Who & What is Thompson: An Investigation


The figure of Thompson permeates all of Ben Marcus' work, but nowhere as forcefully or mysteriously as in The Age of Wire and String.

In all cases, Thompson is a benevolent figure working toward human survival in the face of existential threats. Thompson is sometimes portrayed as a human and sometimes portrayed as godlike. Sometimes there are multiple Thompsons. Sometimes there are varying levels of Thompson in everyone.

In The Age of Wire and String, Thompson is described as a controlling spirit or force with a body (Perkins), though not dependent on the body. Thompson seems to have worked out the rules for survival in The Age of Wire and String. These are based on a Thompsonian system of silence, blindness, stillness.

Thompson is not an all-knowing figure but seems to have developed various survival systems over time. Thompson's approach is always based on cataloging, defining, and rule-making.

Stith Thompson and the Motif-Index of Folk Literature

Stith Thompson (1885-1976) was an American scholar of folklore. He is the developer, along with Antti Arne, of the Aarne-Thompson classification system, which gave rise to Thompson's massive Motif-Index of Folk Literature: a work of six volumes which is considered the international key to recurring motifs in traditional material.

Ben Marcus has explicitly stated that the work of Stith Thompson has been influential on his, Marcus', writing. It's easy to see why. A search for "wind" in the motif-index returns results such as:
  • A1122.1: Hole of winds: stopper destroyed. The hole is stopped with a wooden stopper, which is destroyed. The country dries up.
  • A1122.2: Wind a bird dwelling in mountain-hole.
  • A1122.3: Lost wind found in hollow tree: has been banished and is needed by men.
The parallels between Stith Thompson and Marcus' Thompson are undeniable. Both figures work relentlessly to catalog and define the uncatalogable and undefinable. Both are mysterious and inscrutable.


References to Thompson in The Age of Wire and String

From The Death of Water. pg 11.
"...Death was realized in 1807 in the water as a new erosion by Carolina and by England and Thompson; it was named for the hills and swells in Deerborne, which had been killed only two years earlier.

From Terms. pg 24.
"TREASURE OF POSSIBLE ENUNCIATIONS: Catalog of first, last, and indeterminate lexia. It includes all possible words and their unutterable opposites. Other than Thompson's Bank of Communicable Desire, no other such comprehensive system exists."

From Terms. pg 24.
"GOD CHARGE: Amount or degree of Thompson occurring in a person or shelter."

From Terms. pg 25.
"THE FIEND: [...] Any aspect of Thompson which Thompson cannot control.

From Terms. pg 25.
"GOD-BURNING SYSTEM: Method of Thompsonian self-immolation. For each Thompson, there exist flammable outcrops or limbs which rub onto the larger body of Thompson (Perkins) rendering morning fires and emberage that lights the sky and advances the time of a given society or culture."

From Terms. pg 26.
"PERKINS: 1. Term given to the body of Thompson in order that his physical form never desecrate his own name. 2. The god of territory."

From Terms. pg 27.
"LEGAL PRAYER: [...] Let a justifiable message be herewith registered in regard to desires and thoughts appertaining to what will be unnamed divinities, be they bird forms or other atmo bestial manifestations of the CONTROLLING THOMPSON, or instead unseen and personless concoctions of local clans, groups, or teams."

From The Religion. pg 92.
" ...You can operate in a campaign mode where your man lives in a pack and tries to become the "thompson" or supreme leader, while grappling with everyday survival. [...]

From Terms. pp. 94-95
"SCHEDULES AND DISPENSING RULES OF SEASONS: System of legal disbursement in relation to seasons and temperature. Thompson embodies the assembly, the constituency, the audience, the retractors, the Thompson and non-Thompson in any weather-viewing scheme."

From Terms. pg 95.
"HUMAN WEATHER: [...] The only feasible solution, outside of large-scale stifling or combustion of physical forms, is to pursue the system of rotational silence proposed by Thompson, a member of ideal physical deportment - his tongue removed, his skin muffled with glues, his eyes shielded under with pictures of the final scenery."

