Thursday, October 20, 2011

Countdown: Ray Bradbury's Top 10 Dark Carnival/October Country Stories--#5

[For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.]

#5."The Dwarf" (collected in The October Country)

Much like Bradbury's other carnival tales, "The Dwarf" (first published in 1954) prefigures Something Wicked This Way Comes--especially in its focus on a Mirror Maze.  But there are also some salient differences between story and novel.  For one thing, the carnival in "The Dwarf" is set atop a sunny seaside pier, not in some autumnal meadow in the Midwest.  More importantly, in the short story Bradbury substitutes gritty realism for supernaturalism, dark crime for dark fantasy.

The titular dwarf, Mr. Bigelow (brilliantly described as "resembling nothing more than a dark-eyed, dark-haired, ugly man who has been locked in a winepress, squeezed and wadded down and down, fold on fold, agony on agony, until a bleached, outraged mass is left, the face bloated shapelessly") habitually pays a dime to enter the carnival's Mirror Maze.  In the back room of the attraction, Bigelow can be spied dancing happily before his enlarged reflection in one of the special mirrors.  What at first might seem like a touching narrative, though, quickly shades off into noir.

Good-hearted Aimee (who operates the carnival's "hoop circus") feels kindly toward the diminutive figure and seeks to help him.  Trying to learn more about him, she discovers that Bigelow is a writer who pounds out "pulp detective stories" all night long in his "one-room cheap apartment."  Aimee admires the man's talent and believes he could be quite a successful scribe if he had more self-confidence.  Thinking that Bigelow would be better off if he didn't have to make his ignominious trips to the carnival (where the Mirror Maze's attendant, Ralph, always looks down on him), Aimee arranges to have a replica of the image-lengthening mirror sent to the his apartment.  But Ralph, contemptuous of Aimee's benevolence and perhaps jealous of her attention to the dwarf, in the meantime rigs the Mirror Maze so that it gives Bigelow a distorted reflection of a much different sort.  This cruel trick ultimately spurs the dwarf to take murderous revenge against Ralph.

When last seen, Bigelow is a "horrid" figure who sends Aimee running scared, but Bradbury's story labors to show that the poor man was pushed to such a criminal low.  In "The Dwarf," the ostensibly "normal" Ralph is the true monster, his attitudes/actions proving more grotesque than any freak deformity of physique.

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