Green Shadows, White Whale
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2013)|
Dust-jacket from the first edition
|Genre||Fantasy, Soft science fiction|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3503.R167 G75 1992|
Green Shadows, White Whale is a 1992 novel by Ray Bradbury. It gives a fictionalized account of his journey to Ireland in 1953-1954 to write a screen adaptation of the novel Moby-Dick with director John Huston. Bradbury has said he wrote it after reading actress Katharine Hepburn's account of filming The African Queen with Huston in Africa. The title itself is a play on Peter Viertel's novel White Hunter, Black Heart, which is also about Huston.
Bradbury considers Green Shadows to be the culmination of thirty-five years of short stories, poems, and plays that were inspired by his stay in Ireland. As with most of his previous short-story collections, including The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, many of the short stories were originally published elsewhere and modified slightly for publication in the novel.
The narrator, an unnamed writer, is sent to Dublin, Ireland to coproduce a film adaptation of Moby Dick with a director whose first name is given as "John". While there, he hears of the many strange and surreal stories of the boyos in Finn's pub that make up the bulk of the novel, along with other adventures in the land of Ireland, including a "hunt wedding" and a house that has a mind of its own. The last chapter of the novel is devoted to the successful completion of the screenplay and the narrator's resulting ascent to fame.
The narrator arrives in Ireland by ferry. In his conversation with the customs inspector, his identity as a screenplay writer working on Moby Dick is introduced. They also discuss the peculiarities of the Irish. The narrator checks in at the Royal Hibernian Hotel in Dublin before leaving in a taxi for Kilcock. The taxi breaks down, and, after some resistance on his part, the narrator rides off on a bicycle given to him by the taxi driver. The narrator meets another bicyclist who tells him more of Ireland and its people. They proceed to Heeber Finn's pub, where the bicyclist is greeted as Mike, and the rest of the pub patrons are introduced.
An injured man stumbles into the pub and informs those inside of a collision on the road. The collision turns out to be that of two bicyclists. The narrator learns that these are common as bicyclists travel at high speeds through the fog. One of the victims is taken to a local clinic in the only car present, and the narrator rides off on the wrong side of the road, as advised. The narrator meets with his director, John. They sit down to dinner with John's wife, Ricki, and John tells a story about his and his wife's trip to Spain, calling Ricki a coward, which upsets her. The narrator then flashes back to when he was buying his travel copy of Moby Dick. A woman warned him not to go to Ireland because the director is a monster.
The narrator works for weeks on what he refers to as "the Whale" through the rain in Ireland. One night, Finn takes the narrator and Mike on a wild drive to bet on dog races. The narrator returns to his hotel and bed. The narrator buys a hunting outfit at Tyson's and goes to show it to John. John "hypnotizes" the narrator, who he calls H.G. for H.G. Wells, and the narrator says he wants to write "the... finest screenplay in the history of the world."
John's friend Tom calls from New York City, and John asks him and his fiancée, Lisa, to come to Ireland and have a "hunt wedding." Tom and Lisa disembark from the plane fighting, which amuses John. More is told about Tom and John, and the planning of the hunt wedding is begun. They finally find a reverend that will marry the two non-Catholics, Reverend Hicks, a Unitarian. The minister finds that the couple fights a lot, and they go to meet with him about it and fight the whole time. He says it is not a marriage but a "rematch," and the narrator convinces him to marry the two anyway. John falls off a horse while interviewing actors for the film and is considerably injured. On hunter's wife is heard to have died from falling off her horse, which causes the wedding to be delayed and considerably affects Tom. John arrives back in Ireland on crutches. He tells of his fall and goes home to Ricki, who finally finds out about his injuries. Tom, Lisa, John, and the narrator go out to dinner, where John tells Tom and Lisa that the screaming of the chef in the kitchen while the doors swing open sounds like Tom their fighting, which surprises them. Mike and the narrator go to pick up the minister, and Mike talks about Ireland during the trip. The day of the hunt wedding follows, and Lisa has a bad cold. The minister, after waiting for Ricki to get a Bible, enters a long sermon about sin. The cake is served and found to be rock hard after the week of delay. Tom then asks the minister about the legitimacy of the marriage, who then pronounces them man and wife. Tom rides off to the hunt, but John is detained by his injuries. Lisa then asks the minister about the legality of the marriage, and he gives her papers to sign. The narrator awakes back at his hotel and Ricki calls. She tells him of the proceedings after the wedding, and Tom is nowhere to be found.
John gives Ricki a horse as a Christmas present. She rides off but falls, and John orders her back onto the horse. The narrator works on his novel and then decides to go to Finn's. Finn tells a story of the fathers of the men in the pub. They go to burn down the house of Lord Kilgotten, who instead invites them in. They decide to wait until the next night to burn the house. Lord Kilgotten then takes them through his house, showing them all of his paintings, and they all volunteer to save the paintings between them before the fire. Later, however, they all return with the paintings after meeting different problems in taking possession of the works of art. Lord Kilgotten has them put all of the paintings back in his house, with the exception of a portrait of him by Lady Kilgotten which he told them not to save in the first place.
The narrator talks to John about how he can't help but give to the beggars outside and had been afraid to go out. John tries to give him advice and leads the way, but the narrator breaks down and gives to the beggars. They then proceed to O'Connell Bridge, where there is a beggar that the narrator thinks is blind, and who makes him both angry and compassionate. He is the only man without a cap and plays his concertina and sings beautifully. John is about to give him money, but the narrator stops him. The narrator then goes to buy the man a cap, deciding it's not just a ruse to evoke sympathy. He returns to find only a man and a woman on the bridge making horrible noise with a piano box on the bridge. John narrator find out from the paper that the man jumped off the bridge. John talks about the beggars and why they are in the position to beg, and the narrator goes out and gives the cap and all of the money he has with him to the first beggars that he sees.
The narrator briefly speaks with Finn about figuring out the Irish. Nora, a friend of the narrator, calls, and invites him to her place, which is called Grynwood. Once there, she explains to him that the house burned down four years before. She had rebuilt an exact copy, but found that nothing was the same. When she invited all of the guests for the first party, the atmosphere was very empty and quiet, and all of the guests left. She tells him that she and her friends were old evil, and with the house new and innocent, it didn't want them there anymore. She offers the house to the narrator, but he also finds that the house gives subtle hints that it doesn't want him there. They go back to Dublin together, and the narrator finds her gone in the morning.
The narrator returns to Finn's and talks with him shortly, primarily about John and the many people that have taken riding lessons and ended up injured. The narrator tells John that he won't be taking any more riding lessons. News comes to the pub that Lord Kilgotten has died. Everyone wonders what will become of his extensive wine collection, and this is answered at his funeral. In the wake come his coffin, made out of wine crates, and a lawyer, who reads Lord Kilgotten's will. In it he states that the residents of the town would not appreciate the value of the wine, and that he wants to have it all poured into the grave before he is buried. The men from the pub could not let all of the wine be wasted, and, after Finn's suggestion, they decide to drink the wine and relieve themselves in the grave, fulfilling the codicil of Kilgotten.
Finn tells of the AMA's (American Medical Association) visit to Dublin. After finding and reporting endless problems in Dublin's facilities, the Irish threw them out. Finn tells the narrator to use the back door to his pub rather than the front on any bad days. He says that thinking only brings problems, and that it's better to drink and enjoy being alive. He also recommends a good pub in Dublin called "The Four Provinces." The narrator goes to The Four Provinces on the extremely dull day of Sunday. He meets a man that tells him that thanking others for things makes life much better. The narrator leaves the pub and comes across a woman playing her harp. He thanks her and tells her what an effect she had on his day. However, he finds that he almost thanked her too much, to the point where she stops playing for a while.
The narrator calls for Mike to come pick him up and take him to Finn's. While he drives very gently, Mike says that he has decided to give up what the narrator believes is smoking for Lent. The next day Mike returns to pick up the narrator, this time driving wildly, and the narrator realizes that Mike gave up drinking, not smoking, and that the crazy drive was the first time he rode with Mike while he was sober. The narrator tells Mike that he should find something else to give up, Mike has a drink, and then they slowly drive back to Dublin.
While going into the Royal Hibernian, the narrator meets a beggar and her child. He is shocked to find that they are the same ones he saw many years ago in a previous trip to Dublin, and asks the doorman about them. Nick, the doorman, says that they have been there for many years. The vision of the two plagues the narrator, and he wanders around Dublin looking for them. He finally runs into the woman around a corner, and she takes off running. He loses them and decides to go into The Four Provinces, where he finds them. He talks with the babe, who he learns is forty years old and called Brat, and the "mother" is his sister. They have been begging in front of the Hibernian for thirty years, and the rest of their family before that. Brat has no explanation for his small size, and says that they will soon have enough to sail to New York and no longer have to beg.
The narrator receives a cable that he had won an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters of $5,000. He shares it with Ricki, John, and Jake Vickers. John insists that he find a way to spend it and earn more rather than let it rot. Then John brings up homosexuality, but unlike John and Jake the narrator has nothing to share on the topic. The subject returns to the prize money, and the narrator continues to refuse to go spend the money, and the two other men call him a coward. This takes a way the meaning from the prize and the money, and the narrator announces that he will bet all of the money at a horse race. Ricki had been quietly encouraging him through all of this, and they go out to the porch, where she reads him the letter again and the meaning returns. Nothing more is said of the prize or the money.
The narrator has a nightmare where John comes to his door in a wetsuit and says he will teach him to snorkel. The narrator goes after John tells him not to be yellow, and he drowns. Finn wakes the narrator, who was sleeping in the pub. He tells him a story of a visit that George Bernard Shaw made to the pub. He put up signs in the pub reading "Stop," "Consider," "Think," and "Do." This brought about silence in the pub for the first time in twenty years, and Father O'Malley has a conversation with Shaw about the philosophy of the words, and eventually has them all taken down. Shaw sees his mistake and breaks them all in his bag before leaving.
