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Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)


With  Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), and Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), Ray Bradbury has been generally considered one of the grand masters of science fiction, although most of his stories were fantasy and horror rather than sf. The author himself insisted that he is not a science-fiction writer. Bradbury's critically acclaimed works include The Martian Chronicles (1950), loosely connected stories about the colonization of Mars, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), a dystopia of a future society in which books are burned, and the horror novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962).

"It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history." (in Fahrenheit 451)

Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, the son of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, a power lineman, and Esther Moberg Bradbury, whose family migrated to America from Stockholm, Sweden. Bradbury's older brother, Samuel, perished in the Asian flu epidemic of 1918-19, and his sister, Elizabeth, died of pneumonia when Ray was only seven. As a result, family tragedies made his mother overprotetive, and she bottle-fed her son until the age of six and spoon-fed until he was in his early teens.

Following the examples of his father and Aunt Neva, Bradbury became an eager reader. As a boy, he devoured science fiction from Hugo Gernsback's pulp magazine Amazing Stories, Buck Rogers comics, Lyman Frank Baum's "Oz" books, and works by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In addition, he visited regularly the Waukegan town library. "The library was the greenhouse in which I, a very strange plant indeed, grew up, exploding with seed," Bradbury recalled in an interview ('A Portrait of Genius: Ray Bradbury, Show, December 1964). The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney, and The Phantom of the Opera, started his lifelong love affair with the cinema.

During the Depression, Bradbury's father was having trouble in finding employment. The family eventually moved to Los Angeles, where Bradbury attended the Los Angeles High School. Images of the small Midwest town of his early years always remained important for his creative work. In his stories Waukegan was called "Green Town," a half-real and half-mythical community.

After graduating Bradbury divided his time between work as a newspaper salesman, library, and writing. Because of poor eyesight, he was exempted from service during World War II. In 1939, Bradbury began publishing his fanzine Futuria Fantasies. His first professional sale, 'Pendulum' (1941), was written with Henry Hasse for Super Science Stories. In the same year he also met Leigh Brackett, who coached him in writing techniques. Brackett was five years older that Bradbury, a beach athlete, who signed her postcards to him as  "Muscles".

Acknowledging her crucial role to his development, Bradbury said, "By strenghtening my plot lines and giving me direction, Leigh gave me the courage and belief in myself to later experiment and find my own forms." (Becoming Ray Bradbury by Jonathan R. Eller, 2011, p. 68) Bradbury's acquaintances also included Ray Harryhousen, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, and many other names of the Californian sf scene. Isaac Asimov ignored and rejected the young Bradbury.

Several of Bradbury's early pieces were collected in Dark Carnival (1947), which contain such classics as 'Homecoming,' 'The Jar,' 'The Small Assassin,' and 'The Crowd.' 'Homecoming,' a story about a family of vampires, which was rejected by Weid Tales and published in Mademoiselle magazine (by the suggestion of Truman Capote), won the O. Henry Prize of Stories. A prolific writer from the beginning, Bradbury also used pseudonyms, appearing in non-sf magazines as Edward Banks, William Elliott, D.R. Banat, Leonard Douglas, and Leonard Spaulding.

With his second book, The Martian Chronicles, which totally ignored the contemporary knowledge of the planet,  Bradbury drew the attention of Christopher Isherwood, who stated in the new literary journal Tomorrow: "His brilliant, shameless fantasy makes, and needs, no excuses for its wild jumps from the possible to the impossible. His interest in machines seems to be limited to their symbolic and aesthetic values." When Stephen King heard at the age of four a radio dramatization of the story 'Mars in Heaven' it scared him so much that he took refurge under his brother's bed.

Isherwood's positive review brought Bradbury national attention and opened him doors to "slick" magazines, such as Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, McCall's, and Collier's Weekly. Fahrenheit 451 was written on a coin-operated typewriter in a study room in Powell Library on UCLA's campus. "Imagine what it was like to be writing a book about book burning and doing it in a library where the passions of all those authors, living and dead, surrounded me," Bradbury recalled in the summer 2002 UCLA Magazine. The novel inspired the French director François Truffaut's ambitious, low-keyed screen adaptation in 1966. "I thought François Truffaut did fine job with Fahrenheit 451,"  Bradbury said of the film. "For example, the first night that Montag reads a book, sitting by the television set, and using the light from the set to read is a great touch. That isn't even in my book." (Conversations with Ray Bradbury, edited by Steven L. Aggelis, 2004, p. xx)  HBO's adaptation of the novel from 2018, written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, was an attempt to modernize Bradbury's dystopia. "This Fahrenheit 451 too often feels like an emojified version of its source material, cutting off anything more complex than an easy picture.  Spend the time with a bood book instead."  ('Fahrenheit 451 doesn't quite catch fire' by Daniel D'Addario, Time, May 21, 2018, p. 46)

"Fahrenheit 451 has sometimes been compared to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), but it has more in common with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), a classic examination of the manipuation of the human mind. All three works express fears of modern, technologically advanced societies by extrapolating contemporary authoritarian and antihumanist trends into the future, not necessarily to predict the inevitable but to sound the alarm. Fahrenheit 451, conceived while the McCarthy hearings were at their height, reflects the paranoid atmosphere of the period, without being or trying to be an allegory of cold war politics."

