RIP Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
It is with great sadness that SFFWorld has heard of the death of SF legend Ray Bradbury, aged 91, on 5th June 2012.
Most famous for his novels Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as hundreds of short stories, Bradbury was an inspiration to many authors, including Stephen King, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. His influence often transcended the traditional genre publishers, and this was reflected in their place of publication. Ray’s stories were often published in magazines outside the genre, including The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and McCall’s.
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born August 22nd 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. From an early age he was a prodigious reader and writer. According to Bradbury himself,
“Back when I was twelve years old I was madly in love with L. Frank Baum and the Oz books, along with the novels of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and especially the Tarzan books and the John Carter, Warlord of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I began to think about becoming a writer at that time.”
He famously was reputed to write every day – something he continued until his death – and, almost as famously, had a preference for using an IBM Selectric typewriter to type on.
His professional writing career covered an amazing seven decades. Becoming a full time writer in 1943, his first published book was Dark Carnival (1947), a collection of dark stories, published by Arkham House.
The Martian Chronicles (1950) was regarded as a major work. Poetic and stylish rather than science fiction in its then-traditional form, it tells of the colonization of Mars by Earth people fleeing from a troubled and eventually atomically devastated Earth, and the conflicts that are created between the aboriginal Martians and the new colonists. Though many think of the story collection as SF, Bradbury himself thought of it as Fantasy. It was made into a TV mini-series in 1980, starring Rock Hudson.
“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.” (from http://weeklywire.com/ww/09-27-99/alibi_feat1.html .)
Of his work that can be regarded as SF, Fahrenheit 451 (1953) tells of a dystopic future world of firemen, who go around not putting out fires, but starting them – burning books which are seen as a social menace. It was made into a film in 1966, directed by Francois Truffaut.
Of his Fantasy writing, the circus theme of Dark Carnival and a life-long interest in carnival side shows would often appear in his work, such as in The Illustrated Man (1951) the short story The Dwarf, and his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, (1962), which tells of the arrival of the sinister Mr Dark and his Travelling Circus to a small NorthWestern town. It was made into a movie in 1983, starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce.
It is a magician, Mister Electrico, that is, according to Bradbury, his inspiration for writing:
It was an encounter with another magician that changed my life forever.
“During the Labor Day week of 1932 a favorite uncle of mine died; his funeral was held on the Labor Day Saturday. If he hadn’t died that week, my life might not have changed because, returning from his funeral at noon on that Saturday, I saw carnival tent down by Lake Michigan. I knew that down there, by the lake, in his special tent, was a magician named Mr. Electrico.
Mr. Electrico was a fantastic creator of marvels. He sat in his electric chair every night and was electrocuted in front of all the people, young and old, of Waukegan, Illinois. When the electricity surged through his body he raised a sword and knighted all the kids sitting in the front row below his platform. I had been to see Mr. Electrico the night before. When he reached me, he pointed his sword at my head and touched my brow. The electricity rushed down the sword, inside my skull, made my hair stand up and sparks fly out of my ears. He then shouted at me, “Live forever!”
…. Leaving the carnival grounds that day I stood by the carousel and watched the horses go round and round to the music of “Beautiful Ohio.” Standing there, the tears poured down my face, for I felt that something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electrico.
I went home and the next day traveled to Arizona with my folks. When we arrived there a few days later I began to write, full-time. I have written every single day of my life since that day 69 years ago.” (from http://www.raybradbury.com/inhiswords02.html )
Many of his tales told of life in small-town America. His emotional semi-autobiographical tales, Dandelion Wine (1957) and its sequel Farewell Summer (2006) are set in Green Town, a place reputed to be based on Waukegan.
His love of Halloween was famous, leading to the children’s novel and film The Halloween Tree in 1972 (the screenplay of which won Bradbury an Emmy) and his short story collections The October Country (1956) and From the Dust Returned (1999), which introduced the Elliott family, a group of vampires and monsters.
Other major works include R is for Rocket and S is for Space, The October Country (an adapted publication of Dark Harvest), A Medicine for Melancholy, I Sing the Body Electric!, Quicker Than the Eye, and Driving Blind.
There are many, many others.
His reputation has extended beyond the genre. Many Awards were given to Bradbury in his lifetime. Bradbury was awarded the National Book Foundation’s 2000 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the National Medal of Arts in 2004. In 2007 he became the first science fiction writer to receive the Pullitzer Prize, for ‘his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy’.
He was a screen writer as well as a fiction writer. Amongst his many films, Moby Dick (1956), starring Gregory Peck, was based on Bradbury’s screenplay. He also had a long term friendship with legendary stop-motion animator and film maker, Ray Harryhausen.
Ray gave his name to a TV series, of 65 episodes and six seasons, often based on his own stories: The Ray Bradbury Theatre (1985 – 92). The series had episodes starring Leslie Nielsen, Peter O’Toole, Jeff Goldblum, Shelley Duval, Drew Barrymore and William Shatner. He also wrote for the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone in the 1980’s revamp.) The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation was inaugurated in 1992 and is awarded yearly at the Nebula Award ceremony.
The stories of his life and influences are almost as legendary as his writing. He never got a driving license. He had a lifelong love of cats. And dinosaurs.
Many authors, producers and film-makers claim Bradbury to be an influence. To name just one of many, Stephen King mentions Something Wicked This Way Comes in his The Dead Zone, even having a chapter titled ‘Dark Carnival’. Needful Things and ‘Salem’s Lot also contain references to Something Wicked.
“Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories,” author Stephen King said. “One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.” (Stephen King, 2012)
Stylish, poetic, melancholic, emotional and engaging, Bradbury’s fiction is some of the most memorable and enduring of all science fiction and fantasy writers. His literary influence will no doubt be his legacy for future writers.
Bradbury is survived by his four daughters. His wife, Marguerite McClure, passed away in 2003.
Mark Yon, June 2012