Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, died yesterday, June 5th, at the age of 91. Bradbury was a colossus of modern fiction, writing everything form fantasy, science-, and speculative-fiction to comedy, crime and mystery. He wrote twenty-seven novels, several screenplays, most notably for John Huston’s film version of Moby Dick, as well as plays, and hundreds of classic short stories.
Bradbury was an immense talent, yet in the early part of his career, his success as a mass market “pulp” author often led critics to overlook the quality of his writing, and its seismic influence on others - his fiction formed the template for future speculative science-fiction and fantasy writers to follow. Bradbury had a beautiful, poetic and lyrical style of writing, most notable in Dandelion Wine, which made his authorial voice unmistakable.
Indeed the quality of Bradbury’s writing helped science-fiction out of the pulp ghetto into the hallowed groves of literature. Though most associated with that genre, Bradbury denied he was a science-fiction writer, instead claimed he was a fantasy writer whose work owed much to the traditions of classical literature:
“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”
Born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920, Bradbury grew up in small town America - a world of dusty roads, with few cars, and tarmac avenues with old trolley buses ploughing the metal rails along main street. He also once claimed, in a BBC documentary, that his memory and experience was the source for much of his writing, and said his memory stretched back to his earliest experiences as a baby, being breast-fed in his mother’s arms.
He grew up reading books and watching Flash Gordon serials at the local cinema, and monster movies with Boris Karloff, while following the adventures of heroes in the early garish comics that later went on to deliver Batman, Superman and Tales from the Crypt.
“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
Reading inspired his writing and Bradbury started his own fictions, eventually submitting short stories to pulp magazines in his teens - his first published story was “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma”, which appeared in the fanzine Imagination! in January, 1938. He received his first check of $15 for his story “Pendulum” (co-written with Henry Hasse) in 1941, when it was published in Super Science Stories. By 1942, he was able to have a career as a writer, writing stories for the various pulp magazines that were then available.
He progressed from stories to novels, with first big success being The Martian Chronicles, which was aided by a chance meeting with author Christopher Isherwood, who admired Bradbury’s work, and passed the book onto a critic who gave it a glowing review. From there, Bradbury had a career befitting the talents of such a great and marvelous man.
Bradbury’s influence has infused much of our cultural world - from films to comics, science to the imagined landscape of small town America, which is still very much as he described it in his fictions. Indeed, Bradbury’s vision of small town America was a precursor to Stephen King’s Castle Rock.
I greatly admire Bradbury’s work, and like everyone else grew-up reading his books, and regularly returned to them in my adult years. It seems as we grow older that all we reap is death, and this year has been a harsh harvest. Still, we should perhaps recall Bradbury’s line from Fahrenheit 451:
“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made up or paid for in factories.”
R.I.P. Ray Bradbury 1920-2012.