Through many stories in The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury offers us death, yet underlying that is the deeper theme of living, that we are all immortal in one way or another. Several stories demonstrate this theme of immortality.
“The Third Expedition” touches on immortality when Captain Black and his crew discover everyman’s town on Mars. Grandmother Lustig explains they have been there since they died. “. . . All we know is here we are, alive again, and no questions asked. A second chance.” After their deaths, the crew of the third expedition are tended and buried by the Martians, whose faces shift “like wax”, yet the band plays on, marshalling memories, imagination, music, for example, all things that give us life, back to town forever.
“The Fire Balloons” demonstrates immortality with Father Peregrine, who comes to Mars to offer faith and eternal salvation to Martians, but finds instead that the Old Martians are living forever as lightening and blue fire. (He dares hope to find his long-dead grandfather amongst them.) The Martians have abandoned all that is corporeal and put away their sins. Their vast age is the Truth of their immortality, to be shared one day, by all planets.
In “The Long Years”, Mr. Hathaway has discovered another way to immortality. By the time Captain Wilder encounters him on Mars, Hathaway’s family are long dead, yet they live and thrive. After his own death, a replicated ” . . . woman, two daughters, a son . . . tend the fire, talk and laugh. . .” as he taught them and bid them. Their light shines metaphorically and unceasingly over the Martian seas.
Ray Bradbury wants us to see in his chronicles that in spite of death, life is forever, it goes on in many ways; ancestors, replicas, memories, our children. The last Earthlings discover the first Martians — themselves — giving us assurance that the new Martians will live a million years, in other words, forever.
- Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, Toronto, Canada, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2011. (This edition updated and revised.)
It’s a bit of a curiosity that the edition above is updated and revised — the original dates for each of the chapters have been modernized. That means that the original chronology from January 1999, “Rocket Summer”, through October 2026, “The Million-Year Picnic”, has been moved forward to occur from 2030 through 2057.
I guess that means we didn’t send a manned mission to Mars in 1999, as Mr. Bradbury so hopefully predicted way back in the late forties when he wrote his chronicles.