My first short story of 2013 as part of my annual project (see here for more details) is Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” from his collection of stories titled “The Illustrated Man.” The stories in The Illustrated Man are introduced and linked by the title character, who is covered head to toe in tattoos (or “skin illustrations” as he insists they be called). The first story, “The Veldt,” is introduced by a tattoo of a lion. The story was first published separately in the September 23, 1950 edition of the saturday Evening Post under the title “The World the Children Made.”
“Handing Over the Reins”
George and Lydia Hadley are, we are to assume, a typical couple of the future. They want the best for themselves and their family and spare no expense when acquiring a sort of “automated” house complete with a “nursery” for their two young children. This is a special nursery, however – one that reads the thoughts of the children and creates whatever landscape or situations they dream up (think of the “holodeck” on Star Trek, only with the programming coming directly from the minds of its inhabitants).
The Hadleys discover there is a price to pay for “turning over” control of their lives to machinery (of course, they ponder this as the mechanism of the house is preparing their dinner ). They are disturbed because the children are spending too much time in the nursery and are apparently obsessed with its setting of an African grassland (the “Veldt” of the story’s title). The lions that inhabit the Veldt give the parents quite a scare when they visit the room while the children are away at a party, and the Hadleys decide it is unhealthy for the children to be interested in a place where there is “so much death.” (The lions are always “feeding on” something and sometimes the parents can hear screams from behind the door that sound “familiar.”)
When they confront the children about Africa, the kids deny that the nursery has that setting. When challenged to “go see for yourself,” the daughter heads down the hall and into the nursery, which then produces a lovely forest scene. The kids are hiding something. Willfully. Perhaps they are rebelling because they were denied “a rocket trip to New York” referenced earlier, or perhaps they have just reached “that age.” Whatever the reason, the elder Hadleys are concerned and consult a psychiatrist, who recommends they shut down and dismantle the “nursery.” They agree, but did they wait too long?
(below: Claire Bloom & Rod Steiger in the Veldt from the movie version of “The Illustrated Man”)
I found a copy of this story on line at http://www.veddma.com/veddma/Veldt.htm Give it a read. It’s not very long.
When reading this story, I was reminded a bit of Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano (which I’ve blogged about before), where protagonist Paul Proteus discusses the industrial revolutions that have taken place in human history: the first one produced machines that devalued human muscle, the second one, devalued human routine mental work, the third one – currently in progress, he argued in 1952 – would produce machines that devalue human thinking. The Hadleys have accepted the machines of this third wave, even turning over the duty of “babysitting” to machines – with predictable results.
Have you read Bradbury? Any favorite stories? Have you seen the (often critically panned) movie adaptation of The Illustrated Man (with Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom)?
(below: the edition of The Illustrated Man that I own)