Ray Bradbury Bradbury, Ray (Vol. 29) - Essay


(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 Expedition" (first published in 1948 as "Mars Is Heaven" in Planet Stories and later collected in The Martian Chronicles) is about Americans who travel to Mars where they become reunited with their deceased relatives, who, in actuality, are hostile beings whose human faces melt away in the night as they murder the Americans in their sleep. The futuristic and sometimes morbid themes of Bradbury's early collections rarely surface in his more recent works. Driving Blind (1997), for example, only contains four traditional science fiction stories. The majority, though bizarre, are more nostalgic, optimistic, and romantic. They tend to deal with the everyday. All of Bradbury's fiction, from Dark Carnival to Driving Blind, is issue-oriented, as he frequently addresses such themes as racism, censorship, religion, and technology, often infusing the text with authorial commentary.

Critical Reception

While Bradbury's popularity is acknowledged even by his detractors, many critics find the reasons for his success difficult to pinpoint. Some critics were aggravated that Bradbury's futuristic stories, which are often labeled as a science fiction, most often reflect poor scientific knowledge and, at times, an aversion toward technology. Among his defenders was Russel Kirk, who called Bradbury "a moralist," adding that 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." Willis E. McNelly concurred, stating that Bradbury "is a visionary who writes not of the impediments of science, but of its effects upon men." Some of Bradbury's detractors have likewise pointed to inconsistencies within Bradbury's text. Thomas M. Disch argued that Bradbury's "dry-ice machine covers the bare stage of his story with a fog of breathy approximations." More forgiving critics have excused any oddities in Bradbury's short stories as imaginative and inventive. Christopher Isherwood wrote that Bradbury's "brilliant, shameless fantasy makes, and needs, no excuses for its wild jumps from the possible to the impossible." Yet by far the greatest complaint of Bradbury is that his fiction is overly sentimental and didactic. Commenting on The Martian Chronicles, Kent Forrester observed that "Bradbury's ideas are so violently drawn . . . that the stories are weakened unless we are as enthusiastic about his ideas as he is." One enthusiastic reviewer, Damon Knight, wrote, "Bradbury's strength lies in the fact that he writes about the things that are really important to us . . . the fundamental prerational fears and longings and desires." Content aside, most critics have expressed appreciation for Bradbury's poetic prose. Forrester concluded that although Bradbury's "prose is occasionally overcooked it is still, in small chunks, superior to any other prose in science fiction. It is prose, like good poetry, that sticks in the mind."

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

Dark Carnival 1947

*The Martian Chronicles 1950

The Illustrated Man 1951

*Fahrenheit 451 1953

The Golden Apples of the Sun 1953

The October Country 1955

*Dandelion Wine 1957

A Medicine for Melancholy 1959

The Meadow 1960

The Ghoul Keepers 1962

R is for Rocket 1962

The Small Assassin 1962

The Machineries of Joy 1964

The Autumn People 1965

The Vintage Bradbury 1965

S is for Space 1966

Tomorrow Midnight 1966

Twice Twenty-Two 1966

Bloch and Bradbury: Ten Masterpieces of Science Fiction [with Robert Bloch] 1969

I Sing the Body Electric! 1969

Whispers from Beyond [with Bloch] 1972

Selected Stories 1975

The Best of Bradbury 1976

Long After Midnight 1976

To Sing Strange Songs 1979

The Ghosts of Forever (story, essay, and poetry) 1980

The Stories of Ray Bradbury 1980...

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Christopher Isherwood (review date 1950)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Martian Chronicles, Tomorrow, Vol. X, No. 2, October, 1950, pp. 56-8.

[In the following assessment of The Martian Chronicles—the first major review of any Bradbury workIsherwood considers Bradbury an author of fantasy literature in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, rather than an author of science fiction. ]

In February 1999, the first rocketship from Earth will land on Mars. Its two crew members will immediately be shot dead by a Mr. Yll K, with a gun which fires bees. Six months later, the crew of a second rocket will be subjected to a mercy killing by Mr. Xxx, a psychologist, in the belief that his victims must be incurable...

(The entire section is 1892 words.)

Gilbert Highet (essay date 1965)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Introduction," in The Vintage Bradbury, Vintage Books, 1965, pp. vii-x.

[In the essay below, Highet comments on the originality of Bradbury's short fiction.]

One of the most difficult things to achieve in writing fiction is individuality. Hundreds of novels, thousands of short stories are produced every year. Most of them differ from one another only in the locality of their settings, the credibility of their plots, and the atrocity of their sexual and sadistic episodes. Few indeed are those authors whose style and intelligence and interpretation of life are so intense, so distinguished, that their work can be instantly recognized by any sensitive reader, and...

(The entire section is 1106 words.)

