Bradbury, Ray 1920–2012
Bradbury is an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, author of children's books, and editor. He is considered dean of the school of science fiction and fantasy that is concerned with the human implications of futurism, rather than with 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, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Faulkner's "That Evening Sun" (1931) and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (1957) share an archetypal pattern that Maud Bodkin described in 1934. In her pioneer study, Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, Psychological Studies of Imagination, she refers to a "pattern" of the "Heaven and Hell Archetype" in which Satan struggles "upwards from his tremendous cavern below the realm of Chaos, to waylay the flower-like Eve in her walled Paradise and make her an inmate of his Hell, even as Pluto rose from beneath the earth to carry off Proserpine from her flowery meadow." As we shall see, both writers emphasize a hell (for Faulkner it is a "ditch," for Bradbury, a "ravine") that is inhabited by a devil figure who threatens a queenlike Eve in the warm security of her home. Considered collectively, these mythic and other correspondences between the two works reveal much about how literary minds, apparently working independently, can reshape archetypal materials in similar ways.
As symbolic hells, Faulkner's "ditch," which appears also in The Sound and the Fury, and Bradbury's "ravine" are dramatized as dark and (especially in Bradbury) as mysterious and malignantly alive. Both exert a primal, terrifying force and exude an ominous menace that pervades the works with an air of expectancy and suspense…. In Dandelion Wine, the ravine divides Green Town into "halves" and separates civilization from an encroaching wilderness. Suffused with "a danger that was old a billion years ago," the ravine gnaws and gradually erodes the town, stalking it like some primeval jungle monster that slowly swallows it alive. (p. 12)
When it comes to the women, such resemblances between the two works seem to stop. Lavinia Nebbs, the "prettiest maiden lady in town,"… does resemble "the flower-like Eve" spoken of by Bodkin, but the Negro laundress and prostitute Nancy in "That Evening Sun" is neither a maiden nor beautiful. However, in "That Evening Sun," we have an Eve or queen whom Nancy creates as a symbol of herself. Trying to keep the Compson children with her in her warm cabin so that her husband won't enter and kill her, Nancy, who had earlier crossed the ditch to get to her house, tells them a story about a queen who has "to cross the ditch" where a "bad man" is "hiding," in order "to get into her house quick and bar the door."
Lavinia Nebbs must do exactly the same thing. Descending into the ravine at night, she must cross through it to the safety of her home on the other side, where she can "bar" her door. Like Nancy's cabin, which is brightly lit by a lamp and has a fire in the hearth, her home is a place of refuge. (pp. 12-13)
Faulkner's and Bradbury's hells have mythological, metaphysical, and psychological implications. Most obvious, perhaps, is that they resemble the caverns, abysses, pits, and underworlds found in Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Poe and others and suggest much about how man views creation and his own lost innocence. The fact, for example, that each divides a town in two implies a dualistic...
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vision of the universe in which the forces of darkness forever wage war against the forces of good. In Christian terms this view is postlapsarian, but from the broader standpoint reflected in everything from Greek myths to fairy tales, it is archetypal.
What Faulkner's and Bradbury's hells convey most intensely is the horror of cosmic aloneness…. Bradbury, in this regard, describes his ravine in archetypal, Jungian terms as the locus for the fears of the collective unconscious….
"Know Thyself": the injunction inscribed on the oracle at Delphi is also important in understanding the mythic structure found in Faulkner and Bradbury. For, if man is alone, he is at the same time alone with himself. Who or what am I? This mystery, although not consciously explored by Nancy and Lavinia, is of particular relevance to them because both are faced with a return to the primal depths of their beings, their own hearts of darkness. (p. 14)
The similarities between "That Evening Sun" and Dandelion Wine raise the possibility that Bradbury was influenced by Faulkner, especially when we consider … that each work ends with the symbol of a setting sun, conveys a distrust of machines and modernism, and involves the theme of initiation (as it relates to Quentin Compson and the Spaulding brothers). However, despite such additional parallels, it still appears that Bradbury wrote Dandelion Wine independently of Faulkner. For one thing, a setting sun and the theme of initiation are widespread in literature, and a critical outlook on technological "progress" pervades not only both authors' works but many others as well. More significant, though, is the fact that there was, as Bradbury indicates in his introduction to Dandelion Wine, a ravine and a Lonely One in his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. While not eliminating the possibility of Faulkner's influence, this last fact does vitiate it.
Still, the question remains: why are there such striking parallels between the two works? Part of the answer is that Bradbury's style of poetic fantasy seems, and often is, so richly allusive…. [He was] influenced directly or indirectly by the heaven and hell archetype Bodkin cites in Greek, Christian, and other myths. (p. 15)
Dandelion Wine, indeed, abounds with … fairy-tale staples as a girl dressed all in "snow white," "Snow Queens," witches, magic spells, and an old woman whose former beauty, a "white swan," has long since been devoured by the "dragon" of age. This last character elegizes herself as "the princess in the crumbled tower … waiting for her Prince Charming" …: the one archetypal ingredient which Dandelion Wine and "That Evening Sun" both lack. (pp. 15-16)
John B. Rosenman, "The Heaven and Hell Archetype in Faulkner's 'That Evening Sun' and Bradbury's 'Dandelion Wine'," in South Atlantic Bulletin (copyright © 1978 by South Atlantic Modern Language Association), Vol. XLII, No. 2, May, 1978, pp. 12-16.∗
Since "Zero Hour" and "Mushrooms" are both primarily suspense stories, they share a number of structural traits common to such stories. For instance, the secret of the invasion is revealed to the reader almost at once. Real-life invasions usually depend heavily upon the element of surprise—such as in the attack on Pearl Harbor or in the invasion of Normandy. But in a story it is difficult to sustain reader interest if the main point is concealed until the very end. By revealing the invaders' intentions at the beginning of the story, Bradbury keeps us in constant suspense, wondering if and when the protagonists will catch on. In both stories, the method of invasion is rather improbable. This is necessary because the main character must be teasingly slow in putting the pieces of the puzzle together—but without coming off as an idiot. Because the invaders' plans are quite far-fetched, we can understand it when the main characters rationalize away the threat on the basis of its incredibility and their own need to live in a safe world where such things do not happen.
