Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Favorite Short Stories - The Emissary by Ray Bradbury

In an essay from J.N. Williamson's How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction,"  Ray Bradbury discussed the writing of many of his chilling stories collected in Dark Carnival from Arkham House, his first book. Many would later go into The October Country (1955).

In that piece, "Run Fast, Stand Still, Or The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts from Old Minds,"  Bradbury wrote that he developed a list of nouns in his early writing life and set out to pen a story for each of those. "The Dwarf," "The Crowd," "The Jar" and many others followed.

One of my favorite of his noun tales is "The Emissary," a touching and beautifully written story that chills.

It's tells of a young boy with an illness that keeps him in bed, and the emissary of the title is his dog. Since he can't get out, he sends his the pet on missions, to bring back scents and signs and occasional friends from the outside world.

Of course, being a Bradbury story, it features the crisp and vivid sense display of autumn.

 Lying there, Martin found autumn as in the old days before sickness bleached him white on his bed. Here was his contact, his carry-all, the quick-moving part of himself he sent with a yell to run and return, circle and scent, collect and deliver the time and texture of worlds in town, country, by creek, river, lake, down-cellar, up-attic, in closet or coal-bin. Ten dozen times a day he was gifted with sunflower seed, cinder-path, milkweed, horse-chestnut, or full flame-smell of pumpkin. Through the loomings of the universe Dog shuttled; the design was hid in his pelt. Put out your hand, it was there…

It's a tale with touching moments, and it creates well the feeling isolation and illness in a past era.

Things go well until Dog fails to come home. There's worry, of course, and much more before the brief tale concludes. To say anything beyond would be to give away too much, but it is perfect reading for Halloween and for the fall and for the late night when the mind is open to suggestions of things not otherwise accepted.

It's a story to be read not with jaded, nothing-scares-me rigidity, but with a sense of dark wonder and willingness.

Check it out. It's a must in the original prose form, but it can be found in many adaptations. It was a Ray Bradbury Theater episode, was read by Tom Baker as a Late Night Story on British television and is a part of many other collections including The Stories of Ray Bradbury. Go on, give it a look, and come back and tell me what you think.

Bradbury's essay also appears in his Zen in the Art of Writing


Charles Gramlich said...

Absolutely, a great tale. No one did autumn better than Bradbury. I cool off just reading his descriptions.

Sidney said...

I love "Something Wicked This Way Comes." FIrst of all, it was October...

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