When we picture history’s most accomplished giants in speculative fiction, one may immediately think of authors such as Isaac Asimov, Octavia E. Butler, and Ray Bradbury, the latter of which was responsible for producing widely acknowledged masterpieces like Fahrenheit 451 as well as several collections of beloved short-stories such as The Martian Chronicles. Yet, despite having attained status as a legendary writer of science fiction, Bradbury never considered himself as such and maintained that his work could not be bound by a single genre.
The shadows of mystery, horror, and fantasy were omnipresent in Bradbury’s stories and frequently coalesced to produce a narrative that practically captivated the reader’s undivided attention. From the dystopian and desolate world of Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451 to the somber yet hopeful setting of All Summer in a Day, Ray Bradbury was a pivotal author for the development of our love for reading over the years. However, there is often a story outside of their books which is worth telling, a story which may be traced back throughout the entire course of their life’s journey.
As we commemorate the 11th year of Ray Bradbury’s passing, we wish to offer curious minds a series of fascinating details about the life of the man responsible for instilling a love for science fiction into the minds of aspirational readers across the world.
Destined For Writing
There are few who can share the privilege of possessing a concrete career goal in mind before they even become teenagers. These dreams often follow wherever the wind blows and never truly stabilize until a certain point in their lives. Yet, for Ray Bradbury, the dream of becoming a writer was made apparent when he was only twelve years of age. On Christmas morning of 1932, he received a toy typewriter which only reinforced his powerful interest in reading and writing.
From this point on, Ray Bradbury would spend hours writing each day, utilizing inspirations from his favorite authors as well as his own imagination to produce his first literary works, a pivotal step in his legacy. This passion for writing would only continue to grow once Bradbury purchased his first real typewriter five years later. He would persist in his daily writing routines for the rest of his life, a practice that greatly contributed toward the development of his extreme proficiency as an author.
Rejected By The Military Draft
We often ponder over the trajectory of one’s life and how it may have been different if certain factors had played out alternatively. The same could be applied in the case of Ray Bradbury during the second world war. As the global conflict continued to rage on, Bradbury was disqualified for military service by his local draft board due to his dismal eyesight. Whereas a tragic death may have befallen the writer on the battlefield had he joined the war effort, this turn of fate would pave the way forward for him to capitalize on the opportunity and pursue his writing career further, producing a legacy of captivating narratives that continues to inspire avid readers to this day.
Writing Was His Second Love
Despite an iron-willed dedication for pursuing the craft of writing, Ray Bradbury’s first love was that of performing magic. For his 11th birthday, Bradbury was presented with a book on mastering the art of magic tricks, a gift that would inspire him to begin conducting his own magic shows for various audiences. However, one particular eventful encounter in 1932 with a carnival clown would leave a lasting impact which would alter the course of Bradbury’s life.
The clown in question went by the name of Mr. Electrico. As his name may have suggested, his magic acts consisted of utilizing static electricity to produce awesome effects. After touching Bradbury’s nose and seemingly christening him with the proclamation to live forever, the young Bradbury felt a strange sense of newfound purpose; a goal in life that was ordained to him by the magician, a passion for writing. Nevertheless, he would retain his original love for magic and would frequently perform for his children and grandchildren in the decades that followed.
A Predictor Or Preventer Of The Future?
Without a shadow of doubt, Fahrenheit 451 remains the crown jewel of Ray Bradbury’s legacy. First published in 1953, the dystopian novel reveals a society where books have been outlawed and marked for prompt destruction by “firemen” upon their discovery. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is one such fireman who operates as another cog within a malevolent machine bent on the censorship of knowledge and literature. After coming to a realization of the significance found in these very same books he had been setting ablaze, Montag reverses course and begins to fight for their preservation, pitting himself against the soulless authoritarian entity that threatens to impose its totalitarian control over all minds.
However, what makes Fahrenheit 451 stand out amidst the plethora of science fiction novels is not so much its plot, but rather the technology presented in its bleak world; technology that would not yet exist for several decades as of the book’s publication. Ray Bradbury describes a myriad of previously unfathomable inventions such as “seashells”, miniature wireless radio devices that characters would insert into their ears. Today, we would recognize them as headphones or earbuds. In Fahrenheit 451, people are obsessed with entertainment media, frequently tuning into the “walls” as Bradbury described, yet another strikingly accurate portrayal of the technology that would become flat-screen smart TV.
Nevertheless, for all of Bradbury’s amazing descriptions of future technology, the author never intended the purpose of his work to be purely foretelling in nature. In fact, the premise of Fahrenheit 451 arose as a direct response to what he perceived as the horrors of Nazi book burning and the censorship of knowledge he had come to witness. In a way, the world of Fahrenheit 451 was to serve as a warning rather than a magical ball of foresight; a warning against the development of such a totalitarian world, one that would be marked by the revived prevalence of book burning, a vision that he had hoped to prevent.
Pushing Back Against The Internet
One might find it peculiar that a man who’s legacy was defined by a novel with displays of technology fifty or sixty years ahead of its time would be so reprobative to the advent of the worldwide web. Yet, Ray Bradbury was quite vocal in his opinions regarding the explosive growth of the Internet. When computers first appeared on the world stage, Bradbury was optimistic as to their value, chiming in that “I see nothing but good coming from computers.” As more time would pass, his attitude toward modern technology would also change.
Bradbury regarded the web as a waste of time that served to disrupt human relationships and failed to contribute to interpersonal communication. For similar reasons, he pushed back against the idea of his work being converted into e-book format, claiming that the world was over-saturated with machines. A bystander who might have picked up and read a copy of Fahrenheit 451 might have thought this stance seemed odd. For an author brimming with innovative imagination, taking a critical approach to technological progress may have seemed counter-intuitive.
However, for Ray Bradbury, it was merely common sense.
Curious to learn more about the legendary creator of beloved classics? Be sure to check out what else Bookstr has in store with Ray Bradbury here.