Ray Bradbury is an American author best known for his novels and short stories that are centered on fantasy, horror, and mysteries. His books have been sold widely with more than 8 million copies and in 36 languages. He published over 500 of his works but has never received a Pulitzer Prize, an award given to honor excellence in journalism and the arts. However, Ray Bradbury did receive a Special Citations and Awards Pulitzer Prize in 2007 “for his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.” This is a biographical essay on Ray Bradbury’s life and works.
Bradbury at a Young Age
Raymond Douglas Bradbury, better known by the world by his pen name Ray Bradbury, was a man born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920. Ray Bradbury’s mother Esther Bradbury (née Moberg) was an immigrant from Sweden and his father was Leonard Spaulding Bradbury who was a lineman for both power and utility poles. The lineage of Ray Bradbury’s father can be traced back to Mary Bradbury, a woman who had been convicted at the legendary Salem witch trials, but was not executed for she had been absolved after the hysteria had died down.
He lived a simple and quiet life as a child as written in a few of his semi-autobiographical works. Ray Bradbury prides himself for his memory, claiming that he remembers all of his childhood memories – up to the day of his birth – quite vividly. In between the 1920s and the 1930s, Ray Bradbury’s family had been constantly moving around because his father was looking for a stable job. In the mid-1930s, the Bradbury family finally settled in Los Angeles, California.
His interest in science fiction began to emerge when he was about 7 or 8 years old as he became quite interested in reading the science fiction magazines in his grandparents’ boarding house that were brought by guests. He spent his days devouring stories that fueled his imagination. Looking back, he says that the experience must have been quite troubling to his friends and relatives as “it was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another.” He would even repeat the stories he read to anyone who would sit and listen to him talk.
By 12 years old, he already knew that he wanted to become a writer. Bob Olsen, a science fiction author also came to be his mentor. When he was 16, he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. Ray Bradbury received his first pay as a writer from George Burns' radio show called Burns & Allen Show because he contributed a joke.
4 years after they moved to Los Angeles, California, Ray Bradbury graduated from Los Angeles high school thus concluding his formal education. However, this does not mean that he ended his life as a student for he had a passion for reading and learning. 1938 was only the start of his journey of spending at least 3 days a week in the library for the next 10 years of his life because he was unable to go to college. He says, “Libraries raised me. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression, and we had no money.”
In the same year, Ray Bradbury tried to publish his own magazine. In this magazine, Ray Bradbury used a number of pseudonyms. Little do his readers know that the magazine was ran by a one-man team. Futuria Fantasia was the title Ray Bradbury gave this magazine of his and he managed to sell under 100 copies. He stopped producing Futuria Fantasia after four issues. Also during that time until 1942, he often roller skated on the streets of Los Angeles to sell newspapers and in hope of coming across famous actors.
By the next year, Ray Bradbury was on his way to becoming a full-time writer. His dream was finally coming to fruition. He became a full time writer who contributes short stories to several periodicals. After he was rejected to join the military in World War II due to his vision impairment, he decided to devote his time and energy to writing and had his first compiled book of short stories produced in 1947 under the title Dark Carnival.
The same year, he married his wife Marguerite "Maggie" McClure. Ray Bradbury met her at a bookstore in Los Angeles. In Ray Bradbury’s words, it was a match made in heaven. She was his first and only love and he remained devoted to his wife throughout their marriage. They had four daughters together: Susan, Ramona, Bettina, and Alexandra. Because Ray Bradbury was not getting regularly paid, his wife was the breadwinner for the first couple years of their marriage.
Ray Bradbury has had many inspirations growing up. As a boy, he had his grandparents, who were newspaper publishers and his teachers in Los Angeles high school who taught him how to love and how to write poetry. Another circumstance that inspired Ray Bradbury was his and his mother’s visits to the theater. He claims to have gone to the theater – including those that he sneaked into – at least 9 times a week. In the theaters, Ray Bradbury developed a fear of the dark which showed in some of his works.
He also had an encounter with two magicians, Mr. Electrico and Blackstone, at the Dill Brothers Carnival. This was the first time he had been interested in magic. Ray Bradbury was “knighted” by Mr. Electrico using his electric sword with the words “Live forever.” For a kid living a simple life, this is the greatest thing Ray Bradbury has ever heard. Apart from magic, this encounter at the carnival also awakened his interest in drama and acting.
His love for reading led him to discover his inspirations in writing like Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Thomas Wolfe. He was also inspired by famous American authors like Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe. Young Ray Bradbury also indulged in the works of the Brothers Grimm and L. Fran Baum. Apart from these great literary figures, Ray Bradbury got inspiration for some of his works from The Phantom of the Opera.