"The story evolved fron the novella 'The Fireman,' published in Galaxy in February 1951. Its idea can be chrystallized into a simple "what if" question: "what if books were banned," or to follow the storyline: "what if firemen were burning the books?"

"At one level, the work is an insightful analysis of mass culture, or cultural industry, to use the term of Theodor Adorno, a decade before Marshall McLuhan made the media studies fashionable. Bradbury's stance on the impact of television is critical. Books represent individualism, reason, and quality of information: they "show the pores in the face of life," whereas we cannot argue with a wall-size screen that substitutes sensations for thinking. In general, Bradbury considers television the technology of controll and manipulation, Another remarkable feature of the work since its publication has been the seriousness with which readers have taken its prophecies, the end of the book particularly. Not too many science-fiction novels from the 1950s have survived the test of time and continue to enjoy a similar following." ('Fahrenheit 541' by Petri Liukkonen, in The Facts on File Companion to the American Novel, Volume 1: A-F, edited by Abby H.P. Werlock, 2006, p. 415)

At the age of twenty-seven, Bradbury married Marguerite "Maggie" Susan McClure; they had four daughters. The family lived in a small Venice Beach home, and moved then to a three bedroom, one bath house at 10750 Clarkson Road, Los Angeles. In 1958 they settled in the Cheviot Hills home in West Los Angeles, where Bradbury stayed until his final days.

The Illustrated Man (1951) featured a protagonist with animated tattoos which come alive, showing the narrator 18 tales played out on the man's skin. In Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) a traveling carnival, named Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, arrives to Green Town and brings with it corruption and dark magic. As a tale of childhood innocence and friendship, the novel has been placed somewhere between Stevenson's Treasure Island and Golding's Lord of the Flies. Stephen King wrote in Dance Macabre (1981) that it is "one of those books about childhood . . . that adults should take down once in awhile . . . not just to give to their own children, but in order to touch base again themselves with childhood's brighter perspectives and darker dreams." Dandelion Wine (1957) was a semi-autobiographical novel, set in the summer of 1928. The title of I Sing the Body Electric! (1969), a collection of short stories, was taken from Walt Whitman's poem in Leaves of Grass (1855): "I sing the body electric, / The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them, / They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them, / And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul." 

In 1953, Bradbury began to craft the screenplay for John Huston's film Moby Dick (1956), and recalled his experiences later in Green Shadows, White Whale (1992). Before writing the script, Bradbury had not read Melville's classic novel. The director quarreled with Bradbury, belittled his wife, and wanted to share the credit for the screenplay (Ray Bradbury: Uncensored! The Unauthorized Biography by Gene Beley, 2006, pp. 92-96). Huston confessed in his autobiography, An Open Book (1994), that Moby Dick was the most difficult picture he ever made.

Astonishingly, the FBI kept a file on Bradbury. An informant had warned, that "individuals such as RAY BRADBURY are in a position to spread poison concerning political institutions in general and American institutions in particular. . . . the general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War in which the American people would seriously believe could not be won since their morale had been seriously destroyed." (The Ray Bradbury File: The F.B.I.'s Secret, Confidential File on Ray Bradbury by The Federal Bureau of Investigation,  2012) The FBI found no evidence that Bradbury was ever a member of the Communist Party.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Bradbury published little new fiction, but focused on poetry and drama, and edited collections of his short stories from earlier decades. Death Is a Lonely Business, a detective novel set in 1949 Venice, California, was Bradbury's first novel in over thirty years, since the publication of Something Wicked This Way Comes. The story is told in the first person, and although the narrator's name is not revealed, he is clearly based on the author himself. The sequel, A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990), explored death and madness in Hollywood's film industry. 

In addition to fiction, Bradbury wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1964), Rod Serling's TV series The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), and the Ray Bradbury Theatre, which ran from 1985 to 1992. Hitchcock also wanted him to write the screenplay for the film Birds, based on Daphne du Maurier's short story, but having a tight shooting schedule, the director eventually hired Evan Hunter to do the job. Unsatisfied with the abrupt ending of the film, Bradbury would have changed it. Hunter, too, did not like the final scene. At least ten pages  of his script were left unshot.

