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Bradbury, Ray 1920–2012
Bradbury is an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, children's author, and editor. He is the leading writer of the school of science fiction and fantasy that is concerned with the human implications of futurism, rather than in the wonders of advanced gadgetry. His fiction is based on the inhumanity, apathy, and technology of modern society. Bradbury is essentially optimistic, however, in his portrayal of the importance of human values and the imagination. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
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[Despite Bradbury's] regrettable tendency to dime-a-dozen sensitivity, he is a good writer, wider in range than any of his colleagues, capable of seeing life on another planet as something extraordinary instead of just challenging or horrific, ready to combine this with strongly held convictions…. The suppression of fantasy, or of all books, is an aspect of the conformist society often mentioned by other writers, but with Bradbury it is a specialty. (pp. 106-07)
[There] is about Bradbury, as about those I might call the non-fiction holders of his point of view, a certain triumphant lugubriousness, a kind of proleptic schadenfreude (world copyright reserved), a relish not always distinguishable here from satisfaction in urging a case, but different from it, and recalling the relish with which are recounted the horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four and a famous passage that prefigures it in Coming Up for Air. Jeremiah has never had much success in pretending he doesn't thoroughly enjoy his job, and whereas I agree with him, on the whole, in his dislike of those who reach for their revolver when they hear the word "culture," I myself am getting to the point where I reach for my ear-plugs on hearing the phrase "decline of our culture." But in this respect Bradbury sins no more grievously than his non-fiction colleagues, whom he certainly surpasses in immediacy, for Fahrenheit 451 is a fast and scaring narrative…. The book emerges quite creditably from a comparison with Nineteen Eighty-Four as inferior in power, but superior in conciseness and objectivity. (p. 109)
Bradbury's is the most skilfully drawn of all science fiction's conformist hells. One invariable feature of them is that however activist they may be, however convinced that the individual can, and will, assert himself, their programme is always to resist or undo harmful change, not to promote useful change. (pp. 109-10)
Kingsley Amis, in his New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction (© 1960 by Kingsley Amis; reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and A. D. Peters and Company Ltd.), Harcourt, 1960.
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Ray Bradbury has drawn the sword against the dreary and corrupting materialism of this century; against society as producer-and-consumer equation, against the hideousness in modern life, against mindless power, against sexual obsession, against sham intellectuality, against the perversion of right reason into the mentality of the television-viewer. His Martians, spectres, and witches are not diverting entertainment only: they become, in their eerie manner, the defenders of truth and beauty. (p. 117)
[Bradbury] thinks it … probable that man may spoil everything, in this planet and in others, by the misapplication of science to avaricious ends—the Baconian and Hobbesian employment of science as power. And Bradbury's interior world is fertile, illuminated by love for the permanent things, warm with generous impulse….
Bradbury knows of modern technology, in the phrase of Henry Adams, that we are "monkeys monkeying with a loaded shell." He is interested not in the precise mechanism of rockets, but in the mentality and the morals of fallible human beings who make and use rockets. He is a man of fable and parable. (p. 118)
Bradbury is not writing about the gadgets of conquest; his real concerns are the soul and the moral imagination. When the boy-hero of Dandelion Wine, in an abrupt mystical experience, is seized almost bodily by the glowing consciousness that he is really alive, we glimpse that mystery the soul. When, in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the lightning-rod salesman is reduced magically to an idiot dwarf because all his life he had fled from perilous responsibility, we know the moral imagination.
"Soul," a word much out of fashion nowadays, signifies a man's animating entity. That flaming spark the soul is the real space-traveller of Bradbury's stories. "I'm alive!"—that exclamation is heard from Waukegan to Mars and beyond, in Bradbury's fables. Life is its own end—if one has a soul to tell him so. (pp. 118-19)
[The] moral imagination, which shows us what we ought to be, primarily is what distinguishes Bradbury's tales from the futurism of Wells' fancy. For Bradbury, the meaning of life is here and now, in our every action; we live amidst immortality; it is here, not in some future domination like that of Wells' The Sleeper Awakens, that we must find our happiness. (p. 119)
What gives [The Martian Chronicles] their cunning is their realism set in the fantastic: that is, their portrayal of human nature, in all its baseness and all its promise, against an exquisite stage-set. We are shown normality, the permanent things in human nature, by the light of another world; and what we forget about ourselves in the ordinariness of our routine of existence suddenly bursts upon us as fresh revelation. (p. 120)
In Bradbury's fables of Mars and of the carnival [in Something Wicked This Way Comes], fantasy has become what it was in the beginning: the enlightening moral imagination, transcending simple rationality. (p. 123)
The trappings of science-fiction may have attracted young people to Bradbury, but he has led them on to something much older and better: mythopoeic literature, normative truth acquired through wonder. Bradbury's stories are not an escape from reality; they are windows looking upon enduring reality. (p. 124)
Russell Kirk, "The World of Ray Bradbury" and "Depravity and Courage in Modern Fable," in his Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormity in Literature and Politics (copyright © 1969 by Arlington House), Arlington House, 1969, pp. 116-20, 120-24.