It may be said that without these early influences during his childhood, his imagination and writing style would not have developed nor have existed. The seemingly innocent encounters and habits during his childhood shaped who he was to be as a writer. Little did he know, the people around him was molding him to be the excellent writer that he was up until the day that he passed away.
Bradbury’s Literary Themes and Writing Style
Ray Bradbury is a highly imaginative person whose writing style was a mix of poetic, nostalgic, critical, and evident of awareness of the hazards of runaway technology (Gregersen, 2021). Even though many refer to him as a science fiction author, Ray Bradbury himself detests being identified as such. To him, he writes about horror, dystopia, mysteries, and fantasies. And because he was exposed to the theater, he also wrote about horror as well.
Ray Bradbury defines science fiction as a depiction of scientific facts, or things that are real. On the other hand, he sees fantasy as the depiction of made up events or the unreal. To those who referred to him as a science fiction author he says “I use a scientific idea as a platform to leap into the air and never come back” and that is how he strays from being a science fiction author.
In his poetry, Ray Bradbury often makes use of similes, metaphors, and personification. While his novels are typically lyrical and descriptive. As he practically grew up in a library, his style of writing was not limited. He used his imagination freely and referred to himself as an idea writer. He says that he has fun with ideas and play with them to create stories as he wants to entertain himself and other people.
Ray Bradbury, in some of his published books, used some of his existing works to create a new one. He tweaks and rearranges his previous works to create a unified one. This is how one of his first books, The Martian Chronicles, was made.
Bradbury’s Famous Works
Spending 70 years as a full-time writer, Ray Bradbury has become a poet, playwright, television script writer, short story writer, novelist, and essayist. He became a truly versatile writer as he aged. As mentioned earlier, his first published book was made up of his compiled thematically-linked short stories titled Dark Carnival. Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival talked about space travel and condemns the social abuses caused by modern technology.
One of his earliest works, Homecoming, was a short story about a boy who feels like he is an outsider for he possesses no supernatural powers. He finds himself in the middle of a family reunion full of his supernatural relatives who were werewolves, witches, and vampires. This was published in 1947 and was even awarded as one of the best American short stories of the year. This short story was included in his Dark Carnival along with 26 other short stories.
The following years, he indulged himself in writing and managed to write a lot of short stories which was to be patched up in the future. The short stories Ray Bradbury wrote during this time made The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Ma, and his most famous book Fahrenheit 451. The Martian Chronicles was about a series of expeditions made by humans to the planet Mars with the plan to colonize the planet. The story spans from 1999 to 2016 and has a painful parody of how the American Indian people got colonized as the Martians experienced a chickenpox epidemic. The remaining human colonists then realizes that they have a chance to rebuild a just society in Mars. The Martian Chronicles was a fix-up of 26 short stories in total and was published in 1950.
Fahrenheit 451’s protagonist was a fireman. A fireman in the books definition was someone who is tasked to set books on fire as the governing forces in Fahrenheit 451 have outlawed critical though, and thus have deemed books illegal. Ray Bradbury is obviously pertaining to the banning of controversial books in the United States. Alike the theme of his book, Ray Bradbury gained criticism for this work of his for it has been deemed offensive. Ray Bradbury gave this title to the book because paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit.
His disdain for technology and television was made known in many of his works. However, Ray Bradbury did not pass up on the chance of having his written works adapted into television series and films. He was a host for Ray Bradbury Theater in the 1980s up to the early 1990s where his short stories were dramatized. His work on Moby Dick and Alfred Hitchcock Presents were also big hits in the film industry.
Bradbury died at the age of 91 in June 5, 2012 in his Los Angeles home due to an illness. And in his last decade, he chose to continue writing and had one of his daughters transcribe his words as he dictates for at least three hours a day. By this time, he was also funding a local library in his name so he granted interviews and public appearances. And despite his books envisioning space, Ray Bradbury has never driven his own car and only rode an airplane when he was in his 60s.
In 2007, Ray Bradbury finally received a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and under Special Citations and Awards. Before that, he also got recognized by former United States President George W. Bush and his first lady Laura Bush as they presented Ray Bradbury with the National Medal of Arts in 2004. He was also given a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry. His works also influenced great minds like Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.
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Biography.com Editors. (2014, April 2). Ray Bradbury Biography. The Biography.Com Website. https://www.biography.com/writer/ray-bradbury
Bradbury, R. (2012, May 29). Take Me Home. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/06/04/take-me-home
Gregersen, E. (2021, January 29). Ray Bradbury | Biography, Books, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ray-Bradbury
Jonas, G. (2012, June 6). Ray Bradbury, Science Fiction Master, Dies at 91. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/books/ray-bradbury-popularizer-of-science-fiction-dies-at-91.html
Prahl, A. (2020, February 24). Biography of Ray Bradbury, American Author. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-of-ray-bradbury-4797153