Neil Gaiman’s debt to Ray Bradbury as master of the macabre short story made me want to go back and reread a couple of classics.
Bradbury’s world always appears to be on the periphery of what’s comfortable and safe, occupying antiquated fairgrounds and remote shacks on the edges of windswept landscapes. His characters are always just on the edge. The Dwarf is one such tale, using the setting of a hall of mirrors for its disturbing chain of events. The dwarf from a ramshackle fairground finds solace in the mirror maze, visiting night after night. He’s watched by a would-be tormentor, who realises that he is posing in front of a specific mirror, one that alters his proportions to a larger size. The nightly visits always satisfy the dwarf, until a mirror is mysteriously changed and things aren’t quite the same again.
The creepy showground is also the backdrop for The Jar, where a mysterious glass bottle houses something quite disturbing that may be a fake or may be a real and rather sickening specimen. It is real enough to spark flights of imagination in those who gaze at it – we hear of dead infants and drowned kittens – before the story ends with something very tangible taking residence the jar…
These tales date from 1955 and 1947 respectively, but Bradbury is still going strong. There’s a new film version of Fahrenheit 451 in production and there’s always room for a new version of my personal favourite The Martian Chronicles. But these older short stories are always worth a read. And always manage to unsettle.