Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ray Bradbury’s Lost Paragraph

I had always wanted a hardcover copy of The October Country. When I met Ray Bradbury in 1991 I asked him about this and he wrote out the address for the publisher Alfred Knopf on the inside back cover of my 1982 paperback edition, presumably to encourage The October Country’s publication in hardcover. 

I never wrote Knopf, but in 2000 I did find a (then) recently published hardcover edition. I should have saved my money. Re-reading “Homecoming” I noticed one of my favorite passages missing:

With one last withering blast, away they all went, so many scarves, so many fluttery mammals, so many sere leaves, so many whining and clustering noises, so many midnights and insanities and dreams.

It’s a one-sentence paragraph, all of 33 words. But apparently their inclusion would have caused the printer to print an extra page to accommodate them. That’s my best guess as to why it was deleted.

Bradbury was somewhat notorious for rewriting work he’d best left finished. It’s a column for another day. Suffice it to say, if you want the best experience with one of fiction’s best writers, find the older editions. You can’t go wrong with this 1973 edition here, where I unearthed the Great Lost Paragraph. You also get the gorgeous Joe Mugnaini cover:

This book went through a lot of printings in the early 1970s so it’s not rare. Any decent used bookstore should have a copy. As for the illustrated edition of “Homecoming” with paintings by Dave McKean—dear God, no! The paintings are murky, hard-to-make-out garbage, and Bradbury ruins his own classic 1947 story for the sake of giving Timothy’s pet spider a name, among other stupidities. 

Moral of story for writers: learn to accept when your project is finished. If it’s something that’s already out there and the people love it, then by all that’s holy in this debased universe, leave it alone. Don’t tweak so much as a comma. There really does come a point when what you’ve made belongs to the people, and you should keep your hands off.

It’s a point I work towards every day. We should all be so accomplished.