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[Dandelion Wine] has no more reason to end than it has to begin. Its cause and effect relationship is a spontaneous one, for which A leads to B, and Z again to A. It is a brief glimpse on a crowded street of a stranger one can never forget and always love. It has the drug color vividness of black and white photography, giving the honest shade and contrast of face stories at moments removed from motion, from time, from definition. But, in the same breath, it has a prescribed structure, with Douglas, his brother Tom, his friends, his senses, all acting under the assumed reality which the freedom of fantasy offers. Dandelion Wine is fantasy, in the most boundless sense of the word. It is the fantasy which is always at hand, known to us all—not the thirty-five cents a copy world of escapism and plasticity, but the unrigid, free, real world of the mind's expectations. Though one may not have logical inference patterns to make, conflicts to resolve, or character types to establish, there is a single, though all encompassing direction, a "place" to go, an exercise to perform. In effect, this unavoidable and necessary element of imposition requires expansion, and passionate devotion to this mental growth. When Bradbury sets his stage, much like a theatre director, an animated world appears in which the facts of the imagination become as acceptable as the facts of reality. (p. 161)
Bradbury proves his fantasy by this reaching through the senses, this creating of real life. We believe, really believe, only that which is proven artistically, employing both the aesthetic criticism of the intellect and the senses. Only the latter is nearly infallible, as the virgin innocence of sensual intuition either refuses to accept or trustingly incorporates the devil deceptions of illusion's mists…. To write successful fantasy, to employ successful imagination, elements of the real world must be among the constituent ingredients of the mental exercise. Only then can the mind feel secure in its journey. (pp. 162-63)
What can threaten this sensual stage which Bradbury sets? His worlds of fantasy, his circus balloon journeys up and out, incorporate in their very nature a fastening line to the ground, a kinship with the realistic, cold visioned animal appraisal of life and death. And, to be sure, Douglas reflects off his first glimpse of death's impersonal reality, and looks forward to winter's harvestings of the dandelion wine…. But what can be done with the last breath finality of death; what can be done with the inescapable fact that we really don't want Douglas Spaulding to ever die? (p. 163)
What can fantasizing do to soften the blue steel edge of pain and aging and decay? Can one merely accept death as an inexplicable force, a cellophane haze of gradual dying lasting as long as life? And can the mythology of religion, of art, of Dandelion Wine satisfy us, explain to us perhaps, the mystery of death with the same force it uses in portraying the wonder of life? Bradbury asserts that fantasy is a way of dealing with the monster death, driving a cedar stake through a werewolf's heart, killing it, vomiting it out. (pp. 163-64)
In analyzing Bradbury's "style" one must carefully avoid scholastically rigid interpretations, if only for the sake of greater enjoyment. The beauty of his work, the personality of his written words, can best be appreciated by the innocent ears of readers who are not aware of archetypes and genres and styles. If one looks for contrived style in Bradbury's works, he is likely to sacrifice the full satisfaction of the experience. Of course, one does find in Dandelion Wine a conscious effort to be Bradbury throughout, to always be the fellow with the magic citric mind. Art is its process, and Dandelion Wine is the product of artistic creation, unique only in its virgin beauty, an experience that needn't be looked back upon and analyzed. This critique itself shows what happens when one reviews a Bradbury work; its beauty enslaves one to the point where the best picture seems to be the one with maximum Bradbury and minimum reviewer. Perhaps one sacrifices a context for interpretation, blurring the intrinsic uniqueness which is self expressive. It is remarkably simple to like Bradbury, to know and feel his style and perspective on life, without really being able to define them.
Air like water, scented with thyme … this is what Bradbury wants. Prose with rhyme and color vivid, poetry at all times. Children's newly-planted awareness, untarnished copper, untarnished eye. Spells, seconds, births, deaths, where you can
hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest sip of children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.
