The Dark and Starry Eyes of Ray Bradbury
The ebullient Ray Bradbury often gave the impression that if anyone could defeat mortality, it would be he. Alas, the “poet of the pulps” died in June at age ninety-one at his home in Los Angeles. He left legions of devoted readers and a vast oeuvre that, at its best, combined Hobbesian fears with emotionally resonant hopes for his country and for the human race.
The author of eleven novels and some six hundred stories called his around-the-clock writing habits “my choreography to outwit Death.” And dance he did. His Herculean output included stories, screenplays, novels, radio plays, and theatrical pieces in the fantasy, science fiction, horror, and detective genres, as well as myriad essays and a first-rate 1956 movie adaptation of Herman Melville’sMoby-Dick. Bradbury sought the lasting fame and glory that artists want, but seldom has the urgency of that quest comported so well with the subject matter that the artist chose. Or, to put it as he would have, that chose him.
Bradbury made his finest contributions to American fiction early in his career. They include his story “The Night” (1946) and his first and greatest novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), which he built up from an already-published short story. Dark Carnival (1947), The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man(1951), and Dandelion Wine (1957), all of which contain dazzling interludes, were brought out as novels but were really strung-together groups of new and previously published stories.
Because he was a lifelong reviser, many of these “greatest hits,” or pieces of them, remain in print today in a half-dozen variations. Truth be told, the proportion of greatest hits among his more forgettable works is not high. Yet the effect Bradbury has had is as potent as that of creators like L. Frank Baum, Rod Serling, and Steven Spielberg — probably as potent as all three combined, considering the large swaths of American popular culture he is father to. Filmmakers who cite his influence include Spielberg, David Lynch, James Cameron, and Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale. In television, he inspired Serling (and directly contributed ideas and scripts to Serling’s The Twilight Zone) and indirectly shaped such Baby Boom-era touchstones as Star Trek, The Addams Family, and Dark Shadows. Any number of wildly successful books and movies — Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, to name two — are unthinkable without Bradbury. And in the words of the prolific American horror writer Stephen King, “without Ray Bradbury, there is no Stephen King.”