Damon Knight (essay date 1967)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "When I Was in Kneepants: Ray Bradbury," in In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction, Advent Publishers, pp. 108-13.

[In the following essay, Knight presents a brief overview of Bradbury's early short fiction, noting that his principal subject is childhood.]

Ray Bradbury began writing professionally at the floodtide of the cerebral story in science fiction—in 1940, when John Campbell was revolutionizing the field with a new respect for facts, and a wholly justified contempt for the overblown emotional values of the thirties. Bradbury, who had nothing but emotion to offer, couldn't sell Campbell.

Bradbury didn't care. He adapted...

(The entire section is 2323 words.)

Russell Kirk (essay date 1969)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fantasy: The World of Ray Bradbury," in Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormality in Literature and Politics, Arlington House, 1969, pp. 109-24.

[In the essay below, Kirk alleges that it is Bradbury's preoccupation with the "moral imagination," rather than science and technology, that distinguishes him from other writers of science fiction.]

To commence as a writer for the pulp-magazines is no advantage; nor is writing screen-plays in Hollywood, decade after decade, generally to be recommended for those who would be men of letters. Such was Ray Bradbury's background. He had the advantage, however, of never attending college—which salutary...

(The entire section is 1876 words.)

Steven Dimeo (essay date 1972)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Man and Apollo: A Look at Religion in the Science Fantasies of Ray Bradbury," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 5, No. 4, Spring, 1972, pp. 970-78.

[In the essay below, Dimeo uncovers moralism in Bradbury's short fiction.]

Although religious thinking in the space age has been largely dominated by Nietzschean apostasy, science fiction itself seems to be giving more and more attention to man's relationship with the divine. Religious themes have long been treated in the genre but the first to give it serious and even literary consideration was C. S. Lewis in his trilogy Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1944), and That Hideous...

(The entire section is 3984 words.)

Kent Forrester (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Dangers of Being Earnest: Ray Bradbury and the Martian Chronicles," in The Journal of General Education, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 50-4.

[In the following essay, Forrester cites a number of literary flaws in the stories collected in The Martian Chronicles, chief among which is Bradbury's tendency to lecture the reader at the expense of his narrative. Even so, the critic lauds Bradbury's more imaginative prose, asserting that it is "superior to any other prose in science fiction."]

I read my first Ray Bradbury story when I was about ten, and it was love at first sight: prose as rich as the cream filling of the Twinkies I loved, creatures...

(The entire section is 1951 words.)

Willis E. McNelly (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Two Views: Ray Bradbury—Past, Present, and Future," in Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 167-75.

[In the following excerpt, McNelly purports that Bradbury's short fiction is thematically tied to mainstream American tradition.]

Ray Bradbury, hailed as a stylist and a visionary by critics such as Gilbert Highet and authors such as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, remained for years the darling, almost the house pet, of a literary establishment other wise unwilling to admit any quality in the technological and scientific projections known as science fiction. Within the field...

(The entire section is 2956 words.)

A. James Stupple (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Two Views: The Past, the Future, and Ray Bradbury," in Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 175-84.

[In the excerpt that follows, Stupple explores the relationship between the past and the future in Bradbury's short stories.]

Anyone who has ever watched those classic "Flash Gordon" serials must have been puzzled by the incongruous meeting of the past and the future which runs through them. Planet Mongo is filled with marvelous technological advancements. Yet, at the same time, it is a world which is hopelessly feudal, filled with endless sword play and courtly intrigues. It is as if...

(The entire section is 2523 words.)

Wayne L. Johnson (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Invasion Stories of Ray Bradbury," in Critical Encounters, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1978, pp. 23-40.

[In this excerpt, Johnson discusses the principal themes of Bradbury's invasion stories, noting that they fall into one of two categories: those involving the destruction of Earthlings by Martian forces and those concerning the destruction of Martians by alien Earth creatures.]

Seven-year-old Mink bursts into the house and begins snatching up kitchen utensils and apparently random bits of junk to be hauled outside for use in some mysterious game. "What's the name of the game?" inquires her mother. "Invasion!" the girl replies. Mink's mother goes...

(The entire section is 5968 words.)

Thomas M. Disch (review date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Stories of Ray Bradbury, in The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1980, pp. 14, 32-4.

[In the following review, Disch attacks Bradbury's collected stories as unimaginative and poorly written, asserting that "Mr. Bradbury's failures outnumber his successes. "]

Ray Bradbury is America's Official Science Fiction Writer, the one most likely to be trotted out on state occasions to give a salute to, as he puts it, "our wild future in space." In 1964 he was hired to "conceptualize" the part of the United States Pavilion at the World's Fair devoted to the Future. From there he went on "to help plan the dreams that went into Spaceship...

(The entire section is 1438 words.)

