When Fairytales Die, It Leads to Dystopia: A Tribute to The Martian Chronicles

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Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than he can understand.

"The Stolen Child" 

William Butler Yeats

If you read The Martian Chronicles, you know there is more than just a story about humans colonizing a distant planet. There is longing, broken dreams, and, yes, there is weeping. The world of W. B. Yeats is the universe of Ray Bradbury. You could say “the universe is more full of weeping.” 

And, having returned to this book after what has to have been at least two decades, I can testify to the truth of the weeping. Because this book made me weep as an adult, as it didn’t in my teens. So much so, this post almost didn’t get written.

Perhaps, it’s because I know look through a more jaded lense and see the utter futility of trying to “make a better world” when you can’t guarantee the everyday person will be any different. Because that is largely what happens: people come to Mars, expecting a new world only to recreate the old one in a lesser form. 

Like Asimov’s FoundationThe Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories originally published in magazines in the 1940s. The collection starts in 1999 and ends in 2026—a date which is now less than four years away. 

They’re mostly short pieces, loosely connected, but each detailing one aspect of Earth’s eventual conquest of Mars. And a view of its own demise. 

The Death of Faery

Every man, they said, must face reality. Must face the Here and Now! Everything that was not so must go. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air. So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago, in 1975; they lined them up, St. Nicholas and the Headless Horseman and Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin and Mother Goose—oh, what a wailing!–and shot them down, and burned the paper castles and the fairy frogs and the old kings and the people who lived happily ever after (for of course it was a fact that nobody lived happily ever after!) and Once Upon a Time became No More!

“Usher II,” The Martian Chronicles

Now, if that doesn’t make you weep in utter despair, I don’t know what will. A world without Tolkien? King Arthur? Walt Disney? It’s not a world I want to inhabit. 

I took this passage from “Usher II”, which is, by far, my favorite work Bradbury ever did. In it, a rich Earthling comes and completely recreates scenes from Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. His goal? To entrap and exterminate all the members of “Moral Climates.”

These are the people who banned fantasy back on Earth. They banned anything that wasn’t realistic. So, no more Sherlock Holmes, no more fairy tales, no more magic, mystery, or imagination. Interestingly enough, it started with them getting rid of comic books—Superman, Batman, Iron Man. If you’ve ever been persecuted for reading comic books, consider yourself vindicated! 

And in the story, they are on the receiving end of the ultimate revenge: they all die in ways outlined in Poe’s stories—even down to “The Cask of Amontillado.” 

It’s even more fitting, because no one recognizes what’s happening—which means they not only banned Poe just because it wasn’t reality—they banned Poe without ever having read it. Which means no one saw the pendulum fall to take the final cut. No one expected the same plot as “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” And the great head of the society himself didn’t notice that his host was leading him into a dank cellar to be walled alive. 

It’s perhaps the best commentary on censorship that you could wish for. Because if you get rid of one, you can just as easily get rid of it all. 

And then there will be no more hobbits spreading common goodness, there will be no Witcher to slay the monsters of this world, no faeries to take us by the hand to the Otherworld, no Aes Sedai trying to keep the frayed pieces of civilization together. It will all go down in a firing squad against the library wall. 

Sorry, but the likes of Gandalf, Geralt, and Moiraine deserve better than a firing squad. 

We will be stuck in a prison of our own making. And one where we are denied one of our most fundamental gifts—the one where we can, like God, create. I cannot imagine a more horrible reality than being denied that. 

Of course, if you read Fahrenheit 451, then you may also see the connection to it here. This, I’m sure, was intentional on Bradbury’s part. And if not, it just speaks to his great genius as a storyteller and advocate for imagination. 

A Land of Lost Dreams

Why are you crying?” he asked. 

“I don’t know, I don’t know, but I can’t help it. I’m sad and I don’t know why. I cry and I don’t know why, but I’m crying.” 

“Ylla” The Martian Chronicles

When Ylla, the Martian woman in the second story of the same name,cries at the coming of men, she’s crying for all that is to come. All the loss. All the missed opportunities. All the dreams which were deliberately shattered because an entire species couldn’t dare to dream beyond their senses. 

Mars is a beautiful planet, and it ends up being a desolate one by 2026. Just as every dystopia starts with a dream of a better world and ends in a nightmare. The events which precipitated Usher II happened long before humans even came to Mars. 

Which meant dreams had to be for the real and the tangible. They couldn’t be for anything beyond the senses. And we see exactly how that plays out when the humans hunt the Martians down. 

The Martians can speak telekinetically and give beautiful dreams. The humans didn’t like this and so hunted them down. Reality above all else, right? 

It’s heartbreaking in a way that only beautiful literature can break your heart. Because it breaks your heart with the truth. 

Mars, like Earth, is full of loss. But the loss on Mars is almost more painful because it was supposed to be a new beginning, a new planet, and a new society altogether. The troubles on Earth were supposed to be far away. 

And they killed off dreams just as they killed off faeries. 

A Warning Against Dystopia

Dystopia is when Utopia is taken literally. We all think we want an “ideal” society until we find out that we have to sacrifice too much of ourself. And, like in “Usher II,” humanity had to sacrifice its ability to create castles, faeries, and kings. What’s left but to destroy dreams, too? 

The Martian Chronicles show the true cause of dystopia. It’s not the world-wide wars that you see most commonly, but it’s people from institutions like Moral Climates. The ones who want to legislate perfection upon a species that isn’t perfect. 

It’s the people who refuse to dream of anything beyond their own perceptions. If you’ve done any kind of inner work, then you know exactly how dangerous this is. Because it makes you an angry, petty, closed-minded person when you find out the world isn’t how you expected it to be. 

But what are you to do when fairytales and dreams are killed off? If you can’t imagine a better reality, then you really might as well be walled up like Fortunato. 

Dreaming Out of a Land of Broken Dreams

As depressing as all this sounds, there is a bright side. And that is that these are stories. They’re parables of our world set in scenery that isn’t our own. 

Mars should make you dream again. Not because it’s Mars, but because it shows you that Earth is still worth saving. 

And that is encouraging. Because it should galvanize you to make sure your world doesn’t become a desolation like Earth and Mars. It should encourage you to nourish your imagination, creativity, wonder, and yes, allow the odd piece of escapism. 

It should also make you strive more for a world where people aren’t killing off dreams, where the small-minded who want to kill off the wonder of the faery-tale don’t get the upper hand again. It should make you change your own outlook on both yourself and your world. 

If you only see the lack in the world, then you will only create more that is lacking. If you see the possibilities and say “I can bring more good into the world” then you will make that good grow. Evil loves attention and craves it. Goodness doesn’t mind waiting in the shadows. 

So focus on the goodness. Dream your dreams and run away with the faeries. Because Mars will not be any better than Earth if you don’t. 

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