Bradbury Daily: “The Playground”

I know, I know, I missed a day again. To be fair I schedule the posts at night, and I work until pretty late Saturday nights, then have to drive home, and then fall asleep pretty soon after. Cut me some slack!

Before I start the review I’d just like to note that Bradbury uses the word “subsiding” in this story, which, while not an uncommon word, made me very happy for some reason. Maybe I just particularly like the word “subsiding” tonight, maybe I just have serious problems. I don’t know. Something to think about.

Also, Bradbury uses the word “Cruikshank” here, capitalized but used in an adjectival sense — “…those gross Cruikshank children.” Unfortunately I have no idea what it means. I tried looking up the word, but the results were less than helpful; I found two (long dead) British caricaturists and a 21 year old actor with the surname Cruikshank and a U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Cruikshank, which, as far as I can glean from the incredibly unhelpful articles (seriously, write something for people who didn’t go to law school), had to do with Second Amendment rights (for those of you outside the United States, the Second Amendment to the American Constitution is, put simply in modern terms, the right to bear arms).

I suppose, given that the court case stemmed from the “Colfax Massacre,” Bradbury could be using “Cruikshank” in that sense to compare the children to people partaking in a massacre, but it feels like an odd, obscure reference. Maybe at the time the story was written it was still a case most people were familiar with? It’s from 1876, so I suppose it’s possible. But Bradbury’s earliest work is from 1938, over four decades after the case, and I would surmise that this story was written later than that, being that it was published originally in 1953, in the first edition of Fahrenheit 451. That’s 77 years after the case. I can’t imagine it staying in the public memory for that long.

So if anyone reading this has any idea of just what in the hell Bradbury means when he uses the word “Cruikshank” to describe these children, please comment, because it’s going to drive me crazy forever if I don’t find out.

I don’t remember childhood being anything like this. Viciously violent in a way only Tarantino (and apparently Bradbury) could properly depict. The injuries of my childhood, at least the ones inflicted by others, were almost never physical, they were emotional. That seems to be the common situation for my generation, and as time goes on and the Internet makes it even easier for children to be cruel to one another, the shift towards emotional pain is becoming more and more dramatic. But apparently Bradbury’s childhood and the childhoods of his own children were violent, full of fistfights and blood and bruises.

At 21 years of age, it sounds awfully exciting, but I’m old enough and experienced enough to know my limits and to know that I could handle violence of this sort. There’s nothing life-threatening here, though it does seem quite brutal. In a situation where it’s fight or flight, and you’re not at risk of actually dying? There’s a real rush in taking the chance to fight. Also, I happen to be a guy — and for all you out there who care about strict labels, that’s a cis, white, hetero male — so this opinion is, of course, affected by the fact that I have higher levels of testosterone, etc. But I digress. Point is, at 21 this seems very different than it would have in childhood; a situation like this would have looked like World Ward II in my eyes as a child.

Bradbury is a master of his craft. I’ve said similar before but I’ll say it again here. Despite what I said above about fighting sounding exciting, the violence here is anything but. And that was a conscious choice. It had to be. Because there are plenty of novels and stories that make violence seem glamorous. And don’t even get me started on movies and television. But Bradbury, it would seem, was aware of that, and was aware that the viewpoint which glamorizes violence is the viewpoint of an adult. By focusing on the more visceral and grotesque sides of the violence, though, Bradbury strips away the adult glamour and instead hits upon the childish fear, the brutality and terror that accompanies violence, especially for children. An adult can take the pain of a few punches, a fall, scraped knees; we know that we’ve survived them before and will again. To a child, these things feel like the end of the world.

Here, too we see the terror of parenthood, in a much more obvious way than we did previously in “The Great Fire.: Through Charles Underhill we experience all the concerns and fears that only a parent can experience. By the time the story was published, his first two daughters had been born. While I can’t say for sure when the story was actually written, it seems extremely likely that Bradbury was writing from experience, at least when it comes to the concerns and thought processes of fatherhood.

I’m noticing that this review is starting to run quite long, for this series at least (faithful readers will known that I’m prone to very lengthy posts, especially when it comes to album reviews), so I think I should probably wrap it up with this. The story itself is quite good, one of the best I’ve read in a while now, I’d say. There was a very good twist, which even I didn’t see coming until it was revealed. I had my own theory about the titular Playground, of course, but, while it was a pretty good idea, in my opinion, it wasn’t what Bradbury opted for.

Unfortunately, I think it’s still too similar to Bradbury’s for me to ever actually use it without being accused of copying him. At the very least the story leading up to my twist would have to be quite similar in a few ways. But we’ll see, maybe someday I’ll figure out a workaround.

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