Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Golden Apples of the Sun

For some time now, I have been patiently waiting for The Golden Apples of the Sun to be released on Kindle. It contains some of my favorite Ray Bradbury short stories, including "The Fog Horn" and "A Sound of Thunder." I have the paperback, of course, but I find reading books on Kindle to be so much easier. As I get older I especially appreciate the ability to enlarge the print. (I took a glance at my 1970 Bantam paperback before writing this. It's hard to believe my eyes were ever good enough to read such tiny print. And without glasses!)

Last week I discovered that The Golden Apples of the Sun is available for Kindle now, and probably has been for years. The reason I couldn't find it was that the publisher had changed the title to A Sound of Thunder.

I won't dispute the fact that "A Sound of Thunder" is a better story than "The Golden Apples of the Sun," the story from which the book takes its title. The former is about time travel and dinosaurs; the latter is about a rocket trip to the surface of the sun. Time travel? Yes! Dinosaurs? Absolutely! The surface of the sun? Are you kidding me?! (Well, there is that old joke about going at night.) "A Sound of Thunder" is generally considered to be one of Ray Bradbury's finest stories, but I'm pretty sure that's not why the publisher changed the title.

In 2005, a film version of "A Sound of Thunder," was released. The late Roger Ebert said of it: "[T]here is something almost endearing about the clunky special effects and clumsy construction.... The movie is made with a gee-whiz spirit, and although I cannot endorse it I can appreciate it." (Sounds like a perfect movie for the new Mystery Science 3000 crew, doesn't it?)

The publisher obviously changed the title of the book to the title of the movie in order to boost sales. In the corporate world, this is what's known as "synergy."

I was outraged by this callous act of corporate greed. Well, maybe not exactly outraged, but at least mildly vexed. I'm sure Ray Bradbury would have been more than mildly vexed. He did not choose his title randomly; he chose it because he was a poet. He loved poetry, wrote poetry, and breathed poetry into his prose. Consider this passage from "The Fog Horn," first story in The Golden Apples of the Sun and basis for the 1953 sci-fi film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms:
I'll make a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was; I'll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I'll make a sound that's so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and hearths will seem warmer, and being inside will seem better to all who hear it in the distant towns. I'll make me a sound and an apparatus and they'll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.

He also borrowed some of his story titles, including "The Golden Apples of the Sun," from poetry—a different sort of synergy, motivated by artistic choice rather than profit. Decades after I became a Ray Bradbury fan, I became a William Butler Yeats fan, and I discovered the poem that was the source of Bradbury's title:
The Song of Wandering Aengus
W. B. Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Lovely, isn't it? Especially those last few lines. Bradbury put them at the beginning of the book, just beneath the dedication to his beloved Aunt Neva—a lover of books who introduced him to some of his greatest influences: L. Frank Baum, Edgar Allan Poe, and, I'd be willing to bet, William Butler Yeats.
...And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Happy National Poetry Month!

1970 Bantam Paperback Cover

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