Bradbury Daily: “Invisible Boy”

This is a good one. Also another supernatural one, though not in the same way as the others. There are no real powers in play here.

In fact, it’s really easiest to describe it as a play on the classic fables and legends, especially those in the tradition of the Anansi stories and the legends from areas like the Louisiana Bayou. It takes place in the Ozarks, so the requirements for the Old Lady’s attempted magic are tweaked to better fit that locale, but the principals are still the same as those you find in stories of voodoo and such.

When you read the story, you also realize that it’s not just the magic that fits in with the old fables, but the whole story from plot to writing style. In fact, if the language weren’t a little tough for a child to understand (hell, it was a little tough for me at times), it would be a pretty good bedtime story.

The premise is that a young boy named Charlie has come to live for a while with the Old Lady, who is some vague relative of his, it’s not really stated exactly how they’re related. She’s also supposed to be a witch of sorts, though confusingly her attempts to accomplish things are referred to as both “magics” and “miracles.” God, with the capital “G,” thus presumably the Christian God, is mentioned more than once, and she thinks her inability to carry out her miracles is punishment for her past sins as a young girl (implied to be the usual things like romance and whatnot). I don’t really know why Bradbury felt the need to inject Christianity into the story; I don’t feel like it added anything. In fact, I think it actively took away from the story. Fables and fairytales are generally not religious, especially not the kind that this seems to draw inspiration from — things like voodoo and magic are frowned upon (and, of course, were at one time actively sought out and destroyed) in Christian religions. Combining them here feels… odd.

Anyway, she decides she wants him to stay with her and be her son, and he doesn’t want that and runs off. So she promises to teach him magics if he’ll come out of the shack he’s locked himself in, and when he does she teaches him to become invisible.

You might consider the next paragraph a spoiler, so read at your own risk.

Which, of course, doesn’t work. But she pretends it does and convinces him that it has, and then proceeds to convince him that he must stay with her until it wears off, which she predicts will be in about a year’s time. The rest of the story proceeds from there.

While there weren’t really any twists here (which, really the only possibility would have been if her magic suddenly worked or something like that), the story was still unpredictable, which was good. It’s often hard to get true enjoyment out of a story when you can already tell what’s going to happen. To his credit Bradbury has managed to avoid this for the most part, but it’s always good when you find a story that could have easily been formulaic and it at least feels like it’s not.

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