I’m not just saying this: it’s absolutely true. Ray Bradbury was one of the first adult authors I ever read. I can still remember being allowed into the grownup section of the library for the first time, and somehow discovering the book Dandelion Wine, which he wrote in 1957, about the magical adventures of a young boy in middle America. Magical was the key word. The stories treated magic as real, and the style was so lithe and airy that they were magic in and of themselves. They still are.
Bradbury’s accomplishments were many, in books and movies and television, but he’ll probably mostly be remembered as one of the great inventors of modern science fiction. His work is less science fiction than it seems, though. I just happened to reread The Martian Chronicles last month, and even though I should have been prepared for it, I was struck by how little of it is science fiction. If it didn’t say Mars on the cover, it wouldn’t matter for most of the stories. His inspiration was more Winesburg, Ohio, than the space program. I was fortunate when I first started working in publishing to meet Bradbury’s editor, Walter Bradbury, who was no relation, but who was as legendary in publishing as Ray was in writing. It was Walter who inspired Ray to collect his Martian stories, and is the one who came up with the title.
By the way, the best movie of a Bradbury book? The woefully underrated Something Wicked This Way Comes.
I saw Ray Bradbury in 2000 when he accepted his Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award from the National Book Foundation. He was slow on his feet, but not in his mind. He was a feisty guy who had educated himself in the local library and who had invented his own genre of visionary fantasy, and he had opinions on everything, and he let you know them. He was no ivory tower writer, and he was a surprisingly strong skeptic about modern technology. He prefered communicating with people in person rather than on cell phones and the internet. He was no geeky science guru, by any means.
And he wrote some of the most beautiful stories ever.
To get a real sense of the man, check out this 2010 interview in The Paris Review.
Photo: Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons