Ray Bradbury – A Biography

2754 words (11 pages) Essay in Cultural Studies

07/08/18 Cultural Studies Reference this

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Ray Douglas BRADBURY (1920-2012)

Ray Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. His father, Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, whose distant ancestor Mary Bradbury was among those tried for witchcraft in Salem, was a lineman with the Waukegan Bureau of Power and Light; his mother, Esther Marie (née Moberg) Bradbury, emigrated as a child from Sweden. When he was three years old, his mother took him to his first film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and he was frightened and entranced by Lon Chaney in this film and, later, in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). As a child, Bradbury passed through a series of enthusiasms, from monsters to circuses to dinosaurs and eventually to the planet Mars. His development through childhood was aided by an older brother and by an aunt, Neva Bradbury, a costume designer, who introduced him to the theater and to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

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In 1932, Bradbury’s family moved to Arizona, where they had previously spent some time in the mid-1920’s, largely because of his father’s need to find work. In 1934 the family left behind both Arizona and Waukegan, settling in Los Angeles, which became Bradbury’s permanent home. He attended Los Angeles High School and joined the Science Fiction Society (he had earlier begun reading Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, which, he said, made him fall in love with the future). After graduation, Bradbury worked for several months in a theater group sponsored by the actor Laraine Day, and for several years he was a newsboy in downtown Los Angeles. He took these jobs to support his writing, an avocation that he hoped would soon become a vocation. Bradbury’s poor eyesight prevented him from serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, which left him free to launch his writing career. During the early 1940’s he began to publish his stories in such pulp magazines as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, but by the late 1940’s his work was appearing in such mass-market magazines as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and Mademoiselle. Because these magazines paid well, he was able, on September 27, 1947, to marry Marguerite Susan McClure, a former English teacher at the University of California in Los Angeles.

During the 1950’s, Bradbury continued to write for the pulp and mass-market magazines, and he routinely collected his stories for publication in books. During the mid-1950’s, he traveled to Ireland in connection with a screenplay of Moby Dick that he wrote with John Huston. Upon his return to the United States, Bradbury composed a large number of television scripts for such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Suspense, and The Twilight Zone. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Bradbury’s stories and novels focused mostly on his Midwestern childhood-for example, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, the latter his favorite book. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Bradbury’s output of fiction decreased, and his ideas found outlets in such forms as plays, poems, and essays. He also became involved in several projects, such as “A Journey Through United States History,” the exhibit that occupied the upper floor of the United States Pavilion for the New York World’s Fair in the mid-1960’s. Because of this display’s success, the Walt Disney organization hired him to help develop the themes for Spaceship Earth, an important part of Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida. Bradbury also helped design a twenty-first-century city near Tokyo. He continued to diversify his activities during the 1980’s and 1990’s by collaborative and consultative work, and he also found time to return to his first love, the short story, and to write four novels. He collaborated with Jimmy Webb by composing lyrics for a musical version of Dandelion Wine, which was not successful, though critics praised the Bradbury novel that provided the inspiration for this production.

These excursions into other fields were part of his expressed plan to work in “every writing medium,” but his successes continued to be in the traditional forms of the novel and short story. He published two detective novels,” Death Is a Lonely Business” and “A Graveyard for Lunatics”, and a roman à clef, Green Shadows, White Whale. He also wrote many short stories, some of them in his customary fields of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but many dealing with extraordinary characters in ordinary life.

