“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

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Some short stories outgrow their original confines and enter the public consciousness, often due to being adapted into movies (think The Birds or The Shawshank Redemption) or television shows. One such is Jerome Bixby’s tale “It’s a Good Life,” featuring a “monster” who also just happens to be a little boy named Anthony.

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Already recognized as a superior short story, first published in Frederick Pohl’s “Star Science Fiction Stories” magazine in 1953, it took on a new life when it was adapted into a teleplay for Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” series in 1959, starring Billy Mumy (later of “Lost in Space” ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ Fame). The episode has made many of the lists of top all-time episode lists, etc., and deservedly so. It, like the story, is deliciously creepy.

Anthony, who in the story – unlike the Twilight Zone episode – we are introduced to immediately, has supernatural mental powers, including the ability to wish things in and out of existence (like the rest of the world except for his small town of Peaksville; where did it go?) and the power to read people’s thoughts, of which certainly no good comes. At his age, Anthony’s attempts to both help and harm usually lead to disaster and horror, so the other 45 inhabitants of Peaksville have settled into an eggshell-walking existence of constantly thinking “it’s a good day” or “it’s good that Anthony did (whatever terrible thing he did)” What must such an existence be like for those living there?

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Some might consider Star Trek’s “Charlie X” an adolescent version of Anthony. Maybe William Shatner should have starred in this episode of the Twilight Zone as well…

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6 Comments

  1. Randall said,

    December 21, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    One of my ALL-TIME favorite stories — because it is SOOOO creepy. 🙂

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 23, 2014 at 8:29 am

      “He was a bad man, so I turned him into a jack-in-the-box that still had his bad face!” Well, that’s from the TZ episode but I can still see that human bobble head in my nightmares… 🙂

      Like

  2. Candiss said,

    December 22, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I remember the episode of TZ but have never read the original story.

    I think you’re right about this story having entered the “public consciousness”. I feel like I’ve seen threads of it woven into dozens of other stories, television shows and movies.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 23, 2014 at 8:31 am

      I think The Simpsons did some parody of it once, and there are other references I noted when I was “researching” prior to my post. (I’ve specifically asked for NO Perry Como records this Christmas…) 🙂

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  3. Jason M. said,

    December 22, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    This story entered my consciousness when I was 8 or 9 — when the “Twilight Zone” movie came out, and the original TV episode generated a surge of interest. The TV show scared me to pieces. I discovered the actual short story in some Robert Silverberg-edited collection when I was in junior high school. The TZ adaptation is remarkably faithful to the story, except that, in Bixby’s prose, Anthony is even younger than Billy Mumy.

    Interestingly, Bixby also wrote several highly regarded original “Star Trek” episodes. And “It’s a Good Life” was given a sequel episode during the TZ revival on network TV about 10 years ago — reuniting Billy Mumy and Cloris Leachman, giving Anthony an even more telepathic daughter, and giving them the TZ version of a heartwarming, uplifting ending… 🙂

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    • Jay said,

      December 23, 2014 at 8:36 am

      This was my first reading, and I was pleased that the original TV episode did not stray too far from the story. Serling does tease us a little with his delayed introduction to the “Monster” at the end of his unusually long opening intro, but that’s a small difference.

      I did run across the sequel episode in my research but I’ve never seen it. I also found an interview with a hasn’t-aged-that-well Mumy on YouTube.

      I knew Bixby had written some ST episodes but had forgotten he did one of my all-time favorites, “Requiem for Methusalah.” What a golden age of Sci Fi writing and TV/movies the 50’s and 60’s were!

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