Bradbury, Ray 1920–2012
Bradbury, an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and writer for children, is an accomplished and imaginative storyteller, best known for his fantasy and science fiction. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Although [Bradbury] has a large following among science fiction readers, there is at least an equally large contingent of people who cannot stomach his work at all; they say he has no respect for the medium; that he does not even trouble to make his scientific double-talk convincing; that—worst crime of all—he fears and distrusts science.
… All of which is true, and—for our present purposes, anyhow—irrelevant. The purists are right in saying that he does not write science fiction, and never has….
People who talk about Bradbury's imagination miss the point. His imagination is mediocre; he borrows nearly all his backgrounds and props, and distorts them badly; wherever he is required to invent anything—a planet, a Martian, a machine—the image is flat and unconvincing. Bradbury's Mars, where it is not as bare as a Chinese stage-setting, is a mass of inconsistency; his spaceships are a joke; his people have no faces. The vivid images in his work are not imagined; they are remembered….
There is so much to say about Bradbury's meaning that perhaps too little has been said about his technique…. His imagery is luminous and penetrating, continually lighting up familiar corners with unexpected words. He never lets an idea go until he has squeezed it dry, and never wastes one. I well remember my own popeyed admiration when I read his story about a woman who gave birth to a small blue pyramid; this is exactly the sort of thing that might occur to any imaginative writer in a manic or drunken moment; but Bradbury wrote it and sold it….
Learned opinion to the contrary, Bradbury is not the heir of Poe, Irving or Hawthorne; his voice is the voice (a little shriller) of Christopher Morley and Robert Nathan and J. D. Salinger. As his talent expands, some of his stories become pointed social commentary; some are surprisingly effective religious tracts, disguised as science fiction; others still are nostalgic vignettes; but under it all is still Bradbury the poet of 20th-century neurosis, Bradbury the isolated spark of consciousness, awake and alone at midnight; Bradbury the grown-up child who still remembers, still believes….
Childhood is Bradbury's one subject, but you will not find real childhood here, Bradbury's least of all. What he has had to say about it has always been expressed obliquely, in symbol and allusion, and always with the tension of the outsider—the ex-child, the lonely one. In giving up this tension, in diving with arms spread into the glutinous pool of sentimentality that has always been waiting for him, Bradbury has renounced the one thing that made him worth reading.
Damon Knight, "When I Was in Kneepants: Ray Bradbury," in his In Search of Wonder: Critical Essays on Science Fiction (reprinted by courtesy of Advent: Publishers, Inc.), Advent, 2nd edition, 1967, pp. 108-13.
Bradbury looks askance at the younger generation's belief in … pseudo-sciences, political fanaticism or hero worship of one sort or another but sees it as inevitable in the light of the century's relative religious vacuum. He has suggested, however, that present scientific aspirations can fill that void. "As the years went by," he explains, "I found myself getting more and more interested in just the whole universe—you know, who we are, what we‧re doing here, where we're going, what our plans are for the next billion years. That's a long time and space is one of our ways of planning. The more we get into space, the more religious we're got to become. We're going to be meeting more mysteries." It is no surprise then that Bradbury described his following the first satellite across the night sky as "'an absolutely religious experience.'" For more than ever before science has put man closer to the heavens he had formerly considered the territory of the gods. Since man's ascension into space has clearly brought the dreams of a godlike flight to fruition, Bradbury predictably places man at the center of the universe in the romantic and Renaissance tradition.
Steven Dimeo, "Man and Apollo: A Look at Religion in the Science Fantasies of Ray Bradbury," in Journal of Popular Culture, Spring, 1972, pp. 970-78.
Elements of what may be called "fantasy" were present in Ray Bradbury's works from the beginning of his writing career. His own recent remark distinguishing science fiction from fantasy in literature is that "science fiction could happen." This implies, of course, that fantasy could not happen. But in today's world, where change occurs at such rapid rate, nobody would venture to state dogmatically that any idea is incapable of realization. Therefore, whether or not a work of literature is fantasy becomes more a matter of the author's intention rather than a matter measurable by objective criteria. This is especially true of an author such as Bradbury, who by his own admission writes both science fiction and fantasy.
Bradbury's own brand of fantasy apparently came to birth in the world of the carnival. His imagination was nurtured with carnival imagery…. Whenever a travelling circus or carnival came through Waukegan in the 1920s and early 1930s, Bradbury and his younger brother were always present…. [The] carnival became for him a sort of subconscious touchstone for a whole system of moods and images which emerged later in his writings. As a result, the carnival world can be thought of as a clearinghouse for Bradbury's imagination—the place where he goes for his symbols when he is writing a tale of horror, nostalgia, fantasy, or some combination of the three….
But of Bradbury's tales [during the 1940s] more were horror than fantasy. Perhaps he would regard an attempt to distinguish between horror and fantasy in his works as mere semantic quibbling. The difference, it seems to me, can almost be described as a matter of levity. In the horror tales, he was completely serious and trying his best to achieve a shock effect upon his readers. In the best of these, he probably succeeded because he also achieved, in the writing process, a shock effect upon himself. He was trying to exorcise something in himself as he wrote. Thus his horror tales were not written to enable his readers to escape, but rather to cause them to suffer so that they might be cleansed…. The fantasy stories, on the other hand, allow the readers' spirits to expand rather than to contract, as is the effect in the horror tales. The thrust of his effort seems to lie in the creation of a mood, and, lost in this mood, the readers can escape to a Secondary World….
The theme running through [Something Wicked This Way Comes] is that Evil is a shadow: Good is a reality. Evil cannot exist except in the vacuum left when people let their Good become not an active form, not a pumping in their veins, but just a memory, an intention. As Bradbury has indicated in other stories and articles, he feels that the potential for evil exists like cancer germs, dormant in all of us, and unless we keep our Good in fit condition by actively using it, it will lose its power to fight off the poisons in our system….
Love is the best humanizing force man possesses, Bradbury seems to be saying…. The idea of the healing powers of love is perhaps most beautifully expressed in the story "A Medicine for Melancholy" (1959). The story is almost a parable. A young girl in eighteenth-century London is slowly fading away before the eyes of her concerned parents. No doctor is able to diagnose her illness, and finally in desperation they take her, bed and all, and put her outside the front door so that the passersby can try their hand at identifying what is wrong with her. A young Dustman looks into her eyes and knows what is wrong—she needs love. He suggests that she be left out all night beneath the moon, and during the night he visits her and effects a cure. In the morning the roses have returned to her cheeks and she and her family dance in celebration….
[This] idea, or moral, if that is a better word,… seems to be at least implicit in the majority of Bradbury's stories from the late 1950s until the present. He did not cease to be a teacher when he stopped writing science fiction, but he did place a moratorium upon the more evangelistic kind of moralizing which he was practicing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Now, at last, his own sense of values seems to have become completely at one with his art.
Anita T. Sullivan, "Ray Bradbury and Fantasy," in English Journal, December, 1972, pp. 1309-14.