From Terms. pg 96.
"UNIVERSAL STORM CALENDAR: 1. Thompsoned system of air influence. Inexplicable. [...]"

From Terms. pp 122-123.
"WEATHER KILLER, THE: Person, persons, or team who perform actual and pronounced killings of the air. [...] Their works were first uncovered at the wind farm. They exist as items which are counter-Thompson, given that they kill what he has made."

From Terms. pg 135.
"BEHAVIOR FARM: Location of deep grass structures in which the seventeen primary actions, as prescribed by Thompson, designer of movement, are fueled, harnessed, or sparked by the seven partial viscous liquid emotions that pour in from the river. [...]"

From Terms. pp 137-138.
"MESSONISM: Religious system of the society consisting of the following principles: [...] The practice of sacrificing houses in autumn. It is an offering to Perkins, or the Thompson that controls it. [...] The practice of abstaining from any act or locution that might indicate that one knows, knew, or has known any final detail or attribute of the true Thompson. [...] The notion that no text shall fix the principles. [...]"

Incomplete Index of References to Thompson in other Ben Marcus works

Notable American Women: Number of references: 14+

"Thompson Food Scheme"
"Thompson Water"
"Thompson Stick"
"Thompson Box"
"Ice Thompson"
"Female Thompson"

The Flame Alphabet: Number of References: Many

Thompson takes the form of a mysterious character named "Rabbi Thompson." Rabbi Thompson is the source of a clandestine / underground broadcast that contains survival instructions for those who know how to locate the signal. It is intimated that the Thompson Broadcast is a false, meaningless cover signal for a deeper, better hidden, more authentic signal. This is never explicitly proven and a second signal is never located. References include "Thompson Broadcast" and "Thompson Sermon."


Ben Marcus Smiling

Quotes - or - Any aspect of Thompson which Thompson cannot control

from The Death of Water
When heated, it burns with a brilliant flame to form a river that exhibits fishes and stones and is used in shuttling the seven primary, liquid emotions to THE BEHAVIOR FARM. The steam is used as a core for the carbon arteries of OHIO.

WIND BOWL: Pocket of curved, unsteady space formed between speaking persons. They may discuss the house, its grass, some foods, the father inside. The wind bowl will tilt and push across their faces, that they might appear leaning back, arching away from each other, grasping at the ground behind them as if sleeping.

from The Golden Monica
...this knife is curved, fluent in the obstacles of bone and cloth.


What is this book?

I feel compelled to try to define this book, which is weird because it is a book of definitions. This is also a sneaky way to get you guys to use our research databases. Finally, this is a chance for me to use proper MLA citation which is so much fun.

In short this is a book that blocks interpretation by a constant series of definitions that are then constantly redefined.
  • Vernon, Peter. "Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String." Yearbook of English Studies (2001): 118. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

The Age of Wire and String was, and remains, an appallingly original book. It seems to present an entirely alienated, yet entirely credible, vision of the nuclear family. The book proceeds not by plot but through a series of definitions. To read it is to encounter a cultural primer that seems midway through a nervous breakdown.

  • Litt, Toby. "In the name of the father." New Statesman (1996) 4 June 2012: 48. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Literature Resource Center is a wonderful database that all Massachusetts residents can use FOR FREE (You're welcome).


The Age of Wire and String: A Primer

"This book is a catalog of the life project as prosecuted in the Age of Wire and String..."

"There is no larger task than that of cataloging a culture..."

Marcus' book sets out to literally define. It explains phrases and provides definitions of terms. It is a technical manual / field guide to life in the Age of Wire and String.

RAINHard, shiny silver object, divided into knives and used for cutting procedures. Most rain dissolves within the member and applies a slow cutting program over a period of years. This is why when one dies, the rain is seen slicing upward from its body. When death is converted into language, it reads: "to empty the body of knives."


