Almost a triple-spin. I tried to re-read the original The Fall of the House of Usher, but just couldn’t get through it. I did give it a skim while waiting in line at Comcast, though. Sadly, I did not have War and Peace or Moby Dick handy.
The episode starts off with a nice self-referential joke. Two men — in Bradbury’s universe, presumably firemen — shovel books into an incinerator. It is then set to Fahrenheit 451. Sadly it is all downhill from there.
Stendahl (Patrick Macnee) is reading aloud from Poe’s short story. I would guess much to his architect’s relief, he stops after the first interminable sentence and shuts the book. The architect, Bigelow, has just built “the 2nd House of Usher” for Stendahl. By his design it is desolate and terrible and bleak.
The names Usher and Poe mean nothing to Bigelow as all Poe’s books were banned and burned 20 years earlier. Hawthorne, Steinbeck, Vonnegut are all cited as being burned, but one of those things is not like the others. Tales of fantasy and horror were forbidden — not sure that applies to Steinbeck; unless you are a rabbit. Or an Okie.
Macnee has filled Usher II with forbidden films and forbidden books. This draws a visit from Inspector Garrett of the Division of Moral Climates. They can’t allow Stendahl’s “haunted house” to stand — any sort of horror or fantasy or departure from realism has been outlawed. Garrett says the house will have to be torn down. Macnee kills the inspector and replaces him with a robot.
Inspector Gadget — er Garrett — goes back to his office and invites the rest of the Division of Moral Climates to enjoy a fantastical going-away party at Usher II before they tear it down. Even in the future year of 2005, rules are for little people. Turns out the Inspector had sent an android to Usher II — so the human Inspector is still alive. At the party, he witnesses, what I assume is a Masque of the Red Death costume ball. Also a Pit. Also a Pendulum. Also a Premature Burial. Also etc. All based on Poe works burned by the Mortal Climates people.
Stendahl leads Garrett to the basement. Unfortunately for the Inspector, Stendahl is carrying an Amontillado, and he is walled-in just as in Poe’s story. Macnee jabs him for not having read the story and thus knowing that this was coming, telling him “goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.” OK, that was Indiana Jones’ father, but the sentiment is the same.
Outside, Stendahl reads aloud the last sentence of Poe’s story and a carriage carries him away from Usher II.
The episode is pretty faithful to the short story except, oh yeah, it takes place on MARS! It is included in The Martian Chronicles. The short story is set in 2005 whereas the episode is set in 2125. I understand it had to be post-dated since the “future” date of 2005 was getting pretty close, but why was it pushed back so far? Living to see speech codes and political correctness, surely Bradbury didn’t see things getting better.
Strangely, in 2005 on Mars, the story ends with Stendahl leaving Usher II in a helicopter. In 2125 on Earth, he leaves in a horse-drawn carriage. Maybe the Moral Climate Change people showed up too.
- First published in the April 1950 issue of Thrilling Wonder stories as Carmnival of Madness. I suspect it did not originally take place on Mars, and Bradbury added a few words to shoe-horn it into da Chronicles.
- It seems pretty obvious that the main character was named after Stendhal, a founder of the realism movement in literature. But why change the spelling? That’s not very realistic.