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Bradbury, Ray

Entry updated 11 December 2023. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1920-2012) US screenwriter, poet and author; in 1934 his father, a power lineman who was having trouble gaining employment in Michigan during the Depression, moved with the family to Los Angeles; memories and images of southern California would be central to Bradbury's work, though the small-town Midwest always remained important in his stories. Bradbury discovered sf Fandom in 1937, meeting Ray Harryhausen, Forrest J Ackerman and Henry Kuttner, and began publishing his Fanzine Futuria Fantasia in 1939. His first professional sale was "Pendulum" with Henry Hasse for Super Science Stories in November 1941. In that year he met a number of sf professionals, including Leigh Brackett, who generously coached him in writing techniques. He later collaborated with her, completing her Lorelei of the Red Mist (Summer 1946 Planet Stories; rev Fall 1953 Tops in Science Fiction; original text 2017 dos).

By 1943 Bradbury's style was beginning to jell: poetic, evocative, consciously symbolic, with strong nostalgic elements and a leaning towards the macabre – his work was always more Fantasy and Horror than sf, with a high proportion of his voluminous output being Fantastika broadly understood. All the same, he did write enough sf that he became and remained in memory a central figure in the Golden Age of SF. Many of his early stories, mostly written 1943-1947, were collected in his first book, Dark Carnival (coll 1947; cut 1948; cut vt The Small Assassin 1962), the book, from Arkham House, being one of the first individual volumes in America to contain anything like Genre SF or fantasy; several of the stories here included had originally appeared in Weird Tales. All but four of the stories in the later The October Country (coll 1955; cut 1961; exp 1991) had already appeared in Dark Carnival, but many were revised for this new book. Bradbury used occasional pseudonyms in those early years; in non-sf magazines he appeared as Edward Banks, William Elliott, D R Banat, Leonard Douglas and Leonard Spaulding, and he wrote one story, "Referent" (October 1948 Thrilling Wonder), under the House Name Brett Sterling. Much of his early sf was colourful Space Opera, and appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories and Planet Stories.

One of these latter stories was "The Million Year Picnic" (Summer 1946 Planet Stories). Later it was to appear in his second book, which remains Bradbury's greatest work, The Martian Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1950; complete edition rev vt 2010) [for details of intervening versions see Checklist]. This book, which could be regarded as an episodic novel, made Bradbury's reputation. Almost at once he found a new market for short stories in the Slicks, magazines such as Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, McCall's and Collier's Weekly. Of the hundreds of stories published over long career, which ended only with his death, only a handful originally appeared in SF Magazines. This was one of the most significant breakthroughs into the general market made by any Genre-SF writer.

The Martian Chronicles is an amazing work. Its closely interwoven stories, linked by recurrent images and themes, tell of the repeated attempts by humans to colonize Mars, of the way they bring their old prejudices with them, including expectations that settlement on Mars could safely replicate their experience of California suburban life, and of their repeated, ambiguous meetings with the shape-changing Martians (see Shapeshifters). Despite the sf scenario, there is no hard Technology. The mood is of loneliness and nostalgia; a pensive regret suffuses the book. Colonists find, in "The Third Expedition" (Fall 1948 Planet Stories as "Mars is Heaven!"), a perfect Midwest township waiting for them in the Martian desert; throughout the book appearance and reality slip, dreamlike, from the one to the other; desires and fantasy are reified but turn out to be tainted. At the beginning, in a typical Bradbury image, the warmth of rocket jets brings a springlike thaw to the frozen Ohio landscape; at the end, human children look into the canal to see the Martians, and find them in their own reflections. All the Bradbury themes that were later to be repeated, sometimes too often, find their earliest shapes here: the anti-technological bias, the Pastoral celebration of simplicity and innocence as imaged in small-town life, the sense of loss as youth changes to adulthood, and the danger and attraction of masks, be they Hallowe'en, carnival or, as here, alien mimicry. The book was dramatized as a television miniseries, The Martian Chronicles (1980).

