Ray Bradbury and “Farenheiht 451”

“I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.”- Ray Bradbury

 

One of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury died last week at the age of 91.  It got me nostalgic for all the time spent up in my room devouring his stories, daydreaming of flying into outer space, visiting other planets and of course, being the ONE special girl chosen to befriend the aliens and save humankind. Shhhh- I still haven’t grown-up- I still daydream about it now!

 

In his books, the science fiction-fantasy master conjured a dark, depressing future where the government used fire departments to burn books in order to hold its people in ignorance and where racial hatred was so pervasive that some people left Earth for other planets.

At the same time, however, I feel his work, just like the author himself, could also be joyful, whimsical and nostalgic, as when he was describing the magic of a Midwestern summer or the innocence and fearlessness of a boy who befriends a houseful of ghosts.  His stories, although they took place in otherworldly settings, had a small-town familiarity and humanness about them that set him aside from other science fiction writers.

Bradbury often said that all of his stories, no matter how fantastic or frightening they might be, were metaphors for everyday life and everything it entailed. He rose to literary fame in 1950 with “The Martian Chronicles,” a series of intertwined stories that satirized capitalism, racism and superpower tensions from colonialism. “The Martian Chronicles” was pieced together from 26 stories, only a few of which were written with the book in mind. The patchwork narrative spans the years 1999 to 2026, depicting a series of expeditions to Mars and their aftermath. The native Martians, who can read minds, resist the early arrivals from Earth, but are finally no match for them and their advanced technology as the humans proceed to destroy the remains of an ancient civilization.

“The Martian Chronicles,” like Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” and the Robert Wise film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” was a Cold War morality tale in which imagined lives on other planets serve as commentary on human behavior on Earth. The “Chronicles” also prophesized the banning of books, especially works of fantasy. It was a theme Bradbury would take on fully in the 1953 release, “Fahrenheit 451.”

Inspired by the Cold War, the rise of television and the author’s passion for libraries, it was an apocalyptic narrative of nuclear war abroad.  It was Bradbury’s only true science-fiction work, according to the author, who said all his other works should have been classified as fantasy. “It was a book based on real facts and also on my hatred for people who burn books,” he told The Associated Press in 2002.

A futuristic classic often taught alongside George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Bradbury’s novel also anticipated today’s world of iPods, interactive television, electronic surveillance and live, sensational media events.

By much estimation Mr. Bradbury was the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream. His name would appear near the top of any list of major science fiction writers of the 20th century, beside those of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and the Polish author Stanislaw Lem. His books are still being taught in schools, where many a reader has been introduced to them half a century after they first appeared and he has become the rare science fiction writer treated seriously by the literary world.

While Bradbury championed the space program, and was involved in many futuristic projects, including the New YorkWorld’s Fair of 1964 and the Spaceship Earth display at Walt Disney World in Florida, Bradbury was deeply attached to the past. He refused to drive a car and shunned flying, preferring trains.  How wonderfully perfectly ironic!  In 2007, he received a special Pulitzer Prize citation. Seven years earlier, he received an honorary National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement, an honor given to Philip Roth and Arthur Miller among others.

Until near the end of his life, Bradbury resisted one of the innovations he helped anticipate: electronic books, likening them to burnt metal and urging readers to stick to the old-fashioned pleasures of ink and paper.  My kind of guy.  Wouldn’t he have just loved our bookstore?

In late 2011, as the rights to “Fahrenheit 451” were up for renewal, he gave in and allowed his most famous novel to come out in digital form. In return, he received a great deal of money and a special promise from Simon & Schuster.

The publisher agreed to make the e-book available to libraries, the only Simon & Schuster e-book at the time that library patrons could download.

A dynamic speaker with a booming, distinctive voice, Bradbury could be blunt and gruff, but he was also a gregarious and friendly man, approachable in public and often generous with his time to readers as well as fellow writers.  “Bradbury takes us into a journey to the core of the human heart and glories in the potential of humankind,” film director, Frank Darabont says. “That’s a great message to get at a time in your life when you’re looking around and seeing that the world kind of sucks.”

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