Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bradbury, Ray

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(1920-2012) US writer. RB discovered sf through the magazine Amazing Stories in 1928, and nurtured a childhood interest in Buck Rogers comic strips and the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but his imagination was also strongly shaped by his rural Midwest upbringing, nostalgic reflections of which colour much of his writing. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1934, and became involved in sf fandom in 1937. By 1938, he was publishing in fan magazines and the following year editing his own short-lived periodical, Future Fantasia. Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, Robert A Heinlein, Hannes Bok and other members of the California sf community became friends and mentors.

RB's first professional sale, "Pendulum" (1941), written with Henry Hasse (1913-1977), appeared in Super Science Stories. It was followed by "The Candle" (1941), the first of 25 sales to Weird Tales, where he honed his style 1941-1948 and emerged as the most distinguished talent in the Magazine during its declining years. Evocative, poetic and suffused with youthful wonder, RB's tales broke with pulp conventions in their style and approach to the fantastic. Some, such as "The Scythe" (1943) and "Skeleton" (1945), refurbish Gothic clichés (> Gothic Fantasy) for use in modern situations. Others, including "The Lake" (1944), use their horrific elements to evoke sympathy and longing. A number are macabre with only hints of the supernatural: "The Jar" (1944), "Reunion" (1944) and "The Night" (1946) deploy images of loss to study the emotional lives of their characters. The majority were collected in his first book, Dark Carnival (coll 1947; cut 1948 UK; cut vt The Small Assassin 1962 UK), where they mesh to form a small-town landscape in which the magic possibilities of ordinary life and the banality of the fantastic are indistinguishable from one another. RB's depiction of fantasy as an inextricable element of daily life, which anticipated the contemporary Dark Fantasy movement, became more pronounced when the contents of Dark Carnival were modified for publication as The October Country (1955), with more than half the WT selections dropped in favour of stories from the slick magazines featuring grotesques and normal characters caught up in the dark side of human experience (> Slick Fantasy). RB approached the same idea from an opposite tack in a contemporaneously written quartet of stories that domesticate and demystify the macabre: "The Traveller" (1946), "Homecoming" (1946), "Uncle Einar" (1947) and "The April Witch" (1952), all featuring an extended family of Vampires, Werewolves and other supernatural beings who display emotional needs and motivations no different from those of mortals, with whom they secretly coexist.

In the mid-1940s RB expanded his creative reach through contributions to a wide variety of markets. Under his own name and the pseudonym D R Banat he published a handful of crime stories, many concocted from bizarre and macabre premises, later collected in A Memory of Murder (1984). He also appeared with increasing frequency in The American Mercury, Mademoiselle, The Saturday Evening Post and other mainstream magazines. It was, though, in the sf pulps, which published the bulk of his stories written 1946-1950, that he achieved his greatest renown, although these stories do not conform the prevailing attitudes and interests of Golden Age sf and are more fantasy than sf.

The Martian Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1950; with "Usher II" cut and "The Fire Balloons" added, rev vt The Silver Locusts 1951 UK; with "The Wilderness" added as well, rev 1953 UK), which splices together a number of self-contained stories from this period concerned with Earth's colonization and eventual abandonment of Mars, is typical of Bradbury's use of sf tropes in the service of the same ideas that inform his fantasy. The planet's habitable terrain is not scientific, and the Earth civilization that settles it is locked into a mid-20th-century middle-American mindset seemingly untouched by technological advance. The book's portrait of Martian culture – recently vanished in some stories, long dead in others, varies to suit the needs of the moment. Several of the stories are weird tales tricked out as sf: "The Third Expedition" (vt "Mars is Heaven") tells of a Martian town that uses mind control to engineer a cruel fate for an expeditionary team, and "Usher II" (vt "Carnival of Madness") of a magnate whose mansion on Mars dispenses Poe-esque deaths to his persecutors. The collection succeeds marvelously as a fantasia on the immutability of human nature, its individual episodes being linked by recurring images of Sacrifice and loneliness. The arc of the collection's events parallels the transition from childhood wonder to adult disillusionment that underlies much of RB's fantasy. Although its mood is elegiac, the collection, quietly reassures that, even though humanity can never completely overcome its worst tendencies, those traits that ennoble the species are indomitable. The book's obvious appeal to universal meanings that transcend the genre explains in part its enduring popularity with general audiences, who recognize in Bradbury's work more than that of any other writer of fantasy and sf of the day his use of genre tropes as tools for probing the human condition.

