Who is that Illustrated Man?

cover imageRevisiting childhood memories as adults can sometimes leave those memories… paled. Or smaller. Or totally rocking!

As a kid I loved reading Ray Bradbury, not an author usually associated with childhood reading. I can’t remember how I came across the iconic American writer in the first place. I was never assigned to read The Illustrated Man or Fahrenheit 451 in English class. Yet after this revelatory discovery, I consumed as many Bradbury books as the school library held. 

Recently, I reread The Illustrated Man (25 years after the first read) and discovered that time had erased most memory of this short story collection. I wondered what had so appealed to me as a child about this book? Published in the 1950s, much of  The Illustrated Man takes place in the future. 2005. Or 1979. Or 1990. Books that include rockets or interplanetary travel don’t interest me. Now I realize that these topics must have interested me once.

With this most recent read-through, I chose to not reject the book at every mention of Martians or space explorers, food-delivery tubes or electro-magnet dusting machines. Instead, I marveled at Bradbury’s extraordinary gift at exploring the subtle division between impressionable children and stoic adults, as well as humanity’s conflict between technology and psychology. The heartbreaking tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick at the end of the story, “Marionettes, Inc.” struck me as deeply devastating the second time through as it did the first.

Have you tried revisiting favourite childhood reads? What was your reaction?

5 thoughts on “Who is that Illustrated Man?

  1. Michael A 1 February 2011 / 8:36 am

    “The Man Who Was Magic” by Paul Gallico was one of my favourites as a child. It tells the story of a real magician in the land of stage magicians. He blows their world apart by unscrambling an egg. It is a beautiful tale for a child but as an adult I have loved the writer’s skill and of course the political allegory becomes obvious. The beauty of the work remains and the satisfaction in the tale increases.

    • B 1 February 2011 / 10:51 am

      Wow, that sounds like a beautiful book! I think I’ll hunt it down and give it a read!

    • bronnypop 2 February 2011 / 3:55 pm

      Michael, this was my outstanding memory of a childhood book too! I actually spent some years trying to track it down as a grown-up (before our friend Mr Google existed). Other favourites that have stood the test of time for me are Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. And Stephen King’s IT is just as scary at age [mumble mumble]as it was when I first read it at 19!

  2. Rachel 1 February 2011 / 1:45 pm

    I read ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a teenager and loved it totally. Heathcliff was brooding and gorgeous and Cathy a wilful free spirit. I reread it in my twenties and found the plot structure fascinating and the frame narrator intriguing (thanks UC). I read it again lately (age not mentioned) and found the characters irritating in the extreme. Just goes to show books don’t change but readers do.

  3. Richard Greenaway 4 February 2011 / 5:38 pm

    In youth, I enjoyed ‘Brave new world’. I read it in my 20s and was unimpressed. In youth I found ‘Cry the beloved country’ painfully slow but appreciated it as an adult.

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