Selection for November & December

Happy Halloween! Tomorrow is November 1st and so we'll be starting a new book. Goodbye American Gods (goodbye goodbye) and hello The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus.

It's time for you all to be brave. Come on let's try it.

From Wikipedia: The Age of Wire and String is Ben Marcus's first book, published in 1995. The book is composed of 8 sections, divided into 41 short experimental fictions (ed. note: uh oh), which combine technical language with lyrical imagery to form a sort of Postmodern catalog by turns surreal, fantastic, and self-referential.

From Kirkus: A rare, genius-struck achievement intended to warn readers into looking at the truth anew; not easy, but filled always with great beauties, high themes, enormous sorrows. By turns futuristic (``after the second appearance of 1983''), mock- historic (``One system of dating places their arrival...as early as the wakeful period of 1979''), surrealistic (``often each leg was clothed in a contrasting food style''), lyrically pathetic (``Your man can run, walk, sleep, drink, eat, and, of course, weep and die''), and simultaneously philosophic (``Certain weather is not recognized by the land it is practiced on'') and satiric (``Every year a day was set aside for discussion'').

I've read 2 other Marcus books - Notable American Women and The Flame Alphabet and both were great. Both of those books grew out of his earlier work in The Age of Wire and String so I'm excited to read it.


The Doom of the Gods

Did you know that Norse mythology actually spells out it's own ending? All the Norse gods are slain in a future event called Ragnarok. It is the doom of the gods. Odin himself is killed by a wolf called Fenrir. Thor kills, and is killed by, a giant snake called Jormungandr (who is Loki's son, btw). Everybody dies.

The story is old, but there is an amazing (and short) little book by A.S. Byatt called Ragnarok: The End of the Gods that retells the story. It's faithful to the Norse stories but it's wildly pretty and poetic.

There's also an amazing book called Poems of the Vikings which is really just the Norse Poetic Edda -- Also highly recommended.



The tree that Shadow hangs from is Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Yggdrasil is central to Norse mythology. It holds together the 9 worlds and really it's right in the middle of everything. Odin himself hung from Yggdrasil in order to gain understanding and command of the runes.

I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.

Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yggdrasil


Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let me just say that I'm a dummy and I know a lot of people really like this book. But, the more I think about it, the less I like it. I'm just going to complain a little bit here.

There may be some mild spoilers after the jump.


American Gods coming to TV

HBO is planning on turning American Gods into 6 seasons of premium television goodness.  See details here.

Some interesting thoughts on casting too.

Unrelated: Here are some cool takes on Mr. Jacquel (Anubis) and Mr. Ibis (Thoth).


Some Thoughts at the Halfway Point

Hi, I'm back.

So, what is this book about? New Gods versus Old Gods, yeah?

A god can only exist if that god is believed in. As belief wanes, a god's power is diminished. If a god is forgotten, that god is dead and gone as if it never existed. For some reason, Gaiman's gods have physical bodies, and can be physically killed, which seems a little (VERY) inconsistent with the whole idea of this book, but let's put that aside for now.

So the old gods (Odin, Loki, Kali, etc.) are languishing in an unbelieving modern America. New gods are rising (The Internet, TV, Media, Celebrity, Drugs) and seeking to wipe out the old.

It's interesting to note that Gaiman is English and the book seems very cautionary and subtly anti-american. The old gods (mostly Norse, European, and Eastern) are shown as the wise old gods of tradition. The new American Gods are shown as immature, young, cocky, violent things. Wednesday (Odin) says "this country needs it's legends" meaning "this country is worshiping the wrong gods and forgetting about the right ones."

I'm halfway through the book. It's an interesting idea and obviously Gaiman did his homework on a huge number of myths, gods, dwarves, elves, leprechauns, and other spirits. I just don't know if he can pull it all together. It feels like he is playing WAY too lightly with big heavy ideas. I want to say he's completely out of his depth here but maybe the rest of the book will prove me wrong.


