The moment I fell in love with Edgar Allen Poe was the same moment I fell in love with Ray Bradbury. It was my senior year in high school and I was taking every literature class my school offered. This was American Literature taught by a shorter, nerdy looking man, with coke bottle glasses and almost always wearing a dark green shirt.
This man loved Poe and Bradbury. We had a whole section of the class in which we read everything Poe wrote. This was how he introduced Bradbury to us.
In the 1950’s Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles which is an episodic series of short stories that chronicle human colonization on Mars that already has life on it. As you can imagine, it makes a comment on colonialism but it also tackles an array of other ideas in modern, western society. Bradbury was keen on speaking out against censorship in literature and allowing TV to consume your life. He touches on this topic in his most recognizable novel, Fahrenheit 451 as well as in his short, Usher II found in The Martian Chronicles.
In Usher II, Bradbury paints an Earth wherein books are heavily blacklisted (as in F451) by the FCC and Mars is well on its way to western societal utopia mixed with the Wild Wild West. The “Moral Climate” society (along with the FCC) is in charge of all this censorship and they’ve recently begun dictating what is appropriate entertainment on Mars. Mr. Stendhal has built a replica of the House in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher, on Mars. He too is against the “Moral Climate” people and generally the censorship of books. He gathers the idea to build the House and then invite every member of the FCC over in which he proceeds to murder them all, using the various murders in Edgar Allen Poe’s stories from The Murders of The Rue Morgue and The Cask of Amontillado. As he kills each member off, he replaces them with an android replica of themselves in order to keep the remaining people from panicking.
The story ends with Stendhal walling up the remaining member of the FCC, down in the cellar just as Montresor had done to Fortunato in The Cask of Amontillado. Stendhal leaves on a helicopter as the Usher II replica cracks and crumbles as it does in The Fall of The House of Usher.
It’s completely brilliant and I’m not doing it justice with my summary. I can’t express how good this story is but part of the reason I think it’s so amazing, is because I had to read all the Poe murders beforehand with the sole purpose of having a deeper understanding of Usher II (of course you can read Usher II without having read anything by Poe). My teacher that had structured the class like this, was Mr. N.
Mr. N generally seemed bored with teaching except when he talked about Poe or Bradbury. It’s awesome to watch people talk about things they’re passionate about. Mr. N was in the position all nerds would like to be in, he had an audience that he could make read stories he loved, so we could all talk about them.
I’ve had a lot of teachers that should’ve returned years before I had them. They were tired and burnt out and maybe a bit disenchanted. Some of them allowed their personal lives to cloud into their ability to their job. Some of them tried to be the “cool” teacher and forgot that they were still teachers. Occasionally, however, your teacher is everything a teacher should be. They’re interesting and passionate about the topic. They inspire you to explore something new. I had always loved stories and read a lot as a kid but Mr. N made me fall in love, not just with stories but with words and their power.
I didn’t know what SciFi was until I took Mr. N’s American Lit. class. I never read a story about outer space. My experience with Sci-Fi up to that point had been the X-Files. Mr. N not only introduced us to Poe and Bradbury but also to The Twilight Zone and stories like Meat by Terry Bisson, that is a story of aliens discovering humans as thinking meat and how insane that seems to them.
Sci-Fi is one of my favorite genres in any form of entertainment, whether it’s books, movies or TV shows. My love of Sci-Fi lead to learning more about space and one time, I even met an astronaut and completely fangirled. I’ve seen every episode of The Twilight Zone original series enough times to quote lines from it in daily conversation (of course, no one gets it because most people aren’t obsessed with Rod Sterling). I might not have ever known that I’m a nerd if it hadn’t been for Mr. N and Bradbury’s Usher II.
Those are my thoughts for today. Until tomorrow, friends!