In his introduction to The Stories of Ray Bradbury, the author discusses how childhood memories have shaped his writing and describes himself as “the man with the child inside.” Many of Bradbury’s stories feature child protagonists, but even those centered on adult experiences display his youthful outlook on life through their exuberant prose and emphasis on the basic lessons that life teaches. Big events take place in these tales—first contact with alien species, time travel to the prehistoric age, and even the end of the world—but it is always in the quiet moments of self-discovery on the periphery of these events that characters learn what is important about life. “The Homecoming” is set during the bustle of a large family reunion of supernatural beings. Timothy, a young family member who was born mortal, spends most of the story failing miserably to imitate the behaviors of his relatives in the hope of earning their respect. At the story’s end, Timothy’s mother comforts him with the assurance “We all love you. No matter how different you are.” In trying to be someone he is not in order to fit in with the larger world, Timothy discovers the importance of being true to himself.
“Life was full of symbols and omens,” thinks a character in “The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind.” In Bradbury’s stories, the richness of life is defined by the symbolic value of its individual moments. The simplest of experiences always proves pregnant with a deeper meaning that ensures that no moment in life is superfluous or insignificant. In “The Night,” family worries over an older brother’s late return home result in the younger brother’s first intimations of mortality. The mere changing of seasons in “The End of Summer” teaches its young protagonist the meaning of death.
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The Stories of Ray Bradbury includes much of the best work from the short-fiction collections that established Bradbury’s literary reputation: The Illustrated Man (1951), The October Country (1955), The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), and A Medicine for Melancholy (1959). First published at a time when fantasy and science fiction were separated from the literary mainstream as “popular fiction,” many of these stories helped draw attention to the way in which genre fiction could serve as a vehicle for the same themes and ideas found in so-called serious literature. Bradbury’s novels The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine (1957) both were assembled from short stories. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) each began as a short story before evolving into full-length novels.
Bradbury published little short fiction after The Stories of Ray Bradbury appeared, but some of his later novels—Death Is a Lonely Business (1985), A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities (1990), and Green Shadows, White Whale (1992)—elaborate ideas first tackled in his short stories and show how the timeless themes of his earlier writing continue to shape his mature work.