Critical Overview

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Ray Bradbury gained critical acclaim early in his career, with the publication of The Martian Chronicles. This was an unusual situation because Bradbury was writing in the science fiction genre, a genre not usually very well-respected among the literary elite. Despite this, he was able to break through the prejudice and win many admirers. As Willis E. McNelly states in Voices for the Future,

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 (sic) unwilling to admit any quality in the technological and scientific projections known as science fiction.

In fact, it was Isherwood’s praise of The Martian Chronicles that first propelled Bradbury into the limelight and helped him find a wider audience of dedicated fans.

Bradbury followed this success with the publication of The Illustrated Man, another book that showcased his talent for writing in the short story format. The Illustrated Man was popular with critics and casual readers alike and has continued to be one of Bradbury’s most influential works. As Robin Anne Reid notes in her book Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion, The Illustrated Man “is widely considered one of Bradbury’s strongest works.” “The Veldt” has been a particularly popular story from the collection as evidenced by the fact that it was chosen for inclusion in the 1969 feature film and the stage play that Bradbury himself adapted from the book.

Though Bradbury is usually known as a science fiction writer, this label has been in dispute throughout his entire career. For purists, the definition of a science fiction story is one that uses present scientific knowledge to create events that are plausible. Plausibility is the key here, and it is this element that has caused disagreement about how to classify Bradbury’s work. Because Bradbury sometimes creates implausible situations, some critics argue that he is a fantasy writer. As Damon Knight notes in his essay, “The purists are right in saying he does not write science fiction, and never has.” Donald A. Wollheim also comments in The Universe Makers that “Ray Bradbury is not really a science-fiction writer at all.”

Labels notwithstanding, over the years Bradbury’s reputation has continued to grow, and he has been recognized as one of the most important American writers of the past fifty years. In his introduction to a collection of critical essays on Bradbury, Harold Bloom calls him, “one of the masters of science fiction and fantasy,” and Wollheim praises him as “a mainstream fantasist of great brilliance.” The fact that The Illustrated Man remained in print for over fifty years since it was first published in 1951 is evidence that the themes contained in these stories continued to hold a fascination for readers through the decades. It is also a testament to Bradbury’s talent. The stories contained in The Illustrated Man have found an audience for over five decades, and they continue to delight a new generation of readers in the early 2000s.

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