The Fire Balloons by Ray Bradbury, 1951
The magic trick:
Combining religious ponderings with science fiction to make a point about nostalgia for childhood
If yesterday’s Bradbury feature on SSMT demonstrated his ability to deal in Earthly themes through an extraterrestrial setting, then today’s story, “The Fire Balloons,” shows him taking that gift and pushing one step further.
The story examines religion in a surprisingly fresh and thoughtful way. The story does this on Mars. OK, so there are two elements again – familiar, human themes set in space. The extra element? A heavy dose of Midwestern nostalgia.
As it turns out, the story isn’t really about God or Mars. It’s about childhood – which I suspect was Bradbury’s religion. The sequences that feature the fire balloons in Father Peregrine’s memory are beautifully written and add an extra layer to what was already an interesting story. And that’s quite a trick on Bradbury’s part.
Father Stone gasped. “I think you enjoy this sort of thing!”
“I keep my mind alive, Father; just alive, is all.”
“Your mind’s always juggling, isn’t it? – mirrors, torches, plates.”
“Yes. Because sometimes the Church seems like those posed circus tableaux where the curtain lifts and men, white, zinc-oxide, talcum-powder statues, freeze to represent abstract Beauty. Very wonderful. But I hope there will always be room for me to dart among the statues, don’t you, Father Stone?”