A Little Break

Dear Blog Readers:

I am going on vacation for two weeks. I'll be in Iceland. Please enjoy the Gaiman book and we'll talk about it when/if I come back.

GleĂ°ilegt lestur!


Selection for September/October

American Gods
by Neil Gaiman

"I," she told him, "can believe anything.
You have no idea what I can believe."


We had our 1000th blog view sometime over the weekend! Happy Labor Day!

I started a Pinterest board for American Gods: pinterest.com/winpublib



Thanks for reading, you guys. Trout Fishing is a weird little book and RB was a pretty weird guy but I think it was worth the time. But now we find ourselves at the end of the summer and we're moving on.

I'm going to finish up with a little music from a band called Trout Fishing in America. They are 2 extremely gooofy dudes that sing silly songs to kids. Somehow, it's perfect.

Farewell Richard Brautigan. You wrote a bunch of books. Maybe we'll read another one sometime.



One morning last week

"One morning last week, part way through the dawn, I awoke under the apple tree, to hear a dog barking and the rapid sound of hoofs coming toward me. The millennium? An invasion of Russians all wearing deer feet?"

pg. 94

That's the spirit

"Go on ahead and try for him. He'll hit a couple of times more, but you won't catch him. He's not a particularly smart fish. Just lucky. Sometimes that's all you need."

pg. 90


The Surgeon

There's a chapter called The Surgeon about 2/3 through the book. The narrator is fishing and talking with a young surgeon who is bitter and frustrated and struggling to find happiness. He is moving around the country, searching for the ideal place to hunt & fish because he is tired of working. He's looking for a place to match the picture in his head and he becomes more and more disillusioned every time reality falls short of the ideal.

I think that's really what Trout Fishing in America is all about - RB's idea of America, how it clashes with reality as he experiences it, and how they, rarely but sometimes, line up perfectly.

The chapter ends like this:

"I talked to the surgeon a little while longer and then said good-bye. We were leaving in the afternoon for lake Josephus, located at the edge of the Idaho wilderness, and he was leaving for America, often only a place in the mind."


Sturgeon is a fish and that's close to Surgeon, so...


If you look at the word "surgeon" for too long it starts to look like it's spelled wrong even though it's not and I know because I checked.



Gee, You're so Beautiful That It's Starting to Rain

 Oh, Marcia,
I want your long blonde beauty
to be taught in high school,
so kids will learn that God
lives like music in the skin
and sounds like a sunshine harpsichord.
I want high school report cards
     to look like this:

Playing with Gentle Glass Things

Computer Magic

Writing Letters to Those You Love

Finding out about Fish

Marcia's Long Blonde Beauty

Richard Brautigan
from The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, 1968


Maybe My Favorite Chapter in Trout Fishing in America

The Mayor of the Twentieth Century

"London. On December 1, 1887; July 7, August 8, September 30, one day in the month of October and on the 9th of November, 1888; on the 1st of June, the 17th of July and the 10th of September 1889...

     The disguise was perfect.

     Nobody ever saw him, except, of course, the victims. They saw him.

     Who would have expected?

     He wore a costume of trout fishing in America. He wore mountains on his elbows and bluejays on the collar of his shirt. Deep water flowed through the lilies that were entwined about his shoelaces. A bullfrog kept croaking in his watch pocket and the air was filled with the sweet smell of ripe blackberry bushes.

     He wore trout fishing in America as a costume to hide his own appearance from the world while he performed his deeds of murder in the night.

     Who would have expected?


     Scotland Yard?


     They were always a hundred miles away, wearing halibut-stalker hats, looking under the dust.

     Nobody ever found out.

     O, now he's the Mayor of the Twentieth Century! A razor, a knife and a ukelele are his favorite instruments.