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Components of what might be called “dream” were available in Ray Bradbury’s works from the earliest starting point of his written work vacation. His own particular recognition of sci-fi from a dream in writing is that “sci-fi” could happen. “This suggests, obviously, that dream couldn’t occur. In any case, in this day and age, where change happens at such fast rate, no one would dare to state overbearingly that any thought is unequipped for that acknowledgment. In this manner, regardless of whether a work of writing is dream turns out to be progressively a matter of the writer’s aim or a matter quantifiable by target criteria. This is particularly valid for a writer, for example, Bradbury, who by his own affirmation composes both sci-fi and dream. Bradbury’s own image of imagination evidently came to birth in the realm of the fair. His creative energy was supported with festival symbolism, both through the lessons of his Aunt Neva and his own encounters. At whatever point a voyaging bazaar or festival came through Waukegan in the 1920s and mid-1930s, Bradbury and his more youthful sibling were constantly present pulled in until the last bit of cotton confection was sold. Young Bradbury was influenced profoundly by the scene managed such shows, and the festival got to be for him a kind of intuitive touchstone for an entire arrangement of states of mind and pictures which developed later in his works. Therefore, the tercentenary world can be considered as a clearinghouse for Bradbury’s creative energy. He places where he goes for his special signs when he is writing a story of disgust, fear-causing, feeling for former times, fantasy, or some mix of the three. It in his easy enough to point to “carnival imagery” in his horror tales of the 1940s. The opening lines of “The Jar” (1944), for example, take the reader immediately to a carnival sideshow. Many of his horror tales contain witches, skeletons, dwarfs, magicians, and carnival “freaks.” Even “The Big Black and White Game” (1945), his first straight tale, emits a breath of fantasy by the use of images throughout the story. In the 1940s Bradbury primed his fantasy sensibilities by creating a family of slightly offbeat witches who are latter-day remnants of what (they claim) was a long and noble line of highly effective magicians. Horror tales were not invited to enable his readers to elude, but rather to cause them to suffer so that they might be cleansed. However, the fantasy stories, on the other hand, sanction the readers’ spirits to expand rather than to contract, as is the effect in the horror tales. The basement of his effort seems to lie in the engendered mood, and, lost in this mood, the readers can elude to a Secondary World. This facility to engender a Secondary World of fantasy J. R. R. Tolkien calls “sub creation” and claims it is the most potent and most “proximately pristine” form of art. The first story of Bradbury’s in which the element of fantasy most out- weighed that of horror was “Jack-in- the-Box” (1947). Bradbury clearly demonstrates his ability to fantasize, or sub creates. The author is transporting his readers to a self-contained Secondary World, which he gives “the inner consistency of reality,” to quote Tolkien again. That is, the author makes his Secondary World, for the time being, the only world there is. Fantasies which would be of this type are works such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, James Stephens’ Crock of Gold, James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen, George Macdonald’s Lilith and Phantasies, James Thurber’s Thirteen Clocks, and of course, many fairy tales, medieval romances, and stories written for children. In this kind of fantasy, the author must convince his readers that what is happening is what is supposed to be happening, even if the laws which prevail are contrary to those which functions in the normal world. Bradbury has written and Tolkien calls them “nearly pure” fantasies. There are at least two with an Oriental mood and setting, both published in 1953, “The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind” and “The Flying Machine.” “Death and the Maiden” (1960) are definitely another of these, and “Perhaps We Are Going Away” (1962) might also be called pure fantasy. Aside from these few, the remainder of Bradbury’s fantasy pieces can be assisted. Here the Primary World with all of its rules and laws is considered the norm, and the fantasy involves some kind of intrusion by creatures or ideas which ordinarily would be confined to a Secondary World. Most often there are no real intrusion and no green monsters pouring down from the sky but merely a temporary distortion of the physical principles governing our known world or a shift in perspective which allows the reader and/or the characters to view their world through something other than a plain grass.

In a rather ingenious statement in 1968 during an interview with Mary Hall, quoted earlier, Bradbury described the nature of his fantasy writing. “I wrote a love story recently,” he said, “with just a little twist on reality”. Almost without fail Bradbury cannot resist the use of a “little twist” to keep his stories from being straightforward narrative accounts of events as they might appear to the average person. Examples of these milder fantasies would be “Shoreline at Sunset” (1959), “Come into My Cellar” (1960), “Forever Voyage” (1960), and “A Miracle of Rare Device” (1962). But sometimes the “little twist” becomes much stronger. A hole is torn in the fabric, and something unauthorized gains temporary entry to upset the normal order of things. A classic example would be Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion. Bradbury’s best example and probably the finest work of fantasy he has yet done would be his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, published in 1962. In this work, the invaders from the Secondary World are the “autumn people,” who function in darkness and are the what Evil is made. By this writing, Bradbury has left behind the summer of nostalgia and has entered the autumn of fantasy. The novel is a good example of the fusion of fantasy, horror, and nostalgia which he manages so well. Nostalgia seems to function best for him in summer, horror, and fantasy in the fall. His Aunt Neva instilled in him an awe of and fascination with autumn. The October Country is the title he chose for an anthology of his early horror tales, many of which are set in the fall, and The Autumn People is the title of another of his anthologies. Bradbury was born in summer, August 22, but close enough to fall so that its evidence could be subtly felt. He has said that, if he had his choice, he would have been born in October.6