Most of RB's other sf stories from this period show the same disregard as his Mars tales for science in their fantastic elaborations of technologically sophisticated but soulless futures. In "The Exiles" (1949; vt "The Mad Wizards of Mars") an interplanetary expedition to Mars finds that the planet has magically become a refuge for writers of classic Supernatural Fiction whose work has been banned by a clinically scientific Earth culture. In "Pillar of Fire" (1948) a miraculously resurrected troublemaker from the past finds it easy to get away with murder in a technologically advanced future where civilization has been disinfected of instinctive human fears and superstitions. RB has been criticized in the sf community for the apparent antitechnological bias that empowers such stories, although this strain in his fiction can be viewed simply as a different expression of the theme of lost innocence around which much of his fantasy coheres. His dystopic novel Fahrenheit 451 (1951 Galaxy as "The Fireman"; with two short stories as coll 1953; most later editions omit the short stories; rev 1979 with coda; rev 1982 with afterword) crystallizes this theme in its extrapolation of a future where Books are burned to prevent dissemination of their ideas.

RB's weird tales and sf proved to be preparation for an informal series of semi-autobiographical novels that inventively recycle his trademark themes and represent his most distinguished work since the 1950s. Laced with fantasy, these novels can be read as the saga of a single character loosely based on RB himself, who grows to maturity but is sustained by the power of his youthful imagination. Dandelion Wine (1950-1957 various mags; fixup 1957) is set in Green Town, Illinois, and features Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy experiencing a transitional summer in which the loss of a friend, an acquaintance with death and his own changing outlook on life irrevocably close the door of childhood behind him and set him on the path of adulthood. Where the fantasy of this novel is limited almost exclusively to Douglas's imaginative Transformations (>>> Perception) of the town and its people, its follow-up, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), is more overtly Gothic and supernatural. Here the initiation into adulthood is tainted with the potential for Evil as a travelling Carnival that steals the Souls of its victims tempts the novel's two 14-year-old protagonists to embrace the adult entitlements its sideshows promise. Dismissed by many for its heavy-handed allegorizing (> Allegory), the novel represents RB's most poignant evocation of the hopes and frustration of small-town life. Nearly a quarter-century separates it from his next novel for adults, Death is a Lonely Business (1985), which is noticeably a roman à clef based on RB's years as a pulp writer and founded on a premise that seems all the more provocative considering his success: its writer protagonist's literary ambitions provide him with hope and a zest for life that save him from a blight of death striking down his more discouraged friends. RB folds the tale's existential speculations into a hardboiled-detective narrative, a feat he duplicates in A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990), a murder mystery set in a Hollywood backlot where a screenwriter's efforts to solve a crime Mirror his personal quest for meaning in a world of false surfaces and unreliable façades. RB's travel to Ireland to script John Huston's film of Moby Dick (1956) is the basis of Green Shadows, White Whale (1958-1992, various mags; fixup 1992), in which a screenwriter's hope to understand and integrate himself into the life of a small Irish town introduces him to a cast of eccentrics as inscrutable – and often as uncanny – as the Martians of his sf tales.

Notwithstanding his increasing stature as a novelist, RB's greatest renown is for his short stories, whose focused imagery and controlled prose usually prevent the descent into bathos that mars some of his longer work. Most of his best fiction from the 1940s and 1950s has been collected in: The Illustrated Man (coll 1951; with 2 stories added and 4 deleted, rev 1952 UK), a fixup whose insubstantial Frame Story – the stories are living tattoos on the skin of a sideshow freak (> Carnival) – does not diminish their power; The Golden Apples of the Sun (coll 1953; with 2 stories deleted 1953 UK), and A Medicine for Melancholy (coll 1959; vt with 4 stories removed and 5 added The Day It Rained Forever 1959 UK). By comparison, the contents of The Machineries of Joy (coll 1964; with 1 story cut 1964 UK), I Sing the Body Electric (coll 1969), and Long After Midnight (coll 1976) are drawn primarily from his later work for mainstream periodicals and lack the invention of those stories in which he manipulates the tropes of fantasy and sf to serve his ends. The definitive Stories of Ray Bradbury (coll 1980; UK paperback in 2 vols 1983), however, brings together works from all of these books and affords a unique context for appreciating the different permutations of his favourite themes over time, as well as the maturation of his style.

