Once upon a time –as every good story should start– there was independent filmmaker and writer Paul Davids sitting at a luncheon right next to none other than the Ray Bradbury, arguably one of the greatest American writers of the XXth century. Curiously enough, and like many other authors who made a living out of imagining interstellar adventures and life on other planets, Mr. Bradbury was very skeptic about the topic of UFOs.
Paul Davids is definitely not a skeptic. Not only did he have a personal sighting of a classic saucer-shaped object along with his two young children at their home in 1987, but he was also involved in the TV film Roswell based on the book by Kevin Randle and Don Schmitt, which Paul had just finished producing by the time he was breaking bread with Bradbury. When the legendary writer learned about this he became angrier than a Martian white ape in heat and started yelling at poor Paul:
““What are you doing making a piece of fiction like that and trying to pass it off as something that’s true?” I was so taken aback. I said “Mr Bradbury, with all due respect, have you heard what the witnesses really said? Do you know the case?” He said, “I don’t have to now the case – *I* know it didn’t happen!” And I said, “Mr Bradbury, can I ask why you’re so sure?” He said, “Because I’m Ray Bradbury! They would have told ME! You think this would have happened and they wouldn’t have told ME!? You’re crazy!”“
Oh boy. Talk about the heat of the Rocket Summer!
And so, old Mr. Bradbury went to his grave thinking those silly flaying saucers were nothing but a bunch of hooey. Had he been younger, perhaps, he would have been more open-minded to David’s arguments in favor of the Roswell incident –although truth be told, the older *I* get, the more SKEPTICAL about it I turn!– or perhaps he had read about early UFO reports when he was younger, and decided that the ‘Martians’ and ‘Venusians’ who kept contacting startled farmers, truck drivers and housewives all around America weren’t nearly as interesting as his own Martians, who glided through the arid canals of their red homeworld onboard ancient boats pulled by a myriad firebirds.
Which is truly ironic, because The Martian Chronicles is probably my favorite book in the English language, and I happen to believe that in its pages Ray Bradbury managed to connect the dots and pay homage to MANY of the anomalous phenomena surrounding UFO accounts and other Fortean mysteries, in ways that most UFO researchers haven’t even bothered to consider!
I will now proceed to list some of The Martian Chronicle’s chapters –which are actually short stories, sometimes loosely threaded between one another– in which these literary insights are to be found, and give a brief exposition regarding their Fortean relevance. Needless to say this article will be 100% SPOILERIFIC, so if you haven’t read Bradbury’s magnum opus I suggest you turn off your computer or electronic device and borrow a copy of this wonderful book at your nearest library (yes, those are still a thing! Remember that Bradbury’s entire education consisted solely on spending his nights at the public library and his days pounding the typewriter):
Chapter 2: Ylla
This is the story of a Martian couple (Mr. and Mrs. K) living through the days of a loveless marriage amid the crystal pillars of their ancestral home. Then suddenly Mrs. K starts having recurring dreams of a silvery craft moving through the air, and onboard this ship was a man with features unlike that of common Martian folk, and yet she found her incredibly handsome; in the dream the man claimed to be from planet Earth. Her husband mocks the dream, since everybody on Mars knew Earth was incapable of harboring life, yet as the dreams keep occurring incessantly and Mrs. K gets more and more involved with this ‘vision’ –or delusion, according to his husband– Mr. K eventually becomes incredibly jealous of this mystery alien visitor his wife was so infatuated with. Could it be this Earthman was actually going to arrive to take her wife away from him?
Despite the stubborn insistence of materialist ‘Nuts and bolters’, the fact of the matter is that precognition and other psi phenomena are strongly linked to the UFO phenomenon. Many experiencers claim to have had ‘hyper-realistic’ dreams in which there seems to be an interaction between the person, and a ‘force’ or intelligence that feels completely independent of their own minds. UFOlogists should not discard the possibility that non-human entities could choose to communicate to us through ‘subtler’ channels than the stereotypical landing of a metal craft.
Furthermore, how many experiencers have ended up with their romantic relationships ruined because of their alleged interactions with aliens? How does a councilor be able to provide proper psychological support when one of the spouses is ‘cheating’ the other with a being from another world?! –Hopefully, none of those estranged partners will resort to Mr. K’s extreme methods in order to salvage their marriage…
Chapter 6: The Third Expedition
After the first two missions to Mars prove unsuccessful –the first one fails at the hands of a jealous Martian as mentioned earlier, whereas the crew of the second one all end up committed to a Martian insane asylum, where only death could terminate their ‘delusion’ that they came from planet Earth– the third expedition’s rocket lands on the surface of the Red Planet. Or should we say ‘Green Planet’ because the astonished crew members realize the landscape looks just like your typical Midwestern town! Not only that, but the townspeople who come to warmly greet them are all their own relatives and parents who died many years ago. Eventually Captain John Black realizes they’ve all fallen into a trap: The town is an illusion and their long-lost family members are actually shapeshifting Martians, who are capable of reading their thoughts and mold their image according to their memories.
Here we have the most poetic rendition of what my friend and colleague Greg Bishop coined as The Co-Creation Hypothesis: the suggestion that during an anomalous encounter with something that falls completely outside the witness’s past experiences and expectations, its mind will frenetically try to place the event into one of its neat mental boxes; failing to do so, the mind will reference the person’s cultural baggage to ‘clothe’ the unknown as best it can, in order to make it more approachable or relatable. Because of this, a witness extracted from an industrialized nation will interpret a close encounter in terms of spacecraft from another planet, because that’s what he or she is conditioned to do; whereas an Amazonian shaman would probably provide an interpretation more in tandem with his indigenous worldview and cosmogony. In other words, Reality is a consensual hallucination, and at the face of the incredible that illusion gets short-circuited.
