All entries in this blog are freely submitted by members of the Kurt Vonnegut Book Club and are uncensored. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, its staff, or its management.
I left in such a hurry this morning that I grabbed the wrong notebook. The one that I stuck into my book bag was given to me by a young (now quite old and haggard) witch. I had misplaced the magic pen that went with it and thought that the pad was quite ordinary. It was only after recording the notes of our discussion this morning of Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” (1951) that I noticed that my scribblings kept revising themselves and giving new meaning to what I had intended to write. If what appears below makes no sense to you, blame it on the witch and not on me! *Stop that right now!*
We met at the Ray Bradbury Center at Cavanaugh Hall on the IUPUI campus where Jon Eller was our gracious host and, as usual, provided us with his encyclopedic knowledge of Ray. Janet Hodgkin, who obviously has been at some point in her life been deeply immersed in the Bradbury canon, led the discussion and provided many interesting insights into the short stories she selected. Regulars attending in addition to Janet were: Bill Briscoe, John Hawn, Dave Young, John Eller, and Jay Carr. We were also joined by staffers from the Bradbury Center: Robin Condon, Austen Hurt, and Daniel Sweet. Liz Goodfellow, a major gifts officer at IUPUI’s School of Liberal Arts, also contributed to the meeting and took us to lunch at Chancellor’s Restaurant. Who knew you could buy liquor on an IU Campus!
We started out by comparing the various versions of “The Illustrated Man” we brought with us and discovering that almost all of us had brought an edition with a different cover and that some editions did not contain the short story “Fire Balloons.” John gave us a short history of the various artists who drew the cover art for the illustrated man whose tattoos became animated and told the stories Bradbury interpreted. The story “Fire Balloons” was dropped in the British edition. Neither does it appear In my 2011 Harper Perennial Modern Classic edition. *He had chosen to move to a new plane of existence. He would become Buddha, without bothering to know what Buddha was all about. His new name would be Siddhartha.*
Ray had no tolerance for intolerance (see “The Other Foot”) or injustice and displayed a big heart when it came to children. *o ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole* In many of his stories children triumph while adults suffer. “The Veldt” is a good example of this story line. One might think that he had a troubled childhood, but Jon assured us that, although he grew up in poverty during the Great Depression as his father travelled from Waukegan to Tucson to Los Angeles while looking for work, he had a stable childhood and was much loved by his family even though he was bookish while his family was more inclined to outdoor activities. In Los Angeles, he cultivated radio and movie stars at an early age and at the age of 14 actually began writing scripts for George Burns.
Ray was a prolific writer and wrote about 1,000 words each day. He let his subconscious drive him and rarely rewrote or self edited his stuff as he thought that might change its meaning.Self-taught, he was disciplined and intent about his craft. On the other hand, KV expressed the belief that “the purpose of life is to fart around.” It took twenty years of short story writing to get Ray to the point where he could put a novel together. “The Illustrated Man” was an attempt to string eighteen stories together.
Jon told us a little about the 1969 film “The Illustrated Man.” Rod Steiger played the tattooed man and Claire Bloom was the tattoo artist. The Steiger character narrated three stories from the collection: “The Veldt,” “The Long Rain,” and “The Last Night of the World.” Ray sold the stories for $87K but was not consulted on the script which was universally panned. The film was a critical and financial failure. Ray hated it but remained close friends with Steiger.
We tried to compare KV to Ray. Both were born two years apart in the midwest but were identified with the opposite coasts. You only have to read a few pages of each to realize that there is little in common in their literary style. Coincidentally, they both had television shows at the same time and got together at least once (see photo above) Although he defied his family’s attempt to make him a scientist, KV was fairly well grounded in scientific method and was fairly numerate in his handling of data. Ray had a wide range of interests but was self-educated and was not scrupulous about dates or the science behind any of his imagined scenarios. He seemed to be distrustful of technology and thought it was necessary to keep the specifics of life going forward. Ray was traumatized after seeing a horrific fatal auto accident as a child and went through life without ever driving an automobile. KV had a brief affair with a Saab and became a Saab dealer for a short time. He blamed his failure with Saab as the excuse the Swedes needed to deny him the Nobel Prize. *We are going down the same path staring into the tunnel of Death.* Both were unhappy with the attempt to pigeon-hole them as sic-fi writers but were powerless to do anything about it. Ray considered himself to be a fantasy writer. KV though of himself as a serious writer who used sci-fi as a tool to comment on earthly behavior or to make a point. *Lawdy, Massa Dave, you dun gone kreativ agin?* What is the difference between fantasy and science-fiction? Talk amongst yourselves.
We gave this collection an honorable score of 8.5 on the fabulous 10 point KV Scale. Everyone liked it except one old curmudgeon who thought the stories were imaginative, but depressing and creepy. Our next outing will happen at 11AM on April 27, 2017 when Phil Watts will help us understand Stephen Crane’s 1895 war novel “The Red Badge of Courage.” This will be at the KV Memorial Library on Senate Avenue. See you there.
Upcoming events. We were made aware that on April 8, 2017, the KVML will put on its eighth annual Fundraiser “Night of Vonnegut” at the Atheneum where a few notables will be on hand to discuss Kurt’s perennial theme of common decency. Tickets are still available. Then on April 29, 2017, the comedian Louis Black will do a stand-up act at the Old National and then entertain the KV crowd at an afterparty. If that isn’t enough for you, you can tour KV’s childhood home at 4401 N. Illinois, Indianapolis, IN as part of the St. Margarets Guild’s annual Decorator Show house from April 29 to May 14.