“George, I wish you’d look at the nursery.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I just want you to look at it, is all, or call a psychologist in to look at it.”
“What would a psychologist want with a nursery?”
“You know very well what he’d want.” His wife paused in the middle of the kitchen and watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for four.
“It’s just that the nursery is different now than it was.”
– Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
These were the first words I ever read from a Ray Bradbury story. Yes, I’m sure those were the first words. In fact, I’m copying them from the actual book I first read them in, taken from the high school library where I first found it shoved in the back of a dusty shelf.
Born in 1920 Illinois, Ray Bradbury spent much of his early life reading Jules Verne , H.G. Wells , and Edgar Rice Burroughs in the local library (which would later become the setting for his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes ), listening to his aunt reading him short stories, and writing. His determination to be a writer manifested itself in a habit of daily writing that persists to this day and which Bradbury claims stemmed from two events: Watching a performance of The Hunchback of Notre Dame ; and when a carnival magician named “Mr. Electrico” used an electrified sword to make a young Ray Bradbury’s hair stand on end and shouted to him to “Life forever!”. Taking Mr. Electico’s advice, Bradbury decided to become an author so that he, just like his favorite author’s still “living” in his favorite library, could live forever. (Wikipedia: Ray_Bradbury)
Making a Name
After graduating from high school Bradbury chose to sell newspapers instead of attending college, later writing that:
“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. 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. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” (Jennifer Steinhauler, A Literary Legend Fights for a Local Library )
As he worked selling newspapers and doing other odd jobs Bradbury continued to write, selling his first short story, Pendulum , in 1941. Six years later Bradbury published Dark Carnival, his first book of short stories, and would go on to write some 500 pieces of writing from short stories to plays to novels. (Wikipedia: Ray_Bradbury; About Ray Bradbury)
Bradbury’s writing is not for the faint of heart; his metaphors can be both uplifting and terrifying in their complexity and the psychological aspects of many of his stories plum the depths of what it means to be moral, to love, and even to be human. Bradbury uses little science in his fiction, choosing instead to employ alien backdrops to more vividly highlight the human drama unfolding between or within his characters. Invariably, his stories contain a nostalgic reverence of boyhood dreams, space, and tragic characters both real and imagined which seems only fitting for a science fiction author who has, to this day, neglected to learn how to drive a car. To be sure, Bradbury’s writing isn’t for everyone, but from the first of his words that graced my eyes, I knew it was for me.
“This is a book then by a boy who grew up in a small Illinois town and lived to see the Space Age arrive, as he hoped and dreamt it would. I dedicate these stories to all the boys who wonder about the Past, run swiftly in the Present, and have high hopes for our Future. The stars are yours, if you have the head, the hands, and the heart for them.”
– Ray Bradbury, R is for Rocket