Switch on the Night, 1955

Here’s another little book by a big-name author. Ray Bradbury’s Switch on the Night was published in 1955 and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (none of these big writers illustrate their own stuff, they’re smart like that). There is a little nameless boy who doesn’t like the night. He keeps it away by blazing lights around him at all times until a little moon-girl named Dark introduces him to the night. And she shows him that switching OFF the lights is like switching ON the night. He meets the night and the moon and the sky and the stars and though Bradbury never uses the word “scared”, the pictures go from a scared little boy to a happy one.

First and foremost, there’s the message to not be afraid of the dark, kind of an obvious theme to choose for kids. But if you consider who Bradbury was and what he wrote, the choice is at least a bit nuanced. If you can say one thing about Bradbury, it is that he has been a commentator on human imperfection since he began writing: his short story, “All Summer in a Day” makes visceral the cruel effects of jealousy; “There Will Come Soft Rains,” makes vivid the futility of the human inclination to war as it subtly unveils apocalypse; and Bradbury uses the theme of television addiction in several of his stories, including the well-known Fahrenheit 451 to illustrate mankind’s lazy tendency towards stupidity. Among these many failings as a race, irrational fear looms large for Bradbury. The police bring “The Pedestrian” to the institute for the Research for Regressive Tendencies because his habit of walking at night frightens them. Eckels irreparably changes the future for the worst when he runs scared from a T-Rex in “The Sound of Thunder”. The list goes on. So, it’s no wonder that when Bradbury sat down to write a story for kids, he choose to teach them not to be irrationally afraid. His little boy fears the dark because it is the unknown. Once he meets the night, he sees he no longer need fear it. He even discovers that he likes it.

Now I know we don’t think of hand-holding when we think of him. His stories are often far from positive and tend to verge on the grotesque and the dismal (even in that glorious magical and often humorous kind of way), but here he’s fighting the same fight. Just in a different setting. Switch on the Night is more or less essentially Bradbury. True, it is a bit of a shame that this books lacks any and all of his usual darkness and morbidity, the toothy stuff, the good stuff, the hobos around the fire mumbling Bronte. But maybe like his silhouettes of the kids burnt into the side of the post-Atom bomb house, Bradbury saw children as victims of our short-comings rather than as needing those dark reprimands.

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