Ray Bradbury Bradbury, Ray (Vol. 29)

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(Short Story Criticism)

Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Douglas Spaulding and Leonard Spaulding) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, dramatist, nonfiction writer, editor, and author of children's books.

Regarded as an important figure in the development of science fiction, even though he does not write primarily in that genre, Bradbury was among the first authors to combine the concepts of science fiction with a sophisticated prose style. Often described as economical yet poetic, Bradbury's fiction conveys a vivid sense of place in which everyday events are transformed into unusual, sometimes sinister situations. In a career which has spanned more than fifty years, Bradbury has written fantasies, crime and mystery stories, supernatural tales, and mainstream literature, as well as science fiction. In all of his work, Bradbury emphasizes basic human values and cautions against unthinking acceptance of technological progress. His persistent optimism, evident even in his darkest work, has led some critics to label him as sentimental or naive. Bradbury, however, perceives life, even at its most mundane, with a childlike wonder and awe, which charges his work with a fervent affirmation of humanity.

Biographical Information

Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, a small town that frequently emerges as the setting in his stories. In the mid-1930s Bradbury's family moved to southern California, where he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938. Determined to become a writer, Bradbury created his own science fiction magazine called Futuria Fantasia, although he produced only four volumes. Bradbury worked as a newsboy in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1943, to support his writing. His first published story, "Pendulum" (with Henry Hasse), surfaced in Super Science Stories in 1941. Shortly thereafter, Bradbury's macabre tales regularly appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask, Amazing Stories, and Weird Tales. The latter magazine served to showcase the works of such fantasy writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth. Derleth, who founded Arkham House, a publishing company specializing in fantasy literature, accepted one of Bradbury's stories for Who Knocks?, an anthology published by his firm. Derleth subsequently suggested that Bradbury compile a volume of his own stories; the resulting book, Dark Carnival (1947), collects Bradbury's early fantasy tales. Due to the success of this first collection, in addition to publication of his stories in The Best American Short Stories of 1946 and the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1947, Bradbury's stories were soon published in such mainstream periodicals as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Yorker, where they reached a wider audience. A prolific author, Bradbury has published numerous short story collections since, earning a reputation as an authority of fantasy literature in the process.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Although he has produced volumes of work in many genres, Bradbury is essentially a short story writer. Sometimes his works cross genres. For example, the novels The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Dandelion Wine (1957) are frequently treated by critics as short story collections, in which chapters are connected by a simple framing device. The stories in The Martian Chronicles, for example are linked by the theme of human settlement on Mars. Another significant collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man (1951), also uses a framing device, basing the stories on the tattoos of the title character. Bradbury's earlier stories—particularly those collected in Dark Carnival, The Martian Chronicles, and The October Country (1970)—have been compared to those of Edgar Allan Poe because of their grotesque and sometimes horrific story lines. "Skeleton," in Dark Carnival, for example, is about a man who grows so repulsed by his own skeleton that he has it removed, consequently becoming "a human jellyfish." "The Third...

(The entire section is 57,262 words.)