For the next few years the evocative versatility of Bradbury's imagery kept a freshness and an ebullience unspoiled by occasional overwriting; what later came to look like a too cosy heartland sentiment was generally redeemed by the precision and strangeness of its expression. Bradbury's talents are very clear in the first of his few novels, Fahrenheit 451 (February 1951 Galaxy as "The Fireman"; with 2 short stories as coll 1953) [for further details see Checklist below]. In its Dystopian future, in which books are burned because ideas are dangerous, we follow the painful spiritual growth of its renegade hero, a book-burning "fireman" and secret reader who finally flees, pursued by a Mechanical Hound attuned to his body chemistry, to a pastoral society of book "memorizers". An interesting film version, Fahrenheit 451 (1966), conveys as much of its director François Truffaut (1932-1984) as it does of Bradbury. Bradbury himself contributed to the Videogame Fahrenheit 451 (1984), which is positioned as a sequel to the novel.

Of strong interest for close readers of Bradbury was the Green Town sequence comprising Dandelion Wine (1950-1957 var mags; fixup 1957) and its continuation or sequel Farewell Summer (fixup 2006) – the latter comprising material cut from Dandelion Wine by its first publisher, as explained in an afterword – plus further associated tales assembled as Summer Morning, Summer Night (coll of linked stories 2007). Throughout, an adolescent life is recorded in terms of a single summer in a small town in a series of vignettes. The Magic Realist intensity of the tales, and their clear autobiographical element, make them central texts for the understanding of Bradbury's imagination. Also of interest was Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), an episodic, rather heavily symbolic Mysterious Stranger tale of Gothic transformations in a small town, possibly written in homage to Charles G Finney's The Circus of Dr Lao (1935), which Bradbury had already anthologized in The Circus of Dr Lao and other Improbable Stories (anth 1956), which contains only fantasies.

Bradbury's vintage years are normally thought to be 1946-1955; his other short-story collections of that period are certainly superior to those he produced later. They begin with The Illustrated Man (coll 1951; cut 1952), in which the tales are given a linking framework; they are all seen as magical tattoos which, springing from the body of the protagonist, become living stories. Three were filmed by Jack Smight as The Illustrated Man (1968). Later collections are The Golden Apples of the Sun (coll 1953; cut 1953) and A Medicine for Melancholy (coll 1959; rev vt The Day It Rained Forever 1959). These last two books were combined as Twice Twenty Two (omni 1966). No later Bradbury collection approaches the above in quality. The other important collection of early stories, drawing from many of the books already listed, is The Vintage Bradbury (coll 1965), which was superseded by the massive retrospective The Stories of Ray Bradbury (coll 1980; UK paperback 1983 2vols); much of this material, along with later work, also appears in the similarly massive self-selected Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales (coll 2003; vt Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 2 2008).

In the late 1950s and 1960s Bradbury's mainstream reputation continued to grow. His stories eventually appeared in well over 800 anthologies. In the USA, at least, he was regarded by many critics as a major literary talent. Sf as a genre can take little credit for this: Bradbury's themes are traditionally American and, although early on he often chose to render them in sf imagery, it would be mistaken to see Bradbury as basically an sf writer. He is, in effect, a fantasist, both whimsical and sombre, in an older, Pastoral tradition. The high regard in which he is held by sf readers and critics can in fact be justified on the basis of a handful of works, with The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and many stories from the late 1940s and the 1950s among them; it is here, too, that Bradbury's small but very influential contribution to the field is located, which had much to do with sf's ceasing to be regarded as belonging to a genre ghetto.

Bradbury was always a prolific and successful writer of stories, but some found his work from 1960s onwards to be increasingly disappointing, especially his plays and poetry, which have often been described as both stiltedly rhetorical and oversentimental. On the other hand, some of his theatrical work was well received (see Theatre). Among those of his subsequent collections to include a substantial amount of previously uncollected work, some tales being initially published decades earlier, are The Machineries of Joy (coll 1964; with one story cut, 1964), I Sing the Body Electric (coll 1969), Long After Midnight (coll 1976), The Toynbee Convector (coll 1988), One More for the Road (coll 2002) and We'll Always Have Paris (coll 2009); it was I Sing the Body Electric that received the most adverse criticism for its alleged soft-centredness.

