"Mephistophele … Mr. Electrico … the Monster Montgolfier … Mademoiselle Tarot … The Dangling Man … The Illustrated Man … The Skeleton"


Montgolfier balloon
Public DomainMontgolfier balloon - Credit: Mike Young

This list, though somewhat generic and characteristic of a Midwestern traveling carnival’s array of sideshow attractions, includes a few items that have a special resonance in Bradbury’s oeuvre. In the same way he reuses favorite images and motifs (for example: October, carnivals, visits with his literary heroes, and dwarves) in his stories and novels, Bradbury reuses names and characters.


He has related the story many times of an incident in 1932, when he was 12 and a carnival entertainer named Mr. Electrico touched him with an electrified rod, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, “Live forever!” The boy decided that was a fine idea, and decided to go about trying to make it happen. (Note that Charles Halloway expresses that wish to his son in Chapter 28 -- see Bookmark for page 144 in this edition.) He has all but done so with his writing career.

The Illustrated Man was the title of a collection Bradbury had published in 1951, in which he loosely tied together 18 unrelated stories through the device of having them appear as tattoos on a vagrant whom the narrator meets.

A montgolfier, as Will points out, is a large balloon, from the French brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, who ascended in large, ornate hot-air balloons in the early 1780s. The image shown here is a model of the original Montgolfier brothers balloon that is on display at the London Science Museum. Bradbury published a story in 1956 called “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” (which incorporates the three notable names in the history of flight).

In a 1945 horror story called simply “Skeleton,” a man’s entire bone structure gets removed from his skin so that his wife comes home to find a pile of jelly calling her name.