His is world of truth, a world of children, a world whose history recalls being born. It is a world free of burning fire's intentions, tragedy's grimace, and downhill falls. It is such a fine, honest world that it risks being classified as contrived, inflated literature. He almost seems to cheat. When he gets mad at death, he drives a stake through it. And when his heroes do wrong, they can erase the past with a life time. It is a world of real supermen. It is a material commodity in which buying and selling are nothing more than juggling, trading a perfect red ball for a perfect blue ball. He never gets mad, and he is always beautiful, and one gets jealous. (pp. 164-65)
Tom Bradford, in Chicago Review (reprinted by permission of Chicago Review; copyright © 1971 by Chicago Review), Vol. 22, Nos. 2 and 3, 1971.
A. James Stupple
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[Of] all the writers of science fiction who have dealt with [the] meeting of the past and the future, it is Ray Bradbury whose treatment has been the deepest and most sophisticated. What has made Bradbury's handling of this theme distinctive is that his attitudes and interpretations have changed as he came to discover the complexities and the ambiguities inherent in it. (p. 175)
Bradbury's point [in The Martian Chronicles] here is clear: [the Earthmen] met their deaths because of their inability to forget, or at least resist, the past. Thus, the story of this Third Expedition acts as a metaphor for the book as a whole. Again and again the Earthmen make the fatal mistake of trying to recreate an Earth-like past rather than accept the fact that this is Mars—a different, unique new land in which they must be ready to make personal adjustments. Hauling Oregon lumber through space, then, merely to provide houses for nostalgic colonists exceeds folly; it is only one manifestation of a psychosis which leads to the destruction not only of Earth, but, with the exception of a few families, of Mars as well. (p. 177)
[Despite] the fact that it cannot be called science fiction, Dandelion Wine closely resembles The Martian Chronicles and much of Bradbury's other writing in that it is essentially concerned with the same issue—the dilemma created by the dual attractions of the past and the future, of stasis and change.
In Dandelion Wine Bradbury uses the experiences of his adolescent protagonist during one summer to dramatize this set of philosophical and psychological conflicts. At twelve, Douglas Spaulding finds himself on the rim of adolescence. On one side of him lies the secure, uncomplicated world of childhood, while on the other is the fascinating yet frightening world of "growing up." (p. 178)
[In Dandelion Wine] Bradbury seems to be reiterating what he has said in The Martian Chronicles—that the past, or stasis, or both, is enticing but deadly, and that Douglas, like the colonists, must forsake the past and give himself up to change and progress. But it is not so simple and clear-cut…. [What brings Douglas] out of his coma is a swallow of a liquid … concocted out of pieces of the past (such as Arctic air from the year 1900). With this development, Bradbury's thesis seems to fall to pieces, for Douglas is saved for the future by the past. He is liberated from a static condition by bottled stasis. The ambiguous nature of his recovery is further compounded by the strange, anticlimactic nature of the last chapters of the novel in which Bradbury indulges in a nostalgic celebration of old-fashioned family life. This conclusion so detracts from the story of Doug and his rebirth that one can only conclude that the author was confused, or more probably ambivalent, about these past-future, stasis-change dichotomies.
It is evident, then, that in Dandelion Wine, Bradbury began to become aware of the complexity of his subject. Where in The Martian Chronicles he seemed confident in his belief that a meaningful future could only be realized by rejecting the past, in this later novel he appears far less certain about the relative values of the past and stasis. Perhaps in this regard Bradbury can be seen as representative of a whole generation of middle class Americans who have found themselves alternately attracted to the security of an idealized, timeless, and static past (as the current nostalgia vogue illustrates) and the exciting, yet threatening and disruptive future world of progress and change, especially technological change. (p. 181)
[This] stasis-change conflict, besides being a function of Bradbury's own history and personality, also seems to be built into the art form itself. What distinguishes Bradbury and gives his works their depth is that he seems to be aware that a denial of the past demands a denial of that part of the self which is the past…. [He] has not been able to come to any lasting conclusion. Instead, he has come to recognize the ambiguity, the complexity, and the irony within this theme. (p. 182)
Bradbury had discovered through his years of working with this theme, the past is not one-dimensional. It is at once creative and destructive. It can give comfort, and it can unsettle and threaten. (p. 184)
A. James Stupple, "The Past, the Future, and Ray Bradbury," in Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, Vol. 1, edited by Thomas D. Clareson (copyright © 1976 by The Popular Press), Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 175-84.