Dark Carnival 75th Anniversary Retrospective: “The Traveler”

[For the previous Dark Carnival post, click here.]

 

“The Traveler” (1945)

The second story in Dark Carnival featuring the positively monstrous Elliot Family of Mellin Town is set a few months after “Homecoming” and centers on the character of Cecy (based on Bradbury’s beloved Aunt Neva). Cecy’s extraordinary gift–the ability to project herself into another creature–is expanded upon: “It was more than telepathy, up one flue and down another. This was complete separation from one body environment into another. It was entrance into tree-nozzling dogs, men, old maids, birds, children at hopscotch, lovers on their morning beds, into workers asweat with shoveling, into unborn babies’ pink, dream-small brains.”

As the mentally-adventuring Cecy lies comatose in her bedroom, she is burst in on by her shady Uncle John. Being driven crazy by the peal of “holy church bells” in his head, John is desperate for Cecy to enter into him and clean out his cranium. Cecy’s Mother explains that Cecy is presently unavailable, and unlikely to help, considering the traitorous and treacherous uncle’s past betrayals of the Family (certain members ended up staked through the heart after being exposed to the authorities by John, who was paid a $100 fee for every relative ratted out). Determined to be cured of the noise inside his head, John threatens to go the local sheriff and expose the Elliots as “a wicked family, living under false pretenses.” But he is foiled at every turn, and after he finally commits suicide (his only perceived escape from the bells), Cecy reveals that she was the one creating that holy racket in John’s head all along.

The fantasy elements of the story allow Bradbury to engage in some amazing permutations (e.g., Cecy experiencing the world from a crayfish’s viewpoint, or speaking through a dead man’s lips). Cecy’s extensive mental traveling (“She loved riding the monster [train] engines as far as as could stretch the contact [with the conductor]”) also speaks to Bradbury’s own wanderlust as he grew up amongst his family in Waukegan. A tale about identity and assimilation and persecution and the dangers of difference, “The Traveler” remains as timely today as it was upon its first publication (in Weird Tales) and 1947 collection in Dark Carnival.

 

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