How did I not know that The Illustrated Man (published in 1951) is a collection of short stories? I don’t know why I was under the impression that it’s a novel. Weird.
The Illustrated Man himself is a vagrant covered in tattoos. Tattoos that he received from a woman he claims is a time-traveler. Tattoos that are animated, each telling a different story. There is a blank spot on one of his shoulder blades, if I remember correctly, that fills itself in if someone is in the Illustrated Man’s presence for too long, and it tells the future of that person. The Illustrated Man has been working for carnival freak shows, but keeps getting fired or run off because of his (apparently more freakish than they want) tattoos.
The book starts with the narrator meeting the Illustrated Man, being told his story, and then watching his tattoos for the rest of the night. The short stories collected in the book are supposed to be the stories the tattoos are telling. They are all science fiction stories.
I thought about giving a brief description of each story here, but there are 18 stories in total, and that would make for a very long post. If you’re interested, you can easily look up their synopses on Wikipedia or elsewhere, I’m sure.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the stories that I really enjoyed or that really creeped me out…
First and foremost, the short story that inspired Elton John to write “Rocket Man” is in this collection! It’s titled “The Rocket Man” (imagine that), and right away it reminded me of Elton John’s song, so I HAD to do that research. And sure enough, Bradbury’s story was the inspiration for the song. How cool is that?! I love Elton John and was so excited to learn that little tidbit.
In “The Veldt,” the children are the bad guys, and I have never been able to handle evil children in books or movies. It’s just so unnatural. [shudders]
“The Last Night of the World” really made me feel some kind of way because it’s about a couple that finds out the world is going to end that night, and they have to decide how they want to spend their last night together with their children. What would your last night look like if you knew the world was going to end? Would you do anything special?
I thought “The Exiles” was super cool because it’s about the deceased authors of banned books –Dickens, Poe, and Shakespeare, to name a few — inhabiting Mars in some weird afterlife. Shakespeare’s Three Witches are there, too. It’s a neat story with a sad ending.
“Marionettes, Inc.” really creeped me out because it’s about realistic robots (AI) developing feelings and thoughts of their own and turning on their human owners.
“The Other Foot,” made me think a lot about how I wanted the story to end. If you haven’t read it, I don’t want to say much more than that and give the story away. I was raised to be the better person, but that’s not usually fun, and it’s almost always super frustrating.
“The City” was super creepy because the city itself is the AI, and it does gross things to the humans that show up. Blech.
There are 11 other stories in the collection, and I didn’t dislike any of them. I thought some were better than others, but they were all good. I’m not sure the framework of the Illustrated Man and his tattoos works as well as Bradbury wanted it to, but that doesn’t matter, honestly. It’s about the stories, and Bradbury does short stories so well.
Have you read The Illustrated Man? What were your favorite stories?