     Of course, it would have to be a ukelele. Nobody else would have thought of it, pulled like a plow through the intestines."


The Labels on the Crate for Trout Fishing in America Shorty


"He was the cold turning of the earth; the bad wind that blows off sugar."


Things mistaken for trout streams

"At a distance I saw a waterfall come pouring down off the hill. It was long and white and I could almost feel its cold spray. [...] The waterfall was just a flight of white wooden stairs leading up to a house in the trees. Then I knocked on my creek and heard the sound of wood."

"I remember mistaking an old woman for a trout stream...

- Excuse me, I said. I thought you were a trout stream.

- I'm not, she said."

 From pg 4-5



If any of you are Pinterest users ("pinners?" "pinheads?")...I set up a little Pinterest account you might want to check out. There's not much to see yet but I'll put some book club things up there from time to time.


Richard Brautigan - An Introduction

Richard Brautigan was a sometimes sad sometimes joyful grumpy counterculture icon who was perhaps unfairly labeled as the "last of the beats." He was writing mostly in the 60s & 70s and he killed himself with a bullet in 1984.

According to the New York Times, Brautigan was "a committed sensualist and prototypical hippie, a man who wore floppy hats, granny glasses, love beads and a droopy mustache that made him look like General Custer at an acid test." The Times recently reviewed a big new Brautigan biography titled "Jubilee Hitchiker" - You find the review here.

He is probably most famous for the book we are reading now: Trout Fishing in America. I would describe this book as an attempt to distill, define, and even anthropomorphize Americana itself. He was also a poet and this is his most famous poem:

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Most importantly, doesn't he look a lot like Larry Bird??


July Selection - Trout Fishing in America

Trout Fishing in America
by Richard Brautigan

~July & August ~

Let's go! You're gonna love it! Probably!


2 More Days

Today is June 28th and we have two more days with Mr. O'Brien and The Third Policeman. I hope some of you out there read it! I think I'm going to send a copy to my brother if I ever find myself with an extra $10.

On July 1st we'll be starting "Trout Fishing in America" by Richard Brautigan. It should be a nice breezy summer read, only about 100 pages, but it's also what you might call "literature" maybe even bordering on "prose poetry" if you want to be all stuffy about it.


The Delayed Awareness of Screaming

The author does a strange thing with screaming in this book. He has a lot of the characters screaming at different points but he does it in a really weird way.  Here are a few:

pg 129
"It is no wonder that you are yawning, the sergeant said..."
"I was only screaming, I blurted."

pg 140
"When nearly on the threshold I was arrested in my step by a call from the sergeant which rose nearly to the pitch of a woman's scream."

pg 162
"Here from my throat bounded a sharp cry rising to a scream."

The way the passages are written, it's almost as if the characters (and the reader) only become aware of the scream AFTER it's already happening. Like it slowly dawns on them that someone, or they themselves, are screaming. As a reader, you get set up with a scene or an image and then you have to go back and re-imagine it, this time with screaming.

On pg 129, you are given the yawn image and then the scream comes in as a shock. On pg 140, you can hear the sergeant "calling" which all the sudden transforms into a scream. And on 162, the scream comes flying out of the narrator on it's own. (This one is a little different from the delayed awareness angle, but still very creepy.)


The Trouble with Plot Twists

For those of you who don't yet know, there is something of a plot twist at the end of this book. I promise I won't spoil the ending, but it hasn't been easy. This is also a warning: almost anything you read online about this book will give away the ending and it will be a huge bummer. So, be careful out there!

Some readers, smarter than me, will probably figure what's going on before they get to the end. I did not figure it out, but this let me have an ending that was very satisfying and cool.


In Lieu of a Proper Cinematic Treatment

So, nobody ever made a movie out of The Third Policeman. As far as video goes, this is really all we have:

"I hate you."
"I hate you too."


