On Ray Bradbury's "The Dwarf"


Timothy Stillman

"The Dwarf" was the first Bradbury story I ever read. It was on Christmas Eve. I got to open one present then. The rest on Christmas morning. To my wonder and amazement, the rest of the presents were all the rest of his books to that time. All the artistic mood, the eerie familiarity in that story sent me off to Bradbury country in style, and yes, I also wonder if Mr. Big (elow!) did indeed kill some people for research in his stories, as a story by Dennis Etchison would explore, and just how did that house of his parents burn down anyway?

One thing--Bradbury mentions that Mr. Big moved seemingly in pain. And I wonder if he was in pain. I know that being a dwarf, a life span is very short, and I would imagine painful as well. I notice that in this story and especially in "The Next in Line" much is made of the ticking of clocks, outwardly, and our own internal clocks. And I wonder if Aimee knew in some frightened way, when she was in the booth, turning over the cards, what that banging sound in the mirror maze that Ralph was doing comprised, did she know what Ralph was doing? And praying that he not do it? I say, yes. Yes, I also wonder why she was hanging around Ralph Banghart (god, is that a name to conjure with, or what?). Perhaps she did indeed know too much, wondering maybe if she would see herself distorted as well in one of those fun house mirrors? What indeed was inside her that also was broken? Is that what she saw in Mr. Big? Herself?

Perhaps Ralph was abusing her. Perhaps her gentle soul (that has the frightened courage to reach out, to tremor test the pool of another person, maybe two; knowing they could never touch inside themselves) was being sucked out of her, like Mr. Big's was ,when he saw the mirror monster the monster had made of him, and indeed, of Ralph, when he sees what he really is, inside of what he has created. (There was an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller in which a man sees the interior monster of himself in a mirror--chilling.)

And yes, the rollie coasters were the closest people could come to dying and still be alive and enjoy the vicarious thrill of it. Maybe Aimee was caught in this little edge of carnie life as much as Mr. Big was helplessly caught in his world. Neither of those worlds of their own making. Mr. Big, I love it, a writer, and caught in mirrors and mirrors, not wanting to be too obvious when he went to the mirror maze, not wanting to be obvious at all, there in his asking for a ticket for one, and just kind of walking into it as a kind of oh well nothing much to do tonight, might as well look around--I remember as a child and as a teen, when no one was else in the house, but me, I would sometimes take off my clothes, like Marie does in "The Next in Line" and like Mr. Big does, in his way in "The Dwarf." I would stand there in my bones and muscles and skin and face and eyes and ears, and I would think, what is this thing in front of me? What is this device I am in that is me. It is visible to me. Do others look like this? Why am I invisible, it seems, to everyone else? Am I as bad looking as I think? I have all the components of my body, I guessed, but this is not me, my eyes are too vague, my face too pale and I would touch my chest and my arms and my legs and I would think, is this how this is supposed to feel? Why am I able to move my arm when I just do so? what tells it to move?..what if it gets cut off somehow someday?..will I be me still?..and what is me?...and I think Bradbury is such a genius in writing this, and making much of mirrors and how we see ourselves...

..for, after all, mirrors really do lie, they reverse our images for one thing. We never see ourselves as we really are. Ralph at seeing the real monster in him, not the horrible trick played on Mr. Big by nature or Ralph, and the need to think, if Aimee had gotten that mirror delivered to Mr. Big, if he could have had it in his room, would he have stared at it long and long like I stared at my mirror.. Sometimes, I would get close up to the medicine chest mirror, where I stared close up at my face, closing one eye, opening another, resting my chin on my hand like Rod Serling did in pictures of him, with that writerly look in his eyes and face..would it have been the end, that magical mirror for himself alone...of his writing? I think of the scientist, Stephen Hawkins, who is in a wheelchair and has to speak through a machine, his body wasted, whose vast knowledge of the science of astronomy has illuminated us and sent us through unknown galaxies, but maybe that never would have been, if his body had not been so horribly harmed.

I feel the heat of the story. I feel the sounds of it. The distant screaming of the people on the rollie coaster. I love that--"rollie"--I hear the tickings of moths against glass on a way too hot night as Aimee turns the cards, and she is a deep one, this Aimee, she is some profound lady, who Bradbury makes us feel such wonder toward, and if there were an Aimee in everyone's life, just someone who noticed them, and said to someone like Mr. Big, these stories are good, really good, worth more than a half cent a word, then I can't help but wonder if he would have run screaming down the pier as he eventually did in the story. And what became of him, and Aimee also in the night crying in all that blackness?

Bradbury's stories are so personal; and universal; "The Dwarf" seems to be written straight at us; somehow he knows how a lot of us feel. In the illustration on the page before "The Dwarf," I look at that little man like "squeezed in a wine press," that Ralph thinks he can play like an accordion, and sadly, does, and I think this is a very frightening little man, Mr. Big. And I wonder, because we do feel sadness for him and so very much empathy, but in that drawing, Mr. Big is so sinister looking; why would he not want to kill?, to exact revenge in whatever way he could? After all, this is a man who has every right in the world to feel every parcel of anger that he possesses, at the Giants' existence, and that horrible huge world over the garden wall that his parents tried to protect him from--and they and the wasps nest size house perhaps killed and burned by earlier Ralph's, maybe? I do not think I would like to meet Mr. Big on a street dark one late night.

I think that's one of the realizations of this story that has just hit me. Bradbury always teaches me something new each time I re-read him. But it doesn't stop me from being on Mr. Big's side. And if Ralph is to torment him, because Ralph is one mean mother, well, maybe Ralph has been tormented in the past, god knows; Bradbury could make us feel sympathy for him, even the cold blooded murderer in "The October Game" is given sympathy for a sentence, ("some people get sad early on, for no particular reason") before the man cuts his step daughter's head off.

Thus too, Ralph, and he takes it out on Mr. Big, because my god, could there be a better person to score off of? And if Mr. Big does indeed have a few murders under his belt, could this dwarf we feel such sadness for, if placed in Ralph's body and mind, with Ralph placed in Mr. Big's body and mind, do the same thing to Ralph as Ralph does to Mr. Big? Yes, again, I say; well, they wouldn't be murders of people for themselves maybe, but others, back there that he can't reach. Think? Probably way off. But the ideas just keep expanding. God bless Ray Bradbury.

Yes, Ralph lives for perverting that somethingness Mr. Big has, the one light that shines for the dwarf. I wonder what Ralph will do without him? And without Aimee? Hopefully they are both gone from him forever and he can sit in his little glass ticket taker's coffin forever, waiting and waiting, as time ticks slowly and slowly by for him.

The sentences, all of them, they are Bradbury poetry. No one, no one writes like him. The water a " sea of burning tinsel and glass." All the words in Mr. Bradbury's head speak to our hearts, don't they? I knew for sure I was in love with his words forevermore, when I opened "The October Country" and read the preface..."that country where it is always turning late in the year...that country whose people are only autumn people, thinking autumn thoughts...whose people passing on the empty sidewalks sound like rain..." Like with Rod Serling, as with Ray Bradbury, I knew instantly I had found my two best friends. I cried after I read "The Dwarf" that Christmas Eve night. It had snowed that day. School was out forever. I would play in the snow Christmas Day. Wondrous Christmas Day. And the night was bitterly cold. I, with tons of blankets over me, in our un-well heated house, stayed awake most of the night, thinking of Mr. Big, and time ticked for me too, happily, till Christmas morning. And the surprise glory of every package I unwrapped under that stupid silver art-deco dumb much hated Christmas tree, were the Bantam and Ballantine paper backs of a writer named Ray Bradbury.

To glow in my heart forevermore.