Bradbury Daily: “Hail and Farewell”

First off, allow me to apologize; I missed yesterday’s post. I actually thought I had one scheduled, and, well, as you can see, I was wrong on that count. But I’m back now so that’s a good thing!

As soon as I started reading this story I was reminded of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald — a story which I have not read, nor which I have seen the movie adaptation of, but the premise of which is familiar to anyone who has paid any attention to pop culture in recent times or who knows of classic literature.

But if you don’t know, “Benjamin Button” is about a man who ages backward from old age to infancy. He’s played by Brad Pitt in the film, if that’s of any interest to you.

Anyway, that was my first impression, though the premise here is different; it’s not that the “man” in question ages backwards, but that he doesn’t age at all. Oh, he’s been alive for over four decades by this point, but looks no older than 12. It’s an interesting concept. The fabled “fountain of youth” might come to mind, though there’s not so much as even an insinuation that something like that is involved here. No, this poor soul is just stuck in this youthful body for, apparently, no reason whatsoever. Perhaps for the amusement of some higher power.

After all, if a writer’s work is his creation, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that he is God to his characters? If so, then many of us would be considered cruel and spiteful gods for the pain and punishment we dole out to our creation, solely for our own amusement and the amusement of others.

But I digress.

The story is quite lovely, actually, both stylistically and in terms of content. There is a subtle philosophical undercurrent, not uncommon for Bradbury’s work; but always with the awareness that this is a story, and should first and foremost read as a story, rather than some sort of treatise on youth and aging and such. As I’ve noted before, especially with stories such as “The Fire Balloons,” Bradbury’s more philosophy-based stories can at times become more about the philosophy than about the story. Thankfully this isn’t the case here. Everything feels rather natural. The philosophy grows organically from the reflective nature of the story.

In the end, this is actually quite a moving story. Not necessarily a tear-jerker, except perhaps to the most sentimental and emotional of readers, but moving nonetheless. You can’t help but sympathize and feel Willie’s pain at being forever young.

“Youth is wasted on the young,” as the old saying goes; but what it doesn’t say is that only through the lens of nostalgia does this phrase ring true. Though these words are never uttered in the story, Willie’s plight shows us that youth belongs only to the young. Perhaps, then, getting older isn’t all so bad.

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