Greg’s theories are solidly founded in concepts like perception psychology and information theory. But, could it also be the case that the aliens deliberately choose to employ our cultural expectations in order to ‘meet us half-way’? Like Bradbury’s shapeshifting Martians –or DC’s Martian Manhunter– perhaps UFOs and their occupants have a capacity to ‘mimic’ themselves up to a certain degree, in order not to frighten us too much. I speculated about these ideas further on a recent essay for The Daily Grail, and this might also help explain the ‘steampunk’ nature of those impossible airships sighted throughout the United States in the late 1890s.
Then again, perhaps the aliens don’t really have a total say on the shape they adopt in front of us, and are subject to the powerful influence of our fears and fantasies that either turn them into angels or demons. This again is illustrated by Ray Bradbury in another chapter of the book —The Martian— when an old couple finds another shape-shifting denizen of the Red Planet, who takes the form of their dead son. But the Martian has no control on what shape it adopts, and as soon as it accompanies the old father to town, it’s compelled to adopt the form of whatever long-lost spouse, child or friend the person in front of it has a strong sense of melancholy for.
Do we make the gods weep when we can’t dream a better dream of them?
Chapter 11: Night Meeting
One of the new human settlers on Mars, Tomás, has a serendipitous encounter with a Martian on a dark, ancient highway. Both are absolutely convinced that the other one is not real: A ghost of Mars’s ancient past for Tomás, or a vision of the faraway future for the Martian. Perhaps both are wrong… and right.
After so many years studying the UFO phenomenon, one of the few solid realizations I’ve come up with is this: If UFOs are real, then that means we don’t actually understand Reality.
And if we don’t understand Reality, we also probably can’t grasp the true nature of Time. Some of my favorite MU episodes are when Aaron discusses Jenny Randles’s investigations on what she coined as ‘Time Storms’: Either natural of artificially-induced phenomena which seem capable of locally distort time around the witness, who may find itself transported to a past era. The Moberly-Jourdain incident –also known as the Versailles time slip— is a classical example. In Bradbury’s story, the fact that the ‘Time slip’ happened to a man driving a truck on a lonely road –a typically liminal location– is also worth noting.
What if UFOs are simply ghosts from an alternative future?
Chapter 13: The Fire Balloons
Father Peregrine and Father Stone are among the first missionaries to set foot on Mars. Once they arrive, they get word from the human settlers of strange luminous globes of blue light that roam around the remote hills. The men consider the lights to be intelligent beings of some kind, and Father Peregrine is determined to find out of these ‘fire balloons’ are indeed sentient beings endowed with free will a–and therefore, a soul– by risking his own life to see if the lights would choose to come to his rescue. This they do, and the lights manage to communicate with Peregrine and dissuade him of his plans to erect a church in order to convert them. They have no need of salvation, they explain to him, for they are The Old Ones: the free spirits of the ancient Martians who lived thousands of years ago, and transmuted into this new form of existence.
This is not only my favorite chapter in the whole book, but the main reason I wanted to write this article in the first place. All throughout the world we hear stories of mysterious glowing orbs –The Bown Mountain lights, the Min Min lights, etc– and while some investigators speculate they constitute some sort of unexplained natural phenomenon produced by the action of atmospheric or geological forces —i.e. Paul Devereux’s Earth Lights— we should not discount the possibility that these could be plasma-based beings.
Preposterous? Perhaps. Ironically enough though, the first one to ever suggest UFO reports were caused by sightings of plasma balls was arch-skeptic Philip J. Klass –but of course, he didn’t think the balls were alive. Recently it was discovered that the British Ministry of Defence once launched an investigation on UFOs called Project Condign, which speculated about the possible hallucinatory effects caused by being in proximity of such types of atmospheric phenomena. And Rose Mary Ellen Guiley’s research on the djinn also suggests our ancestors knew of these ethereal entities “made of smokeless fire”… and had good reasons to keep their distance from them.
During one of the encounters with non-human entities Whitley Strieber allegedly had, he requested the being to show itself “in its true form.” What Strieber saw then was a ball of light, which seems to suggest this may be the actual nature of all the phenomena we choose to categorize under different labels –aliens, faeries, demons, angels, etc. Maybe they represent a final stage in the evolution of sentient organisms, just like the ‘siddhas’ in Hindu texts, when you free yourself from the ‘illusion’ of Matter and wake up to the REAL life.
Thus concludes my Fortean analysis of Ray Bradbury’s magical prose. Cynics could suggest that to a man with a hammer the whole world is a nail, meaning that since I’m obsessed with the kind of paranormal activity I’ve described above, I could easily find it in any other book –or even the back of a cereal box! Skeptics might even point to my list and see it as ‘proof’ that UFO reports are nothing but fabrications inspired by previous works of fiction, like that of Bradbury.
To which I would suggest that when readers return the copy of Martian Chronicles to their local library, they also take the opportunity to borrow Jeffrey Kripal’s Mutants and Mystics next. In it Kripal points to the many ways in which great works of Fiction and the Paranormal cross-pollinate one another in ways beyond human control and understanding, and makes the boldest of suggestions: That these mysteries make far more sense from a narrative point of view, than an empirical one.
Mark Twain once said that the difference between real life and fiction, is that fiction has to make sense. I respectfully disagree: Real life could make just as much sense as fiction, if we only dare to read it from a different perspective. The UFO phenomenon and other Fortean mysteries offers us the chance to do just that.
“The way I see it there’s a Truth on every planet. All parts of the Big Truth. On a certain day they’ll all fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw. (…) And we’ll go on to other worlds, adding the sum of the parts of the Truth until one day the whole Total will stand before us like the light of a new day.”