Bradbury's work in film was interesting. Two important early sf B-movies were loosely based on his writing: It Came from Outer Space (1953) was developed from his own screen treatment "The Meteor", and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) from "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (23 June 1951 Saturday Evening Post; vt "The Fog Horn" in The Golden Apples of the Sun, coll 1953). Neither, however, has any perceptible Bradbury quality. By far his best screenplay was that for the best film version of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1956) directed by John Huston (1906-1987), who took a share of the writing credit; Bradbury's version is presented separately as Moby Dick: A Screenplay (2008). A Radio play broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in 1968, and subsequently adapted for the stage, reached a final incarnation as a novella, Leviathan '99 (2007), a Space Opera about obsession, Spaceships and a great white Comet. Green Shadows, White Whale (1992), a quasi-fictional narrative set in Ireland (where the original film was shot) further exposes Bradbury's immersion in both tale and Huston.

The eighteen-minute animated film Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962) was based on a Bradbury story and screenplay, as was the made-for-tv film Picasso Summer (1972), based on Bradbury's "In a Season of Calm Weather" (January 1957 Playboy; vt "The Picasso Summer" in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, coll 1980), on which he received a screenplay credit as Douglas Spaulding. Several Russian films (see Russia) have been based on Bradbury stories, including Vel'd (1987), based on "The Veldt" (23 September 1950 Saturday Evening Post as "The World the Children Made"; vt in The Illustrated Man, coll 1951). Television adaptations of his work have appeared in The Twilight Zone (both series) and, notably, Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1986; 1988-1992) where the adaptations were by Bradbury himself. Many of Bradbury's stories also received Comic-book adaptation: sixteen can be found in two books, The Autumn People (graph coll 1965) and Tomorrow Midnight (graph coll 1966), the first being horror and the second sf. (See EC Comics.) A late film adaptation – financially a flop – was A Sound of Thunder (2005), based on "A Sound of Thunder" (June 28 1952 Collier's Weekly).

Just as it had come to seem, in the 1980s, that Bradbury was content to become a grand old man (he won the World Fantasy Award in 1977 and the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1989 for his lifetime achievements), his career took a new turn. Like many sf writers in the 1940s he had published some crime fiction in the mystery pulps – some collected in A Memory of Murder (coll 1984) – and now in the 1980s he turned to crime fiction again. Death Is a Lonely Business (1985) and its sequel A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990) were his strongest work for many years: some of the old density and power returned in their almost surreal conflations of appearance and reality. They are of strong associational interest for readers of his sf and fantasy (deliberately returning to many of the key metaphors of his work in these fields, with the canals of Venice, Los Angeles, standing perhaps for those of Mars), and are good examples of Recursive fiction, in that both are to a degree romans à clef, with recognizable sf characters in them, not least a 1950s version of Bradbury himself. Ray Harryhausen, for example, appears thinly disguised in the second, which revolves around the film world.

A touching symbol of the high regard in which many of Bradbury's peers held him is the interesting anthology of stories in Bradbury settings, The Bradbury Chronicles: Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury (anth 1991), edited by William F Nolan and Martin H Greenberg. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2010 the Nebula category for movies and other dramatic work was renamed as the Ray Bradbury Award. The site where the Mars rover Curiosity landed on 6 August 2012 was named Bradbury Landing by NASA. [PN]

see also: Adventure; Aliens; Anti-Intellectualism in SF; Arts; Asteroids; Rachel Bloom; Children in SF; Christ; Clichés; Colonization of Other Worlds; Crime and Punishment; Dinosaurs; End of the World; Eschatology; Galaxy Science Fiction; Gandalf Award; Invasion; Living Worlds; Longevity in Writers; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Media Landscape; Messiahs; Mythology; Poetry; Politics; Psychology; Reincarnation; Religion; Retro Hugo; Robots; Rockets; SF Music; Seiun Award; Sex; Space Flight; Supernatural Creatures; Television; Terraforming; Thrilling Wonder Stories; Time Paradoxes; Time Travel; Transportation; Venus.

Ray Douglas Bradbury

born Waukegan, Illinois: 22 August 1920

died Los Angeles, California: 6 June 2012



Green Town

  • Dandelion Wine (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1957) [fixup: Green Town: hb/Robert Vickrey]
  • Farewell Summer (New York: HarperCollins/William Morrow, 2006) [fixup: continuation of the above: Green Town: hb/Tom Lau]
  • Summer Morning, Summer Night (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2007) [coll of linked stories: Green Town: hb/Ray Bradbury]

Ray Bradbury Chronicles

Collected Stories

individual titles

collections and stories



graphic works

nonfiction (selected)

works as editor

about the author


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