The beginning of the sharpness

Usually when I read a book, even a really good one, I forget all about it and within a month or two. All I can remember is whether I liked it or not. There are a few books though, or sometimes just certain chapters or even sentences that stick. I catch myself thinking about Infinite Jest once in a while, or prefacing sentences with "And so but then..." I think about Annie Dillard's books pretty much all the time. If you want to learn how to see and pay attention to what is going on around you, you should def. read some Annie Dillard. But anyway, chapter 5 in Third Policeman is one of these things that sticks. This is the chapter where MacCruiskeen shows off his inventions: the small spear and the nested boxes. This is some of the strangest, most surreal and striking writing that I've ever seen.

MacCruiskeen has made a little spear. The tip is so sharp that you can't even see it. He says "What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness." About the invisible sharpness on the end he is asked "What is this inch that is left? What in heaven's name would you call that?" He answers "That is the real point. It is so thin that maybe it does not exist at all."

This idea of things becoming smaller and smaller until they are invisible comes up again with MacCruiskeen's nested boxes. If something can't be seen, and can't be felt, and has no effect on the physical world, how can it be said to exist at all? If you take a very real thing and shrink it down smaller and smaller...when does it stop existing?

I can't even talk about these boxes right now. Maybe later.

It's true that I catch myself repeating this in my head at weird times..."What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness."


Some Thoughts

Definitions of "Kafkaesque"
  • Having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality
  • Marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity

Definitions of "Surreal"
  • Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream
  • Having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic

A pitch-perfect line from chapter 4 that gets at the root of this thing:
 "...a very disquieting impression of unnaturalness, amounting almost to what was horrible and monstrous."



As we get started here, I just want to say that this is one of the most unsettling and straight-up creepy books that I've ever read. We'll talk about chapter 5 someday but how about a "smooth inhuman smile" to give you nightmares.

Here are my favorite takes on the main characters. "Favorite" meaning the ones that I found with a 2 minute Google Image search.

De Selby


MacCruiskeen's Bicycle

Sgt. Pluck

Sgt Pluck II


The Third Policeman & LOST

Has anyone seen LOST?

The show was built around some big, complicated, literary themes and symbols and a lot of these have been tied directly to The Third Policeman. The show's producers have talked about the book's influence on the show and you can actually SEE the book in a few scenes from season 2 (Desmond is reading it in the hatch...).

In the Third Policeman, not only do we have the origins of the Smoke Monster and a mysterious Hatch, but there are bigger themes - life, death, purgatory, parallel existences, sin & forgiveness, immortality.

Desmond reading TTP in the Hatch

There are actually LOST book clubs out there that are reading all the books referenced in the show - Third Policeman, Of Mice & Men, Watership Down, tons of Stephen King, A Wrinkle in Time, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Tale of Two Cities, Stranger in a Strange Land..on and on.


Day 1 - The Third Policeman

...and so today we say goodbye to Mr. Bradbury. We're all done with The Martian Chronicles. It was great! Thanks for the memories!

We're starting The Third Policeman today. This is a book I read a few years ago and I've been looking for an excuse (and some time) to read it again. It's a trip.

Just a note - This is a real weird book but the beginning can be a little slow. Please stick with it through the first chapter. All of your dreams will come true, etc.


Selection for May/June

Announcing our next selection!
More info to come, but check out this review in the meantime...


The Frontier Myth

 This is pulled out of an article called "The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury" by Gary K. Wolfe. You can get it in the Gale Lit Resource Center if you want to see the whole thing. It's pretty great.

"In an interview in 1961 Ray Bradbury described an unwritten story of his which was to be cast in the form of an American Indian legend. - "One night there was a smell on the wind, there was a sound coming from a great distance." Searching for the source of this portent, the Indian and his young grandson wander for days, finally coming to the edge of the sea and spotting a campfire in the distance. Beyond, in the water, are anchored three ships. Creeping closer, the Indians find that the fire is surrounded by strange-looking men who speak an unknown language, who "have huge sort of metal devices on their heads," and carry strange mechanical weapons. The Indians return to the wilderness, vaguely aware that some great event has happened and that the wilderness will never be the same, but not at all sure what the event is or exactly what it means.