In 1999, Bradbury suffered a stroke that forced him to use a wheelchair; he went blind in his left eye and his right eye behaved poorly, but he continued to write until his death on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91. His personal library Bradbury left to Waukegan Public Library. A crater on the moon was named "Dandelion Crater" by the Apollo 15 crew after the title of his 1957 novel, and an asteroid was named "9766 Bradbury" after him. Bradbury never learned to drive a car, but rode a bicycle, walked or took public transportation. Even after computers came into wide use, he remained faithful to the older technology and used a IBM Selectric typewriter because it made carbon copies and he could erase anything with it. Bradbury also served as president of the Science-Fantasy Writers of America and as board member of the Screen Writers Guild of America.

Reviewing The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), Time magazine called him in 1953 "the poet of the pulps" ‒ a label that Bradbury never could shake off.   Bradbury's style is poetic and evocative, with strong nostalgic element; the stories revolve around key symbols, that have connections to popular culture and the unconscious."You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you," said Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing (1990). He also wrote of cats and dedicated two poems to them, but it was due to Mrs. Bradbury's soft spot for felines, that allegedly at their most populous, twenty-two cats lived in their house. ('Ray Bradbury,' in Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives by John Sutherland, 2011, p. 564)

Central themes in Bradbury's stories are the loss of innocence, the problem of evil, humans' relationship to machines, the hopes and fears of small-town America, and the strange and macabre beneath the ordinary and familiar. Bradbury emphasized that he never plans ahead: "I hate all those signs that say Think. That's the enemy of creativity." (Ray Bradbury, edited by Harold Bloom, 2010, p. 75) In his poems, Bradbury paid tribute to American Gothic-romantic writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson.  

For further reading: Readings on Fahrenheit 451, ed. Katie de Koster (2000); Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion by Robin Anne Reid (2000); Conversations with Ray Bradbury, edited by Steven L. Aggelis (2004); Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction by Jonathan R. Eller, William F. Touponce (2004); The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller (2005); Ray Bradbury: Uncensored!: The Unauthorized Biography by Gene Beley (2006); Ray Bradbury: Legendary Fantasy Writer by Charles Piddock (2009); Listen to the Echoes: the Ray Bradbury Interviews, ed. Sam Weller (2010); Ray Bradbury, edited by Harold Bloom (2010); Ray Bradbury by John Bankston (2011); Censorship in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, ed. Candice L. Mancini (2011); Becoming Ray Bradbury by Jonathan R. Eller (2011); The Ray Bradbury File: The F.B.I.'s Secret, Confidential File on Ray Bradbury by The Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012); Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars, edited by Gloria McMillan (2013); Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, edited by Sam Weller (2014); Ray Bradbury Unbound by Jonathan R. Eller (2014); Ray Bradbury and the Cold War by Joseph Kampff and Greg Clinton (2014); Ray Bradbury by David Seed (2015); Post-Jungian Psychology and the Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut: Golden Apples of the Monkey House by Steve Gronert Ellerhoff (2016); 'Ray Bradbury,' in Writers and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi (2018); Bradbury Beyond Apollo by Jonathan R Eller (2020) 

Selected works:

