" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Medicine for Melancoly (Or: The Sovereign Remedy Revealed!) by Ray Bradbury

  I began reading this story some time ago. Certainly, before our period of self-isolation started. This morning after completing Asimov's "The Winds of  Change", I decided to finish it, possibly because I associate both writers with the first science fiction stories I read. 

Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes have had several doctors attending to their daughter Camilla. None has helped, and finally when the last suggests bleeding her, they drive him off. She tells them she hurts, the list is long, but basically all over. "Since the start of spring, three weeks, I've been a ghost in my mirror; I frighten me. To think  I'll die without seeing my twentieth birthday."  (39) 

Her parents are at a loss; their son Jamie suggests they take her downstairs and set her outside the door. He reasons that someone going by might recognize her condition and suggest a cure. 

"Father?' said Jamie breathlessly. " Have you ever known one single man who didn't think he personally wrote Materia Medica? This green ointment for sour throat, that ox-salve for miasma or bloat? Right now, ten thousand self-appointed apothecaries sneak off down there, their wisdom lost to us!" (40)

When the crowd becomes unruly, Jamie suggests charging them a tuppence for providing a diagnosis. While Camilla's condition remains undiagnosed, the family raises a lot of money to the amazement of Mr. Wilkes. 

"Did you imagine, family, so many people, two hundred, would pay to give us their opinion?" 

"Yes" said Mrs. Wilkes. "Wives, husbands, children are deaf to each other. So people gladly pay to have someone listen. poor things, each today thought he and he alone knew dropsy, glanders, could tell the slaver from hives. So tonight we are rich and two hundred people are happy, having unloaded their full medical kit at our door." (43) The Vintage Bradbury

As is often the case, Bradbury's characters operate with a feverish, almost manic intensity. He has always been a romantic, unfettered by science and the somewhat unconventional solution to their problem is also typical of his work. I enjoyed the story, Bradbury offers some cynical but none the less accurate observations about human nature and our love for offering advice which seem particularly appropriate in our current era of internet charlatans, celebrity "influencers", and pontificating politicians. Also, the mention of ox-salve reminded me of my mother applying horse liniment to my dodgy ankle. The diagrams on the label showing how my fetlocks would be improved by several applications were particularly illuminating. 


The Vintage Bradbury ?

A Medicine for Melancholy ISFDB Dean Ellis?

No comments:

Post a Comment