Orson Scott Card (review date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "From the Dark Carnival to the Machineries of Joy," in The Washington Post Book World, Vol. X, No. 44, November 2, 1980, pp. 4-5.

[In his review of Bradbury's collected Stories, Card briefly discusses the author's subject matter, noting that his short fiction exceeds the boundaries of the science fiction genre.]

Fifteen or 20 years ago, high school and college English teachers seized upon the work of Ray Bradbury. Ah! they cried in unison. Here is a science fiction writer whose work is good! Remarkably enough, however, the appeal of Bradbury's short stories has even survived the process of "required reading." Bradbury is that odd thing: a...

(The entire section is 1179 words.)

Hazel Pierce (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ray Bradbury and the Gothic Tradition," in Ray Bradbury, Paul Harris Publishing, 1980, pp. 165-85.

[In the following examination of the stories collected in The October Country, Pierce connects Bradbury to the Gothic literary tradition.]

Anyone seeking to connect a contemporary author with any established literary tradition must heed Coleridge's prefatory remarks to "Christabel" in 1798. To protect himself from charges of "servile imitation," Coleridge came right to the point:

For there is amongst us a set of critics, who seem to hold that every possible thought or image is traditional; who have no notion that there...

(The entire section is 2852 words.)

Robert Plank (essay date 1981)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Expedition of the Planet of Paranoia," in Extrapolation, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1981, pp. 171-85.

[In this excerpted essay, Plank offers a variety of interpretations of Bradbury's "April 2000: The Third Expedition," lending insight into other stories collected in The Martian Chronicles.]

Ray Bradbury's most famous book is not a book; The Martian Chronicles (1950) are chronicles in outward appearance only. Rather they are individual stories strung on a chronological line, glued together here and there with smudges of connective tissue. They were clearly written independently, and many of them were originally published separately. The book purports to...

(The entire section is 7180 words.)

Stephen King (essay date 1981)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Horror Fiction," in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, Berkley Books, 1981, pp. 241-360.

[In the excerpt below, King places Bradbury's fantasy fiction in the tradition of American naturalism, adding that the early collection Dark Carnival contains the author's best horror stories.]

It might be worth remembering that Theodore Dreiser, the author of Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, was, like Bradbury, sometimes his own worst enemy . . . mostly because Dreiser never knew when to stop. "When you open your mouth, Stevie," my grandfather once said to me in despair, "all your guts fall out." I had no reply to that then, but I suppose if he were...

(The entire section is 711 words.)

David Mogen (essay date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Entering the Space Frontier: Quests Mundane, Profane, and Divine," in Ray Bradbury, Twayne Publishers, 1986, pp. 63-81.

[In the following essay, Mogen explores mythopoetic elements in Bradbury's space-frontier fiction.]

Bradbury's space-colonization fiction integrates two major myth systems to express the significance of mankind entering unearthly new environments: the biblical myths of the Garden and the Promised Land, and the American myth of the frontier. In fusing these myth systems Bradbury participates in an American literary tradition extending from contemporary science fiction back to initial responses to the New World of America. Since the first...

(The entire section is 7981 words.)

Ray Bradbury (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Run Fast, Stand Still, or The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts from Old Minds," in How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, & Science Fiction, Writer's Digest Books, 1987, pp. 11-19.

[In this essay, Bradbury explains how he wrote many of his short stories, claiming that they evolved out of personal experiences and fears.]

Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost any survival creature, you see the same. Jump, run, freeze. In the ability to flick like an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the next—life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing...

(The entire section is 4452 words.)

William F. Touponce (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Short Stories," in Ray Bradbury, Starmont House, 1989, pp. 83-91.

[In the following excerpt, Touponce discusses how psychoanalytic themes, such as "psychosis, hysteria, delirium, neurosis, hypochondria, the death wish, [and] the unconscious," unify the otherwise unrelated stories collected in Bradbury's The October Country.]

Bradbury's first collection of stories was Dark Carnival (1947), but . . . since the book has long been out of print (indeed it is something of a collector's item), I will not be discussing it here. We will be concerned instead with a collection of nineteen stories in the horror/weird/fantasy vein published under the title...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)

Greenberg, Martin Harry, and Joseph D. Olander, eds. Ray Bradbury. Edinburgh: Paul Harris Publishing, 1980, 248 p.

Collection of essays by noted critics addressing Bradbury's major works, in addition to his style, themes, influences, and attitudes concerning religion and technology.

Guffey, George R. "The Unconscious, Fantasy, and Science Fiction: Transformations in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Lem's Solaris" In Bridges to Fantasy, pp. 142-59. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

Compares Bradbury's Martian Chronicles to Stanislaw Lem's Solaris,...

(The entire section is 608 words.)