RB's achievement as a fiction writer who bridged the gap between Genre Fantasy and nongenre literature often obscures his other literary and extraliterary contributions, which are considerable. He has edited two anthologies, Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow (anth 1952) and The Circus of Dr Lao and Other Improbable Stories (anth 1956), comprising modern fantasy stories published in nongenre venues. He helped adapt a number of his stories for EC Comics, reprinted as The Autumn People (graph coll 1965) and Tomorrow Midnight (graph coll 1966), and oversaw work on the seven volumes of graphic renderings of his work, compiled as The Ray Bradbury Chronicles (graph colls 1993-1994). He has written the juvenile novels Switch on the Night (1955) and The Halloween Tree (1972) and lent his imprimatur to the Ray Bradbury Presents novels (1993-1995) for younger readers, based on his Dinosaur tales. He has written several volumes of poetry which, though undistinguished, captures his unquenchable exuberance. The plays collected in his On Stage: A Chrestomathy of His Plays (coll 1991) feature both original theatre pieces and adaptations that are interesting for their distillations of his essential themes for another medium. Reflections on the creative process form the basis of several essays in his nonfiction collections Zen and the Art of Writing (coll 1973) and Yestermorrow (1991). Many of his best-known books have been adapted for Cinema and tv, including Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Illustrated Man (1968), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) – for which RB wrote the screenplay – and the tv miniseries The Martian Chronicles (1980), but none of these screen versions faithfully captures the spirit behind the texts. The movies The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms (1953) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) are both based loosely on RB short stories. His own screenwriting credits range widely, from his work on Moby Dick (1956) and Picasso Summer (1972 tvm), the latter based on his short story "In a Season of Calm Weather" (screenplay credited to "Douglas Spaulding") to the Academy-Award nominated short Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962) and over eight episodes of the highly regarded cable-tv series Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1996).

RB has been honoured with a 1977 World Fantasy Award and a 1989 Nebula Grandmaster Award, both for Lifetime Achievement. The tribute volume The Bradbury Chronicles: Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury (1991), ed William F Nolan and Martin H Greenberg, features stories by writers influenced by RB's work. It is telling that the majority are dark fantasy. [SD]

other works: Sun and Shadow (1953 Reporter; 1957 chap); The Essence of Creative Writing (1962), nonfiction; R is For Rocket (coll 1962), all but two stories having appeared in earlier collections; The Anthem Sprinters, and Other Antics (coll 1963), short plays; The Pedestrian (1952 F&SF; 1964 chap); The Vintage Bradbury (coll 1965); The Day It Rained Forever: A Comedy in One Act (1966), play; The Pedestrian: A Fantasy in One Act (1966), a play; S is for Space (coll 1966), all but 4 stories having appeared in earlier collections; Twice 22 (omni 1966, collecting the contents of The Golden Apples of the Sun and A Medicine for Melancholy); Bloch and Bradbury (anth 1969; vt Fever Dream and Other Fantasies 1970 UK), collecting stories by RB and Robert Bloch; Old Ahab's Friend, and a Friend to Noah, Speak His Peace (1971), verse; The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays (coll 1972); Madrigals for the Space Age (coll 1972), words with music by Lalo Schifrin; When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed (coll 1973), verse; Ray Bradbury (coll 1975 UK), retrospective collection; Pillar of Fire and Other Plays for Today, Tomorrow and Beyond Tomorrow (coll 1975), plays; Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns (coll 1977), verse; The Mummies of Guanajuato (1978), illustrated version with photos by Archie Lieberman of "The Next in Line" (1947); The Ghosts of Forever (coll 1981), verse; The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury (coll 1982); Dinosaur Tales (coll 1983); Fahrenheit 451/The Illustrated Man/Dandelion Wine/The Golden Apples of the Sun/The Martian Chronicles (omni 1987 UK); Fever Dream (1948 WT; 1987 chap), juvenile illustrated by Darrel Anderson; The Toynbee Convector (coll 1988); Classic Stories 1 (coll 1990), reprint anthology containing all but 5 stories from The Golden Apples of the Sun and R is for Rocket; Classic Stories 2 (coll 1990), reprinting most of A Medicine for Melancholy and S is for Space, with 4 of the 5 stories omitted from Classic Stories 1.

About the author: The Ray Bradbury Companion: A Life and Career History, Photolog, and Comprehensive Checklist of Writings (1975) by William F Nolan, supplemented by Bradbury Bits & Pieces: The Ray Bradbury Bibliography: 1974-1988 (1991) by Donn Albright; The Bradbury Chronicles (1977 chap) by George Edgar Slusser; The Drama of Ray Bradbury (1977; rev vt Ray Bradbury: Dramatist 1989) by Ben Indick; Ray Bradbury (1980) by Wayne L Johnson; Ray Bradbury (anth 1980) ed Martin H Greenberg and J D Olander; Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie (1984) and Ray Bradbury (1989) both by William F Touponce; Ray Bradbury (1986) by David Mogen.

Raymond Douglas Bradbury


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.