Sunday, October 9, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 9: "The Veldt"

Ray Bradbury has a reputation for being warm and nostalgic about childhood for his stories about children's innocence and sense of wonder. However, he has about as many stories about how nasty children are - their wickedness, capriciousness and remorseless behaviour, how easily they can betray friends and families on a whim, how hostile they can be to strangers. His 1950 short story "The Veldt" is one of his most notorious "wicked children" tales. It tells of a futuristic home in which the children's nursery can fashion anything they desire; what the children desire most is to fashion an African veldt with wild lions, much to their parents' concern.

The year after first publication, "The Veldt" appeared on the radio program Dimension X in a very faithful and terrifying adaptation; you can listen to it on here. Four years later it was adapted on Dimension X's successor program X Minus One with the same script, only with a new framing sequence. This framing sequence is an utter betrayal of Bradbury's story, a prime example of the censorship which he himself so detested; instead of the tale ending with the parents devoured by lions while the children watch with no concern, this is how the tale ends in the words of the family's psychiatrist:

"There were no lions, of course, not in a physical sense. Lydia and George were devoured, however, almost as surely as if there had been lions. Their personalities were devoured by the mechanistic marvels which had usurped their role as parents. All four members of the family are under intensive therapy now and are doing as well as can be expected."

There is something in there which Bradbury would have liked - the idea the playroom had "usurped" their roles. Bradbury was very much against the idea of machines taking away tasks and desires which make up our human experience. However, suggesting the children were not murderous and that their family troubles can be solved through psychiatry is not a Bradbury concept. It is a very 1950s concept and one can see the culture of 1955 being very pro-family, pro-parental authority and even pro-psychiatry. To this day, there is the idea that psychiatry could cure all our ills; that doesn't interest Bradbury - remorseless, unexplainable evil was more fascinating to him as an author. You can hear the betrayal for yourself at here.

Later adaptations of "The Veldt" restored the original gory details; these include the 1969 motion picture The Illustrated Man, which does not have a stellar reputation. The individual stories adapted in the film work well enough, I think, it's only as a movie that the picture falters (but such is the case with so many portmanteau anthology films). It was also adapted faithfully for the radio on Bradbury 13 in 1984; you can listen to it at Youtube here. It also figured in a 1989 episode of TV's The Ray Bradbury Theater; the acting is a little lacking, but the story holds up.

Finally, a very faithful adaptation appeared in a 1992 comic from Topps, featuring some spectacular work by artist Tim Truman (best known for his work on Grimjack). None of the salient details are lost on Truman - along with the Dimension X adaptation, it is one of the best versions of "The Veldt."

Tomorrow: Bradbury! Bradbury! Bradbury!

No comments: