The Better Part of Wisdom
The Better Part of Wisdom
By Jeff Baker
In contrast to a lot of other science fiction writers, Ray Bradbury wrote no gay-themed science fiction, no fantasy stories with gay characters. But the author of “The Martian Chronicles” did write at least one story with openly gay characters, and while it has no elements of science fiction it is worth taking a closer look at.
In “The Better Part of Wisdom,” we are introduced to Tom and Frank in their cozy apartment, one happily using the other’s lap as a pillow, when they are interrupted by the arrival of Tom’s Grandfather from Dublin. Grandfather quickly surmises that the two men are not just roommates. Frank, not wanting to be in the way, quickly excuses himself and Tom tells Grandfather that he can sleep in Frank’s bed. As Tom makes up the living room couch with pillows and sheets the unspoken truth becomes obvious; there is only one bed.
Tom and Grandfather sit down to talk and Grandfather reminisces about his brief boyhood friendship with a boy from a traveling carnival (“…think of it! Victoria still Queen…”) that he never saw again. Grandfather comes to accept this surprise about his grandson’s life.
Looking at “The Better Part of Wisdom” from the vantage point of 2016, it is loaded with clichés; it is in essence a coming-out story, the apartment is loaded with homey knickknacks, Grandfather even goes through the stages of grief, but the story is also fairly far-thinking for its publication date in the 1970’s. It also fits in with Bradbury’s “Irish” stories, written after Bradbury’s visit to Ireland to work on a screenplay for “Moby Dick,” as fictionalized in Bradbury’s book “Green Water, White Whale.”
And, of course, it is Bradbury with all his wondrous prose;
“His hair was all gold curls and bits of sun.”
“It crossed my mind, long after, if ever an old man could bathe again in that summer fount, the wild sport of breathing that flashed from his nostrils…”
While I have not found any other Bradbury stories with LGBTQ themes (I haven’t read them all,) Bradbury regularly turned to the theme of the outsider in his works. His Martians are a dying and oppressed race, Timmy in “The Homecoming” is the only normal human in an extraordinary family, just to name two examples. But Tom and Frank in “Better Part of Wisdom” are neither loners nor outsiders. They are a happy couple enjoying simple pleasures and each other’s presence. Grandfather realizes this and warns Frank never to break Tom’s heart or “I’ll break you across my knee!”
We close on a reprise of the opening domestic scene, loving, quiet and sentimental.
It leaves us with a smile.
Jeff Baker blogs about writing and reading sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of every month. He has been published in Queer SciFi’s “Discovery” among other places, and posts on Facebook as “Jeff Baker, Author.” He also blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his Significant Other Darryl.