The setting for Something Wicked This Way Comes is October, just before Halloween, in the same Green Town, Illinois, which was the background for Dandelion Wine. Two boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, and Will’s father is the chief character. From the eyes of the boys, Bradbury allows his imagination to create a nightmare mood which he sustains throughout the book. Through Mr. Halloway, he expresses his own philosophy. Although the story takes place in the same town which is the setting for the nostalgic Dandelion Wine, and involves two adolescent boys, there the resemblance stops. The mood in the second book is distinctly autumn, even without the actual fact of its being October. There is a conflict here, a threat to be dealt with; for the “autumn people” who have come to Green Town threaten to engulf it with terror. Mr. Halloway describes them: “For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat the flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts, they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear- run waters. The spider web hears them, trembles breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them”. The autumn people are represented here by a small traveling carnival which comes to town in the middle of Halloween night and sets up its dark tents outside the town. “Cooger and Dark’s Carnival” it is, and right away the boys recognize that it is more than it seems on the surface. The hall of mirrors lures people in and shows them reflections of a part of themselves that they once were and can no longer be, so they are plunged into aching despair. The carousel behaves normally during the day, but at night it runs at supernormal speed, and whoever rides it adds years to his life within minutes or turns from a man into a squalling babe. The Dust Witch travels around in a balloon searching for “Good” people to destroy, for the aim of the autumn people is to slowly leach out the forces of Good from everyone in the town so that evil can claim its own. Only the two boys and a quiet, scholarly, middle-aged janitor stand in their way. The theme running through the book is that evil is a shadow: good is a reality. Evil cannot subsist except when people let they’re good become not an active form, not a pumping in their veins, but just a recollection, an intention. As Bradbury, has denoted in other stories and articles, he feels that the potential for evil subsists like cancer germs, dormant in all of us, and unless we keep our good in fit condition by actively utilizing it, it will lose its power over all, all person. It is a conception, a way of doing, a kineticism toward light or dark, a cell between the will to put a cessation to and the will to but for. The more times such selection takes care of toward the Good, the more to do with the man we say that thing is becoming. We must look for ways to have knowledge of and support the Good in ourselves, the will toward the light. The conception of the rejuvenating powers of love is perhaps most resplendently expressed in the story “A Medicine for Melancholy” (1959). The story is virtually a parable. A puerile girl in eighteenth-century London is gradually evanescing from her concerned parents. No medic is able to diagnose her illness, and determinately in desperation, they take her, bed and all, and put her outside the front door so that the passersby can endeavor their hand at identifying what is erroneous with her. An adolescent Dustman looks into her ocular perceivers and kens what is erroneous she requires love. He suggests that she be left out all night beneath the moon, and during the night he visits her and effects a remedy. In the morning, the roses have returned to her cheeks and she and her family dance in celebration. The same situation occurred in Dandelion Vine when Doug virtually died of pyrexia and was remedied by two bottles of air left in the night by the local junkman. The conception, or moral, if that is a better word, expressed in these two stories seems to be at least implicit in the majority of Bradbury’s stories from the tardy 1950s until the present. He did not cease to be an edifier when he ceased composed science fiction, but he did place a moratorium upon the more evangelistic kind of moralizing which he was practicing in the tardy 1940s and early 1950s. Now, at last, his own sense of values seems to have become planarly at one with his art.

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