
Parkhill has built a hot dog stand & is going to make a fortune. However, war breaks out on earth & the expected multitudes don’t come, so the story ends with his long-suffering wife wryly pointing out that its going to be “a long off season.” Along the way, he’s visited by a majority of the surviving Martians, who give him land deeds for about half of Mars.
This seems particularly inappropriate because he’s such a jerk. One would think someone more like Spender, who actually cared about Martian society, would make more sense. There is, though, a kind of cruel irony in their gesture. They know the war is coming, they know the Earth is about to destroy itself, so half of Mars will be more than big enough for any human survivors and refugees, just like half of Mars is more than big enough for the few Martians who survived the Disease as it is referred to here.
That survival of the Disease perhaps best explains the odd description of the Martians and their appearance. The early stories show them as short, brownish with gold-coin eyes, but these are floaty, with masks and billowy clothes. One is described as having two mesh silver hands, which is why I pointed out the mention of a silver hue in the description of the running Martian in the previous story, “The Martian.”
Assuming Bradbury didn’t just throw disparate stories together into the book and ignore these discrepancies, the two most likely explanations are either that there was more than one kind of Martian on the planet, and perhaps those that survived were simply of this kind, or – and more likely, I think – Bradbury is suggesting that those who survived the Disease are physically changed by it.
Lastly, a word about structure. I see The Martian Chronicles as having 3 distinct parts. Part 1, which is probably my favorite, consists of the various expeditions seeking to make contact with Mars, and in the timeline, only covers from 1999 to 2001. Part 1 ends with “The Fourth Expedition” and the realization that the Martian society has suffered a catastrophic epidemic.
Part 2, I would say, is about the settling of Mars, and it runs between “The Fourth Expedition” and “The Off Season,” covering 2001 to 2005. We learn of the Firemen burning the remnants of Martian society, of the builders erecting cities for human habitation, of the growing influx of settlers. There are some great individual stories in Part 2, but it doesn’t feel as coherent and unified on the larger scale as Part 1.
Part 3, in my opinion, begins with “The Off Season” and the image of the Earth glowing with fire that constitutes the atomic war which has finally begun, and goes to the end of the book. It consists of a few stories set in 2005 when the war has just begun, and then a few iconic stories set in 2026 intended to show the disastrous consequences of that war.
I think Part 3, like Part 1, does a better job of finding some unity from the disparate stories it consists of. I would guess thats because the atomic war which has loomed in the background is a stronger and more vivid larger event that gives the reader a sense of these things being connected. Likewise, the initial question of “Are we going to be able to make peaceful contact with the Martians” does a better job holding together the very different stories in the first part.
At any rate, we’ve entered the endgame now, and these last few stories contain one of Bradbury’s more lighthearted and funny stories, as well as one of the most poignant portrayals of our post-atomic fears that you will find anywhere in our literature.
Next time, we’ll look at “The Watchers” and “The Silent Towns.”