This small unwritten fable of the coming of the first Europeans to North America is significant not only because parts of it appear in another context in the story "Ylla" in The Martian Chronicles (once selected by Bradbury as his favorite among his stories)--in which the Indians become Martians and the strange sense of foreboding becomes telepathy--but also for the way in which the story reveals a romantic, almost mystical, vision of historical experience, particularly the experience of the American wilderness."


This is cool, b/c I'm reading the Journals of Lewis and Clark right now. And L & C, as they travel up the Missouri River, just by passing through the "undiscovered" American West, effect this magical transformation of the country. They meet with Indians along the way, they show off their guns and tools, and they move on. They don't really do anything, or build anything, they just pass through and update the maps and shoot some buffalo. But the Indian nations that they pass through are fundamentally changed. They don't know exactly what is coming but they all know that a great change is upon them.


Night Meeting

In "Night Meeting" an earth man meets a martian. They look out over a martian city. The man sees a vast ruin..a city with no life, dead for thousands of years. The martian sees crowds and festival lights and a city very much alive. He says he slept there last night. The man and the martian exist in parallel worlds, out of sync in time, and they are unable to convince the other that what they are seeing isn't really there. They are each from the other's future. In the end, they decide that it really doesn't matter. Both of their realities are real enough for them.

"The Martian closed his eyes and opened them again. "This can mean only one thing. It has to do with Time. Yes. You are a figment of the Past!"

     "No, you are from the Past," said the Earth Man, having had time to think of it now.

"You are so certain. How can you prove who is from the Past, who is from the Future? What year is it?"

     "Two thousand and one."

"What does that mean to me? It is as if I told you that it is the year 4462853 S.E.C. It is nothing and more than nothing!"


And the Moon Be Still as Bright

"I've got what amounts to a religion, now.
It's learning how to breathe all over again."


Literature Databases - or - How To Sound Smart

Winchester residents, and anyone who comes to the library, have access to a few really great literature databases.

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism Select
  • Literature Resource Center
  • Bloom's Literary Reference Online
  • Books and Authors
  • LitFinder

CLC Select and Lit. Resource Center can be a lot of fun and you can get in way over your head real quick. Some example articles from CLC and LRC:

  • "Being Martian: spatiotemporal self in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles"
  • "The Thematic Structure of 'The Martian Chronicles'"
  • "The Body Eclectic: Sources of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles"
  • "The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury"
  • "Entering the Space Frontier: Quests Mundane, Profane, and Divine"
From "Being Martian..." regarding past present and future and how all 3 combine to form subjective experience:

"Perception of a melody demands, first, that there be present a "primal impression" which constitutes the tonal now, that is, the immediately sounding tone of the melody. Secondly, there is at the same time as the perceived tone, an existing peripheral tonal experience active in the constituted conscious act of perceived tonal now. This "fresh" or "primary memory" which holds near to the perceiving now the just-past tone in consciousness is known as retention. As such "when the tonal now, the primal impression, passes over into retention, this retention is itself again a now, an actual existent. While it itself is an actual (but not an actual sound), it is the retention of a sound that has been" 



Green Lights

Bradbury's colonizers become martians themselves as soon as time and distance start to work on their ties to Earth. Earth isn't "here" anymore. It's "there." They can barely see it or even remember it. There's a lot of this self/other stuff going on in the book.

One day the colonizers look back at Earth and all they see is a green light:

"It's so far away it's unbelievable. It's not here. You can't touch it. You can't even see it. All you see is a green light. Two billion people living on that light? Unbelievable! War? We don't hear the explosions."

It's simple for them to forget. They don't care what happens back there because they are here and now. It's a good lesson I think. All of those things that seem so important, seem like the only things that could ever be important...maybe they're not.

