Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Emissary

Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)
From Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Man, The October Country, Other Stories

A plate from Studies in Two Crayons. After Sir Edwin Landseer, a collection of 23 lithographs published by George Rowney and Co., 1879. This drawing is of Landseer’s oil painting The Poor Dog (1829). Courtesy Wellcome Collection (London).

“Halloweens I have always considered wilder and richer and more important than even Christmas morn,” Ray Bradbury wrote in an article for the October 1975 issue of Reader’s Digest. “1928 was one of the prime Halloween years. Everything that was grandest came to a special climax that autumn.”

Ray Bradbury was eight years old that year, and his beloved Aunt Neva, 19 years old and recently graduated from high school, owned a Model-A Ford. Sometime around October 20, he recalls in his essay, she said to Ray, “It’s coming fast. Let’s make plans.” She drove him and his brother, Skip, around the countryside to collect pumpkins, corn sheaves, and other decorations to embellish their grandparents’ house for the upcoming festivities. “Then, everything set and placed and ready, you run out late from house to house to make certain-sure that each boy-ghost remembers, that each girl-become-witch will be there.” The big night arrived . . . and then it was over.

“365 darn days until Halloween again. What if I die, waiting?” Ray complained.

“Why, then,” Skip responded, “you’ll be Halloween. Dead people are Halloween.”

“All the worlds of art and imagination flowed to me through Neva,” Bradbury recalled in 1964, “but especially she put me in touch with October Country, a year packed into a single month, a special climate which I still delight in. If I could have chosen my birthday, Halloween would be it.” An artist-designer who studied at the Chicago Art Institute, Neva Bradbury introduced her nephew to gothic and fantastical writings. Ray long cherished her childhood gift of a volume of fairy tales called Once Upon a Time—his first book of fantasy—and he was allowed access to her idiosyncratically stocked bookcase, which included the works of such authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs and L. Frank Baum. When Bradbury had been isolated in bed with whooping cough for three months, Neva visited and read to him the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Mix all these elements together—illness, confinement, a cherished visitor, Halloween, Poe, death—and you have the ingredients for a story much like “The Emissary.”

Bradbury originally wrote “The Emissary” for his first book, Dark Carnival (1947) and then revised it in 1951 for publication in the short-lived literary journal New-Story. He then rewrote it extensively for inclusion in The October Country (1955). Along the way, however, the story appeared in an unexpected form: it was plagiarized, with flimsily disguised alterations (the sick boy confined to bed becomes a blind young woman in a wheelchair), as “What the Dog Dragged In,” in the December 1951 issue of the EC Comics publication Vault of Horror. The adaptation was written by EC editor Al Feldstein with artwork by Jack Kamen. Other unauthorized comic-book appropriations followed, and when Bradbury learned that the April/May 1952 issue of Weird Fantasy, another EC series, contained a comic called “Home to Stay,” which ripped off not one but two of his stories (“Kaleidoscope” and “Rocket Man” from The Illustrated Man), he took action.

That April, Bradbury wrote to EC Comics: “Just a note to remind you of an oversight. You have not as yet sent on the check for $50 to cover the use of secondary rights on my two stories. . . . I feel this was probably overlooked in the general confusion of office-work, and look forward to your payment in the near future.” In a postscript, though, Bradbury indicated he would be willing to work together on future adaptations: “Have you ever considered doing an entire issue of your magazine based on my stories in Dark Carnival, or my other two books The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles?” Although William Gaines, EC’s publisher, initially denied that the firm had plagiarized the stories, he sent the author the check for $50, and before the end of the year Weird Fantasy announced in its pages that the formerly unauthorized “Home to Stay” was just the first in a series of authorized comic book adaptations of Bradbury stories. Both parties had come to an agreement: rather than a full-length treatment of his books, EC would end up adapting some two dozen stories by Bradbury for publication in their various comic books, such as Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, and Weird Science.

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Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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