The Martian Chronicles | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is an episodic collection of short stories about a daunting task for mankind: the colonization of Mars. Although many of the stories had been previously published, The Martian Chronicles first appeared as a complete collection in 1950. At the time, the science fiction genre was gaining mainstream popularity after the success of works such as American producer Orson Welles's radio presentation of War of the Worlds in 1938.

Bradbury flipped the genre upside-down, however, reversing the roles of human and alien. In The Martian Chronicles, mankind is an invading force, fleeing Earth in favor of a new homeland, much to the chagrin of native Martians. While previous science fiction literature often featured humans cowering in fear from invasion, Bradbury presented humans in the traditional role of "aliens." The Martian Chronicles contains a powerful message about the impact of colonization on foreign civilizations and the injustices of imperialism—a system of rule whereby one country acquires and controls another.

1. The Martian Chronicles was published under a very different title in England.

Bradbury's original intended title for The Martian Chronicles was very different—in fact, it didn't even mention Mars. The collection was published in the United Kingdom under the title The Silver Locusts in 1951. Bradbury chose this title in reference to the "plague" of Earthlings that arrive on Mars in waves, further cementing the idea of the humans as invaders, an unwanted blight on the planet. The title was likely changed to stress the role of Mars in the narrative and appeal more directly to fans of science fiction.

2. Tarzan was an influence on Bradbury's writing of The Martian Chronicles.

As a child, Bradbury became fascinated by the works of American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote the John Carter of Mars series beginning in 1912. Burroughs also created the famous feral child character Tarzan, featured in numerous works of literature, television adaptations, and feature films. Bradbury adored the Tarzan stories in particular and explained the profound effect Burroughs's work had on his own development as a writer in an interview with The New Yorker. He stated:

I know that "The Martian Chronicles" would never have happened if Burroughs hadn't had an impact on my life at that time ... I memorized all of "John Carter" and "Tarzan," and sat on my grandparents' front lawn repeating the stories to anyone who would sit and listen.

3. Bradbury was instrumental in building Disney's Spaceship Earth attraction.

Bradbury met American businessman Walt Disney in 1960, and the two became good friends, with each contributing to the World's Fair exhibition in 1964 . Disney later requested Bradbury's help—and astronomical imagination—when designing the Spaceship Earth attraction at the Epcot theme park in Orlando, Florida. Bradbury helped to design images, scripts, and the story line for the attraction. The author expressed his awe at Disney's theme parks, explaining:

Everyone in the world will come to these gates. Why? Because they want to look at the world of the future. They want to see how to make better human beings. That's what the whole thing is about. The cynics are already here and they're terrifying one another. What Disney is doing is showing the world that there are alternative ways to do things that can make us all happy. If we can borrow some of the concepts of Disneyland and Disney World and Epcot, then indeed the world can be a better place.

4. The Martian Chronicles was the product of a cultural obsession called "Mars fever."

At the time of the book's publication, Mars was an extremely popular topic in American culture. During the early 20th century, claims reemerged that Mars's surface was riddled with water-filled canals and was therefore habitable. This claim—since debunked—was the result of a mistranslation of the Italian word canali, which simply means "trenches," used by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877. However, this rumor of canals with running water on Mars persisted for decades after it was disproved, giving rise to "Mars fever." Orson Welles's 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds capitalized on the hype, leading Bradbury to write about a habitable red planet in The Martian Chronicles.

5. Parts of The Martian Chronicles were heavily inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Bradbury was a great fan of American 19th-century author Edgar Allan Poe, famous for short stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher." Bradbury alludes to Poe's work throughout The Martian Chronicles, most notably in the chapter "Usher II," in which the wealthy William Stendahl recreates on Mars the melancholic, decayed mansion from Poe's story. In an interview, Bradbury expressed his adoration for the works of Poe, claiming that if he could memorize one complete text:

I think I'd remember a book by Edgar Allan Poe ... I read Edgar Allan Poe when I was nine years old, so I think the one book I would take with me in the wilderness to become a book person would be Edgar Allan Poe.

6. The effects of chicken pox on Mars mirror European colonization of the Americas.

In The Martian Chronicles, the Earthling colonizers introduce a plague of chicken pox to Mars that has devastating effects on the population of native Martians. Bradbury modeled this epidemic on the actual destructive impact that smallpox had in the Americas during European colonization. During the 17th century, smallpox was responsible for the death of an enormous percentage of the indigenous population in what is now the northeastern United States. Historical accounts indicate that a particular epidemic in 1633 caused the deaths of at least one-third of New England's remaining Native American population.

7. Bradbury was not impressed by a televised adaptation of The Martian Chronicles.

In 1982 NBC aired a televised miniseries adaptation of The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury did not go into detail about his feelings regarding the adaptation, but he made it clear that he was not captivated by the performance. In an interview, he stated simply, "It was okay. It was just boring."

8. A 1997 edition of The Martian Chronicles is set 31 years later than the original.

The Martian Chronicles originally was set in the early 2000s, a time that many in the 1950s imagined would see great advances in space travel—including the ability to colonize Mars. However, Bradbury realized that as the new millennium drew closer, he needed to update the forthcoming edition of The Martian Chronicles to maintain its futuristic relevance. In a 1997 edition of the book, Bradbury moved each chapter's dates forward by 31 years, thus preserving the element of futurism and ensuring that the stories would still be "set in the future" for decades to come.

9. A Mars rover landing site was named for Bradbury.

The landing site of NASA's Curiosity rover—a robotic vehicle deployed on the planet's surface to collect samples and share images—was named "Bradbury Landing" after the author. The rover made its first moves along the planet's barren surface on August 22, 2012. NASA scientists dedicated the site to Bradbury, who had passed away just two months earlier, for his longstanding fascination with and popularization of the red planet.

10. As a child, Bradbury roller-skated around Hollywood hoping to meet movie stars.

Growing up in Los Angeles, California, during the 1930s, Bradbury would often roller-skate around Paramount Studios in Hollywood in the hopes of meeting movie stars. He developed a particular repertoire with talk show comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen. Bradbury recalled that he'd "rush madly down to see all the people going in" the recording theater and even brought along his own scripts to pitch to Burns and Allen. Although most of the young Bradbury's material consisted of old jokes he'd heard from relatives, Burns always humored him and encouraged his passion for writing.

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