Both "Zero Hour" and "Mushrooms" focus on a small area. Though the invasions are on a world-wide scale, we see little of what is happening outside the neighborhood of the main characters. An even tighter focus is maintained in the story "Fever Dream" from A Medicine for Melancholy. Here again an invasion of Earth by mysterious creatures is taking place. But this time only one person knows, and there is no way he can tell anyone else about it, for the invasion is taking place within his own body. (pp. 27-8)
This story is a reversal of the previous stories in which the invaders were, at least in the beginning, external to the victims and brought about an internal psychological struggle. In "Fever Dream," the invasion begins within one person, and after it has conquered him, it moves out into the world at large. Bradbury only touches upon this second phase as Charles, suddenly appearing well again, goes to great lengths to get into physical contact with his parents, the doctor, even his pet parakeet. We realize that Charles is now one of the invaders—a carrier—and is eagerly involved in spreading the invasion. (p. 29)
It will be noted that children play important roles in the stories covered so far and in several of those to follow. Bradbury's use of children in general in his stories is too large a subject to treat here. But with respect to stories about invasion, Bradbury seems to agree with the popular concept that children live in a world of their own. Though they occupy the same space as adults do, their perception of it is, in many ways, radically different…. It may not be realistic to view the place of children in the world as in any way sinister, but in Bradbury's hands, it can certainly result in a good story.
Another common element in Bradbury's invasion stories is the theme of metamorphosis. In many stories, such as "Mushrooms" or "Fever Dream," the victim of the invasion undergoes—or prepares to undergo—a change in which he himself becomes one of the invaders. Bradbury frequently plays off of the ambiguity of the relationship between the invader and the invaded. At the moment an invasion succeeds, the invader becomes defender—capable himself of being invaded. In some of the stories about Mars, Earthmen who have begun living on Mars are faced with the fact that they are becoming, naturally enough, Martians. In some cases, the metamorphosis is literal, as in "Fever Dream," but behind this is the metaphorical truth that an invasion may be less of a change of circumstance than a change of mind.
Bradbury carries his theme of metamorphosis to its ultimate extreme. As in "Fever Dream," and "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms …" the invader and his victim have become one in the same. Bradbury portrays various life forms—microbe, plant, or human being—moving out from their home worlds to fulfill the need to perpetuate themselves. But he suggests that the price of success might be an ultimate loss of identity. To survive on an alien world, the invader must unite with his victim. Both learn that in order for life to go on, any particular species is expendable, and that the invader's act of aggression may become an act of submission to the higher purpose of life itself. (p. 39)
Wayne L. Johnson, "The Invasion Stories of Ray Bradbury," in Critical Encounters: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction, edited by Dick Riley (copyright © 1978 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.), Ungar, 1978, pp. 23-40.
[The difference between the genres of science fiction and fantasy is that science] fiction is the art of the possible. There's never anything fantastic about science fiction. It's always based on the laws of physics; on those things that can absolutely come to pass. Fantasy, on the other hand, is always the art of the impossible. It goes against all the laws of physics. When you write about invisible men, or walking through walls, or magic carpets, you're dealing with the impossible. (p. 21)
I don't give a damn about the critics. I'm not interested in what they have to say. Really, I don't care about other people's opinions. If I did, I wouldn't have any career at all. I've been warned time and time again not to write science fiction by my friends, my teachers, and all the great intellectuals of our time. That's what's wrong with our culture. Too many people listen to what other people have to say. Who cares? Don't look to others for guidance. Look to yourself! That's what's great about science fiction. Every writer in the science fiction world is a different kind of writer. We all have different views of the world. (p. 23)
I'm an idea writer. Everything of mine is permeated with my love of ideas—both big and small. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it grabs me, and holds me, and fascinates me. And then I'll run out and do something about it. My poetry, all of it, is idea poetry. (p. 26)
[Writing science fiction is] more exciting today. A lot of my poetry is science fiction poetry. My new play, The Martian Chronicles, has been extremely satisfying. I'm older now, my enthusiasm is high, and I'm trying to find new ways of understanding my younger self. And so, my new plays, my science fiction plays, represent a new level of consciousness….
I suspect [science fiction will] move more into philosophy, more into theology, at least I think so. The further we go into space, the more we're going to be awed and terrified by our lonely position in the universe. That means we'll need to do a lot of thinking about the future, which is what I'm trying to do with my poetry. I want to help us to explain ourselves to ourselves. That has always been a constant in science fiction, but I think it will dominate our thinking in the next forty years. (p. 27)
The same attributes that characterize fiction writing in any field are equally true for science fiction—namely, observation and truth…. The Martian Chronicles is a metaphor for a way of viewing the universe, of viewing our planet and the other planets. It works because it rings a bell of truth. It looks like a fantasy, but it isn't. It will only work if you, the reader, feel that the writer has an honest way of looking at the world. (pp. 27-8)
Ray Bradbury, "Ray Bradbury: Poet of Fantastic Fiction," in an interview with Jeffrey M. Elliot, in Science Fiction Voices #2 (copyright © 1979 by Jeffrey Elliot), The Borgo Press, 1979, pp. 20-9.