John tells two reporters that he doesn't think the narrator's heart is really in the writing of the screenplay. As quite the opposite is true, the narrator is devastated, while John insists that it was only a joke. The narrator then goes and writes a short story. In this story, he goes to bring John the latest progress on the script. John reads each page and lets it fall, and at the end proclaims it good. They hear sounds outside, and John says it is a banshee, which appears an hour before someone's death. He then reads a review of the narrator's work, which turns out to be very bad. He throws it in the fire and says that it was actually a good review that he embellished a bit. They then discuss the sound of a banshee outside, and the narrator eventually goes out though John tries to stop him. He finds a woman that describes John but calls him Joe, and says that he is nobody's friend and does not really love. The narrator comes back in, and talks to John about the review, and then the banshee outside. John goes out though the narrator tries to stop him, and the narrator goes to bed. The narrator gives the story to John and tells him not to toss the pages as he reads. He then hears John mutter that there will be no more jokes.
A very odd group arrives at the Royal Hibernian, led by a man named David Snell-Orkney, and come from Sicily. They become the talk of the town very quickly, and the pub patrons decide to surround the park in which the group is. After a half an hour, the group was still just sitting there watching the trees, and the few that actually stayed gave up on the watch. Timulty enters the pub declares that the Sicilians are very similar to the Irish, which the people in the pub are very opposed to at first but come to realize is true. Then the group comes in the pub, and says that they have been following summer around the globe and decided to stop by for some winter in Dublin. They had been looking at the leaves fall off the trees in the snow and ice. The Irishmen of the pub realize that they have not noticed the trees in decades, and they all go out to look at the leaves. Father Leary takes the group to his church, and later Finn convinces them to come see a "sprint."
The Irish explain to the narrator and the Snell-Orkney group the anthem sprint. After a show in the cinema, the national anthem of Ireland is played. The moviegoers make a sport to see who can get out of the theater first after the movie before the anthem begins. Doone and Hoolihan decide to have an anthem run. All of the rules are explained, and after the movie, Hoolihan rushes out, but Doone does not. They find him still in the theater, where he was overcome by the singing of Deanna Durbin, which reminded him of his dead grandmother. They have the end of the film run again to redo the anthem sprint, but as the end approaches, Doone realizes that his leg is dead. He gives his cap and scarf to the narrator and tells him to run in his place. The narrator does so, but finds that he is the only one that ran. The rest are still in the theater, and then they wall watch again.
Snell-Orkney and his friends all sail away singing. The narrator is at dinner, talking a lot with John, Jake, and friends. He makes jokes about everyone he can, evoking laughter from everyone present. He "hypnotizes" John, and tells him that it is not that the narrator that fears flying, but that John fears sailing. Later, John tells him that he needs to fly to England. The narrator says that he is scared to death and will not go, and John threatens to take both his vacation and that of their secretary. The narrator refuses and says that everyone will get their vacation, he will take the ferry, and John will fly. John leaves the room quickly, and refuses to talk to the narrator for a day and a half. Jake tells him that it is just a joke and that if he doesn't act upset about it that John will let it go.
The narrator awakes at seven, convinces himself that he is Herman Melville, and writes into the afternoon, finishing the script. He takes it to John, who is impressed, and says that he should take the ferry to England. The narrator tells the people in Finn's pub what he's found out about Ireland and says goodbye to them, and as he leaves, he sees the hills as green.
Literary significance and criticism
Green Shadows, White Whale received mixed reviews at its debut. Some critics gave the work high praise: Publishers Weekly said it was a "lighthearted, beguiling autobiographical novel", concluding, "Bradbury's prose is as vibrant and distinctive as the landscape in which these delightful tales are set." Kirkus Reviews called it "Bradbury's triumph. He has never written better."
Others found it to fall short because of its stilted diction and stereotypical characters and plots. The New York Times found it "Somewhere between homage and hokum … a cartoon that might be offensive if it weren't so affectionate." The Los Angeles Times said it was "a charming, delicate story" of Bradbury's memories, and what they mean to him, "and if at times the words seem hushed, muted in their reverence for history, the cast of characters … keeps the story from sliding headlong into wistfulness." David Soyka of the SF Site labeled the novel as a "disappointment" because of its clichéd plots and lack of coherency of the stories' themes. The Chicago Tribune criticized Bradbury's "tin ear" for dialogue, complaining that "All of his Irish characters talk like Barry Fitzgerald reciting Sean O'Casey to a busload of tourists from Tulsa."
- Review by Peter Finn, 26 July 1992, Section 7.
- Book Section, 7 June 1992.
- Soyka, David (1999). "The SF Site Featured Review: Green Shadows, White Whale."
- Review by Thomas Flanagan, 31 May 1992, Books Section.
- Brown, Charles N.; William G. Contento. "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998)". Retrieved 2007-12-13.