31 May 2011

The Old Man and the Snows of Kilimanjaro

I wrote about the graves of famous authors, but I held off on one story, preferring to save it for tonight.
     '"There are right graves and wrong ones, just as there are good times to die and bad times."     "So you think that grave up on the hill is a wrong grave for a right man, do you?"
     "That's about it," I said.
     "You think there are all kinds of graves along the road for all of us?"
     "Could be," I said.
     "And if we could see all our life one way or another, we'd choose better? At the end, looking back,'' said the hunter, "we'd say, hell, that was the year and the place, not the other year and the other place, but that one year, that one place. Would we say that?"
     "Since we have to choose or be pushed finally," I said, "yes."
And thus Ray Bradbury describes the central message of "The Kilimanjaro Device," a short-story contained in the sci-fi masterpiece I Sing the Body Electric.  It is the story of a time-traveler who has come back to offer Ernest Hemingway a "right" final resting place, one befitting a man like Hemingway: atop Kilimanjaro, where only "dark warriors and white hunters and swift okapis know the grave."

"Papa," suffering from the ravages of a lifetime of alcoholism and a loss of that manly virility so often acclaimed in his stories, committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.  It was a tragic end for a man whose writing meant so much to so many.  Bradbury must have felt so too, and so decided to rewrite it.  

I read this story years ago, but it's one that has stuck with me.  I'm not really sure why--perhaps it's the unusual use for a time machine: most of us would want to somehow rewrite the past, but I don't know how many would focus on a gravesite.   In some ways, too, Bradbury's story is an ultimate sign of respect--not apologizing for anything Hemingway did in life, but wishing for a death worthy of the man.

At any rate, it seemed to fit with yesterday's theme.

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