Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 2: The Screaming Woman

"The Screaming Woman" is a well-known Ray Bradbury story about a girl who hears the sound of a woman screaming from somewhere beneath a vacant piece of land. When she tries to alert her parents to the noise, they assume she's making up a story. Without their help, the girl sets out to save the screaming woman on her own.

Unlike many of Bradbury's tales, this one originated in a medium other than print: radio. In 1948, "The Screaming Woman" appeared on the top-notch radio series Suspense with child star Margaret O'Brien in the lead role. You can hear it from here.

The story finally appeared in print in 1951. Soon after it was adapted to EC Comics' Crime SuspenStories via Al Feldstein and artist Jack Kamen; later still it was adapted to the 1984 radio series Bradbury 13 (you can listen to it at youtube here). What makes these adaptations interesting is that the ending is rather different; in the radio play, the woman is saved from her burial. However, Bradbury has stated this was because of radio broadcast standards - his original plot left the woman buried alive. The subsequent adaptations simply muddied the finish - it's no longer clear whether or not the woman is rescued.

In 1986, the story was adapted for television's Ray Bradbury Theater with Drew Barrymore in the lead role. Interestingly, this adaptation goes back to the Suspense version with an upbeat conclusion. What I find most interesting about all of these adaptations is that the child isn't depicted as someone being taught a moral (Bradbury was pretty good at avoiding moralizing). In, for instance, Cornell Woolrich's The Window a child who is always lying to his parents witnesses a murder and thus his parents won't believe him - a "boy cries wolf" moral. The girl in "The Screaming Woman" is not a serial liar - she's simply a little girl. By virtue of being a child, she's considered untrustworthy. There is some form of truth in there about how dogged and persistent children are in their beliefs despite adult skepticism.

Tomorrow: More Bradbury!

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