  • Dark Carnival, 1947
  • The Meadow, 1947 (radio play)
  • The Martian Chronicles, 1950
    - Marsin aikakirjat: avaruusromaani (suom. Eero Tenhosaari, 1953) 
  • The Illustrated Man, 1951
    - Kuvitettu mies (suom. Aarne Valpola, 1971)
  • Fahrenheit 451, 1953 (illustrated by Joe Mugnaini)
    - Fahrenheit 451 (suom. Juhani Koskinen, 1966)
  • The Golden Apples of the Sun, 1953 (illustrated by Joe Mugnaini)
  • The October Country, 1955 1953 (illustrated by Joe Mugnaini)
    - Lokakuun maa (suom. Matti Kannosto, 1985)
  • Switch On the Night, 1955 (illustrated by Madeleine Gekiere)
    - Poika josta tuli pimeän ystävä (suom. Arja Kanerva, 1988) 
  • Dandelion Wine: A Novel, 1957
    - Voikukkaviiniä (suom. Hanni Salovaara, 2020)
  • Sun and Shadow, 1957
  • A Medicine For Melancholy, 1959
  • Day It Rained Forever, 1959 (play)
  • R Is For Rocket, 1962
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel, 1962
    - Painajainen (suom. Jertta Roos, 1964) / Paha saapuu portin taa (suomentanut Jertta Roos, 1990) 
  • The Anthem Sprinters, and Other Antics, 1963 (four plays)
  • The Machineries of Joy; Short Stories 1964
  • Silver Locusts, 1965
  • The Vintage Bradbury: Ray Bradbury's Own Selection of His Best Stories, 1965 (with an introd. by Gilbert Highet)
  • S Is For Space, 1966
  • Twice Twenty-Two, 1966 (The golden apples of the sun; A medicine for melancholy; drawings by Joe Mugnaini)
  • I Sing the Body Electric, 1969
  • Small Assassin, 1970
  • Old Ahab's Friend, and Friend to Noah, Speaks His Piece; a Celebration, 1971
  • The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays, 1972 (The Wonderful Ice Cream suit; The Veldt; To the Chicago Abyss)
  • The Halloween Tree, 1972 (illustrated by Joe Mugnaini)
  • Zen in the Art of Writing and The Joy of Writing: Two Essays, 1973
    - Zen sanataiteessa: esseitä (suomentanut Elina Seppänen, 2008) 
  • When Elephants Last In The Dooryard Bloomed: Celebrations for Almost Any Day in the Year, 1973
  • Ray Bradbury, 1975 (edited by Anthony Adams)
  • Pillar of Fire and Other Plays for Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond Tomorrow, 1975 (Pillar of Fire; Kaleidoscope; The Foghorn)
  • Long After Midnight, 1976
  • That Ghost, that Bride of Time, 1976 (excerpts from a play-in-progress based on the Moby Dick mythology and dedicated to Herman Melville)
  • Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run 'Round in Robot Towns: New Poems, both Light and Dark, 1977
  • Twin Hieroglyphs that Swim the River Dust, 1978
  • The Mummies of Guanajuato, 1978 (story by RB, photography by Archie Lieberman)
  • Beyond 1984: Remembrance of Things Future, 1979
  • This Attic Where the Meadow Greens, 1979
  • The Aqueduct: A Martian Chronicle, 1979
  • About Norman Corwin, 1979 (text by Ray Bradbury; photographs by Amanda Blanco)
  • Stories of Ray Bradbury, 1980
  • The Last Circus & The Electrocution, 1980 (introduction by William F. Nolan; illustration by Joe Mugnaini)
  • The Ghosts of Forever, 1981 (illustrations by Aldo Sessa; prologue by Ray Bradbury; epilogue by Melvin B. Zisfein)
  • The Haunted Computer and the Android Pope: Poems, 1981 
  • Dinosaur Tales, 1983
  • Forever and the Earth: Radio Dramatization, 1984
  • The Last Good Kiss: A Poem, 1984
  • A Memory of Murder, 1984
  • Death Is a Lonely Business, 1985
    - Kuolema on yksinäinen juttu (suom. Matti Kannosto, 1986) 
  • Art of Playboy, 1985 (text by RB)
  • Device Out Of Time, 1986
  • Other Foot, 1987 (with illustrations by Gary Kelley)
  • Fever Dream, 1987 (illustrated by Darrel Anderson)
  • The Veldt 1987 (illustrated by Gary Kelley)
  • The Toynbee Convector, 1988
  • The Fog Horn, 1987 (illustrated by Gary Kelley)
  • The April Witch, 1987 (illustrated by Gary Kelly)
  • The Dragon, 1988 (illustrations by Ken Snyder)
  • Zen in the Art of Writing, 1990
  • A Graveyard For Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities, 1990
    - Hullujen hautausmaa: toisenlainen kertomus kahdesta kaupungista (suomentanut Matti Kannosto, 1991)
  • On Stage: A Chrestomathy of Plays, 1991
  • The Smile, 1991
  • Green Shadows, White Whale: A Novel, 1992 (with drawings by Edward Sorel)
    Switch on the Night, 1993 (pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon)
  • Quicker Than The Eye, 1996
  • Driving Blind, 1997
  • Dogs Think That Every Day Is Christmas, 1997 (illustrated by Louise Reinoehl Max)
    With Cat for Comforter, 1997 (illustrated by Louise Reinoehl Max)
  • Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines: A Fable, 1998 (illustrated by Chris Lane)
  • Christus Apollo: Cantata Celebrating the Eighth Day of Creation and the Promise of the Ninth, 1998
  • From the Dust Returned: A Family Remembrance, 2001
  • One More for the Road: A New Short Story Collection, 2002
  • I Live By the Invisible: New & Selected Poems, 2002
  • Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales, 2003
  • Let's All Kill Constance: A Novel, 2003
  • The Cat's Pajamas: Stories, 2004
  • Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars, 2005 
  • The Halloween Tree, 2005 (edited by Jon Eller; drawings by Joe Mugnaini & Ray Bradbury; designed & compiled by Donn Albright)
  • Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451, 2006 (Donn Albright, editor, Jon Eller, textual editor)
  • We'll Always Have Paris: Stories, 2009
  • Bullet Trick, 2009 (edited by Donn Albright)
  • The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition, 2010- (v. <1-2>; William F. Touponce, general editor; Jonathan R. Eller, textual editor)
  • The Stories of Ray Bradbury, 2010 (with an introduction by Christopher Buckley)

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