Monday, June 15, 2009

Author Salman Rushdie considered using the ruby slippers to rescue an astronaut marooned on Mars

In 1994, a few years after his novel The Satanic Verses (1988) spurred Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue an infamous fatwa, British Indian author-in-hiding Salman Rushdie managed to get an anthology, East, West: Stories, published. One of the stories, “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers”, may not be science fiction, but it involves an imaginative premise: purchasing an original pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939) to rescue an astronaut marooned on Mars. I’m not sure what the story means or how it fits into Rushdie’s theme of East, West, but here’s an interesting excerpt:
At that time many television channels were devoted to the sad case of the astronaut stranded on Mars without hope of rescue, and with diminishing supplies of food and breathable air. Official spokesmen told us of the persuasive arguments for the abrupt cancellation of the space exploration budget. We found these arguments powerful; influential voices complained of the sentimentality of the images of the dying spaceman. Nevertheless, the cameras inside his marooned craft continued to send us poignant pictures of his slow descent into despair, his low-gravity, weight-reduced death.

I watched my cousin Gale as she watched the bar’s TV. She did not see me watching her, did not know that she had become my chosen programme.

The condemned man on another planet -- the condemned man on TV -- began to sing a squawky medley of half-remembered songs. I was reminded of the dying computer, Hal, in the old film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal sang “Diasy, Daisy” as it was being unplugged.

The Martian -- for he was now a permanent resident of that planet -- offered us his spaced-out renditions of “Swanee,” “Show Me the Way to Go Home” and several numbers from The Wizard of Oz; and Gale's shoulders began to shake. She was crying.

I did not go across to comfort her.

I first heard about the upcoming auction of the ruby slippers the very next morning, and resolved at once to buy them, whatever the cost. My plan was simple: I would offer the miracle-shoes to Gale in all humility. If she wished, I would say, she could use them to travel to Mars and bring the spaceman back to Earth.

Perhaps I might even click the heels together three times, and win back her heart by murmuring, in soft reminder of our wasted love, There’s no place like home.
According to Wikipedia, several original pairs of Dorothy’s ruby slippers have sold at auction over the years, including one for more than $600,000 in 2000.

Also, according to Wikipedia, Iran has repeatedly rejected requests to withdraw the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Apparently, only the person who issued the fatwa may withdraw it. Unfortunately, Ayatollah Ruhalloh Khomeini died in 1989.

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