I don't know if I buy it though. Gatsby's green light was the key and it always made him think about Daisy. It was the essence of Daisy, that light.

"You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock..."

Why did Bradbury make the light green? Why not blue if he didn't want me to think about Gatsby? That green light just has to be a Gatsby reference so why doesn't it make those colonizers want to just jump back on their rockets and go home?



From The Taxpayer...pg. 31 in my copy...this is very Vonnegutian

"He shook his fists at them and told that that he wanted to get away from Earth; anybody with any sense wanted to get away from Earth. There was going to be a big atomic war on Earth in about two years, and he didn't want to be here when it happened. He and thousands others like him, if they had any sense, would go to Mars. See if they wouldn't! ... Wait for me! he cried. Don't leave me here on this terrible world, I've got to get away; there's going to be an atom war! Don't leave me on Earth!"

Bradbury and Vonnegut were both writing in the 50's but Bradbury came first by 5 years or so. Plus, KV hated semicolons.



Martian Chronicles is available as an audiobook from OverDrive. You can download and listen on PC, Mac, iPod, etc. You'll need your library card and PIN number.

This could be you:


Power of Names

When you give something a name you fix it and define it and own it. The name influences the way a thing is thought of, treated, and remembered. The name is a handle and it will go into history books. A thing doesn't really exist until it has a name. There's renaming too. When you give something a new name you destroy it's past.

Naming in T.M.C...
  •  An astronaut named Biggs discovers a canal. He drops glass bottles into it and with each one he says "I christen thee, I christen thee, I christen thee...Biggs Canal."
  • Another says "We'll call the canal the Rockefeller Canal and the mountain King George Mountain and the sea the Dupont Sea, and there'll be Roosevelt and Lincoln and Coolidge cities and it won't ever be right..."
  •  Later there's this: "The old Martian names were names of water and air and hills. They were the names of snows that emptied south in stone canals to fill the empty seas. And the names of sealed and buried sorcerers and towers and obelisks. And the rockets struck at the names like hammers, breaking away the marble into shale, shattering the crockery milestones that named the old towns, in the rubble of which great pylons were plunged with new names: IRON TOWN, STEEL TOWN, ALUMINUM CITY, ELECTRIC VILLAGE, CORN TOWN, GRAIN VILLA, DETROIT II."

>> It happens all the time.  Xfinity is just Comcast with a new name.


Excited to join!

I just joined and am excited to get rolling with the book!  Admittedly, I haven't read anything by Bradbury since Dandelion Wine in the sixth grade (which I don't think I liked or understood).  However, now older and hopefully wiser, I'm excited to give Bradbury another try.


TMC on TV and Film ~ For better or worse

People have tried...that's all I can say:

The Martian Chronicles TV Miniseries (1980) - A partnership between NBC and the BBC. Three episodes were produced and aired. You can get a nice sample on YouTube (see below). Also available on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.

The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1992) - 65 episodes aired on cable tv in the late 80s and early 90s. Episodes were written by Bradbury and based on his short stories and novels, including some chapters from Martian Chronicles. There is a Bradbury Theater collection available on Netflix but not all episodes are available. See the episode based on chapter 7: "And the Moon be Still as Bright" below.

Future Blockbuster? (????) - This news is a year old, but I can't find anything newer.



Rocket Summer

"The rocket stood in the cold winter morning"

Goodreads has a great list of Bradbury quotes here. (Goodreads is pretty great in general...my page is here if anyone is interested.



Welcome! - Selection #1

Welcome to Winchester Public Library's Internet Book Club!

We're starting off with The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. First published in 1950, TMC is widely considered to be Bradbury's masterpiece (forget about 451). Bradbury has been called the "sci-fi writer who could write" and The Martian Chronicles approaches poetry at times. Besides, a book with this many covers can't be that bad.

"They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea..."