The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury

“Ah!” The assignor smiled, nodded.

“And then,” said Ettil, “failing.”

“That’s treason! Owning such literature!”

“So be it, if you wish. But let me draw a few conclusions. Invariably, each invasion is thwarted by a young man, usually lean, usually Irish, usually alone, named Mick or Rick or Jick or Bannon, who destroys the Martians.”

“You don’t believe that!”

“No, I don’t believe Earthmen can actually do that—no. But they have a background, understand, Assignor, of generations of children reading just such fiction, absorbing it. They have nothing but a literature of invasions successfully thwarted. Can you say the same for Martian literature?”



“I guess not.”

“You know not. We never wrote stories of such a fantastic nature. Now we rebel, we attack, and we shall die.”

“I don’t see your reasoning on that. Where does this tie in with the magazine stories?”

“Morale. A big thing. The Earthmen know they can’t fail. It is in them like blood beating in their veins. They cannot fail. They will repel each invasion, no matter how well organized. Their youth of reading just such fiction as this has given them a faith we cannot equal. We Martians? We are uncertain; we know that we might fail. Our morale is low, in spite of the banged drums and tooted horns.”

“I won’t listen to this treason,” cried the assignor. “This fiction will be burned, as you will be, within the next ten minutes. You have a choice, Ettil Vrye. Join the Legion of War, or burn.”

“It is a choice of deaths. I choose to burn.”


He was hustled out into the courtyard. There he saw his carefully hoarded reading matter set to the torch. A special pit was prepared, with oil five feet deep in it. This, with a great thunder, was set afire. Into this, in a minute, he would be pushed.

On the far side of the courtyard, in shadow, he noticed the solemn figure of his son standing alone, his great yellow eyes luminous with sorrow and fear. He did not put out his hand or speak, but only looked at his father like some dying animal, a wordless animal seeking rescue.

Ettil looked at the flaming pit. He felt the rough hands seize him, strip him, push him forward to the hot perimeter of death. Only then did Ettil swallow and cry out, “Wait!”

The assignor’s face, bright with the orange fire, pushed forward in the trembling air. “What is it?”

“I will join the Legion of War,” replied Ettil.

“Good! Release him!”

The hands fell away.

As he turned he saw his son standing far across the court, waiting. His son was not smiling, only waiting. In the sky a bronze rocket leaped across the stars, ablaze. . . .

“And now we bid good-by to these stalwart warriors,” said the assignor. The band thumped and the wind blew a fine sweet rain of tears gently upon the sweating army. The children cavorted. In the chaos Ettil saw his wife weeping with pride, his son solemn and silent at her side.

They marched into the ship, everybody laughing and brave. They buckled themselves into their spiderwebs. All through the tense ship the spiderwebs were filled with lounging, lazy men. They chewed on bits of food and waited. A great lid slammed shut. A valve hissed.

“Off to Earth and destruction,” whispered Ettil.

“What?” asked someone.

“Off to glorious victory,” said Ettil, grimacing.

The rocket jumped.

Space, thought Ettil. Here we are banging across black inks and pink lights of space in a brass kettle. Here we are, a celebratory rocket heaved out to fill the Earthmen’s eyes with fear flames as they look up to the sky. What is it like, being far, far away from your home, your wife, your child, here and now?

He tried to analyze his trembling. It was like tying your most secret inward working organs to Mars and then jumping out a million miles. Your heart was still on Mars, pumping, glowing. Your brain was still on Mars, thinking, crenulated, like an abandoned torch. Your stomach was still on Mars, somnolent, trying to digest the final dinner. Your lungs were still in the cool blue wine air of Mars, a soft folded bellows screaming for release, one part of you longing for the rest.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray