Authors: Ray Bradbury
an introduction by Ray Bradbury
In 1953 I wrote an article for
defending my work as a sciencefiction writer, even though that label only applied to perhaps one third of my output each year.
A few weeks later, in late May, a letter arrived from Italy. On the back of the envelope, in a spidery hand, I read these words:
I TATTI, SETTIGNANO
I turned to my wife and said. ‘My God, this can’t be from
Berenson, can it, the great art historian?!’ ‘Open it,’ said my wife. I did, and read:
Dear Mr Bradbury:
In 89 years of life, this is the first fan letter I have written. It is to tell you that I have just read your article in
—‘Day After Tomorrow.’ It is the first time I have encountered the statement by an artist in any field, that to work creatively he must put flesh into it and enjoy it as a lark, or as a fascinating adventure.
How different from the workers in the heavy industry that professional writing has become!
If you ever touch Florence, come to see me.
Sincerely yours. B.
Thus, at the age of thirty-three, I had my way of seeing, writing and living approved of by a man who became a second father to me.
I needed that approval. We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell us we’re not crazy after all, that what we’re doing is all right. All right, hell,
But it is easy to doubt yourself, because you look around at a community of notions held by other writers, other intellectuals, and they make you blush with guilt. Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.
But, you see, my stories have led me through my life. They shout, I follow. They run up and bite me on the leg—I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go, and runs off.
That is the kind of life I’ve had. Drunk, and in charge of a bicycle, as an Irish police report once put it. Drunk with life, that is, and not knowing where off to next. But you’re on your way before dawn. And the trip? Exactly one half terror, exactly one half exhilaration.
When I was three my mother snuck me in and out of movies two or three times a week. My first film was Lon Chaney in
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
. I suffered permanent curvature of the spine
of my imagination that day a long time ago in 1923. From that hour on, I knew a kindred and wonderfully grotesque compatriot of the dark when I saw one. I ran off to see all the Chaney films again and again to be deliciously frightened. The Phantom of the Opera stood astride my life with his scarlet cape. And when it wasn’t the Phantom it was the terrible hand that gestured from behind the bookcase in
The Cat and the Canary
, bidding me to come find more darkness hid in books.
I was in love, then, with monsters and skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and, at last, the red planet, Mars.
From these primitive bricks I have built a life and a career. By my staying in love with all of these amazing things, all of the good things in my existence have come about.
In other words, I was
embarrassed at circuses. Some people are. Circuses are loud, vulgar, and smell in the sun. By the time many people are fourteen or fifteen, they have been divested of their loves, their ancient and intuitive tastes, one by one, until when they reach maturity there is no fun left, no zest, no gusto, no flavor. Others have criticized, and they have criticized themselves, into embarrassment. When the circus pulls in at five of a dark cold summer morn, and the calliope sounds, they do not rise and run, they turn in their sleep, and life passes by.
I did rise and run. I learned that I was right and everyone else wrong when I was nine. Buck Rogers arrived on scene that year, and it was instant love.
I collected the daily strips, and was madness maddened by them. Friends criticized. Friends made fun. I tore up the Buck Rogers strips. For a month I walked through my fourth-grade classes, stunned and empty. One day I burst into tears, wondering what devastation had happened to me. The answer was: Buck Rogers. He was gone, and life simply wasn’t worth living. The next thought was: Those are not my friends, the ones who got me to tear the strips apart and so tear my own life down the middle; those are my enemies.
I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since. For that was the beginning of my writing science fiction. Since then, I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space-travel, sideshows or gorillas. When such occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
For, you see, it is all mulch. If I hadn’t stuffed my eyes and stuffed my head with all of the above for a lifetime, when it came round to wordassociating myself into story ideas, I would have brought up a ton of ciphers and a half-ton of zeros.
‘The Veldt,’ collected herein, is a prime example of what goes on in a headful of images, myths, toys. Back some thirty years ago I sat down to my typewriter one day and wrote these words: ‘The Playroom.’ Playroom where? The Past? No. The Present? Hardly. The Future? Yes! Well, then, what would a Playroom in some future year be like? I began typing, wordassociating around the Room. Such a Playroom must have wall-to-wall television in each wall, and in the ceiling. Walking into such an environment, a child could shout: River Nile! Sphinx! Pyramids! and they would appear, surrounding him, in full color, full sound, and, why not? glorious warm scents and smells and odors, pick one, for the nose!
All this came to me in a few seconds of fast typing. I knew the Room, now I must put characters in the Room. I typed out a character named George, brought him into a future-time kitchen, where his wife turned and said:
‘George, I wish you’d look at the Playroom. I think it’s broken—’
George and his wife go down the hall. I follow them, typing madly, not knowing what will happen next. They open the door of the Playroom and step in.
Africa. Hot sun. Vultures. Dead meats. Lions.
Two hours later the lions leaped out of the walls of the Playroom and devoured George and his wife, while their TV-dominated children sat by and sipped tea.
End of word-association. End of story. The whole thing complete and almost ready to send out, an explosion of idea, in something like 120 minutes.
The lions in that room, where did they come from?
From the lions I found in the books in the town library when I was ten. From the lions I saw in the real circuses when I was five. From the lion that prowled in Lon Chaney’s film
He Who Gets Slapped
1924! you say, with immense doubt. Yes, 1924. I didn’t see the Chaney film again until a year ago. As soon as it flashed on the screen I knew that that was where my lions in ‘The Veldt’ came from. They had been hiding out, waiting, given shelter by my intuitive self, all these years.
For I am that special freak, the man with the child inside who remembers all. I remember the day and the hour I was born. I remember being circumcised on the second day after my birth. I remember suckling at my mother’s breast. Years later I asked my mother about the circumcision. I had information that couldn’t have been told me, there would be no reason to tell a child, especially in those still-Victorian times. Was I circumcised somewhere away from the lying-in hospital? I was. My father took me to the doctor’s office. I remember the doctor. I remember the scalpel.
I wrote the story ‘The Small Assassin’ twenty-six years later. It tells of a baby born with all its senses operative, filled with terror at being thrust out into a cold world, and taking revenge on its parents by crawling secretly about at night and at last destroying them.
When did it all really begin? The writing, that is. Everything came together in the summer and fall and early winter of 1932. By that time I was stuffed full of Buck Rogers, the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the night-time radio serial
Chandu the Magician
. Chandu said magic and the psychic summons and the Far East and strange places which made me sit down every night and from memory write out the scripts of each show.
But the whole conglomeration of magic and myths and falling downstairs with brontosaurs only to arise with La of Opar, was shaken into a pattern by one man, Mr Electrico.
He arrived with a seedy two-bit carnival. The Dill Brothers Combined Shows, during Labor Day weekend of 1932, when I was twelve. Every night for three nights, Mr Electrico sat in his electric chair, being fired with ten billion volts of pure blue sizzling power. Reaching out into the audience, his eyes flaming, his white hair standing on end, sparks leaping between his smiling teeth, he brushed an Excalibur sword over the heads of the children, knighting them with fire. When he came to me, he tapped me on both shoulders and then the tip of my nose. The lightning jumped into me, Mr Electrico cried: ‘
I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I went to see Mr Electrico the next day, with the excuse that a nickel magic trick I had purchased from him wasn’t in working order. He fixed it, and toured me around the tents, shouting at each, ‘Clean up your language,’ before we entered to meet the dwarfs, acrobats, fat women, and Illustrated Men waiting there.
We walked down to sit by Lake Michigan where Mr Electrico spoke his small philosophies and I talked my big ones. Why he put up with me, I’ll never know. But he listened, or it seemed he listened, maybe because he was far from home, maybe because he had a son somewhere in the world, or had no son at all and wanted one. Anyway he was a defrocked Presbyterian minister, he said, and lived down in Cairo, Illinois, and I could write him there, any time I wished.
Finally he gave me some special news.
‘We’ve met before,’ he said. ‘You were my best friend in France in 1918, and you died in my arms in the battle of the Ardennes forest that year. And here you are, born again, in a new body, with a new name. Welcome back!’
I staggered away from that encounter with Mr Electrico wonderfully uplifted by two gifts: the gift of having lived once before (and of being told about it)…and the gift of trying somehow to live forever.
A few weeks later I started writing my first short stories about the planet Mars. From that time to this, I have never stopped. God bless Mr Electrico, the catalyst, wherever he is.
If I consider every aspect of all the above, my beginnings almost inevitably had to be in the attic. From the time I was twelve until I was twenty-two or three, I wrote stories long after midnight—unconventional stories of ghosts and haunts and things in jars that I had seen in sour armpit carnivals, of friends lost to the tides in lakes, and of consorts of three in the morning, those souls who had to fly in the dark in order not to be shot in the sun.
It took me many years to write myself down out of the attic, where I had to make do with my own eventual mortality (a teenager’s preoccupation), make it to the living room, then out to the lawn and sunlight where the dandelions had come up, ready for wine.
Getting out on the front lawn with my Fourth of July relatives gave me not only my Green Town, Illinois, stories, it also shoved me off toward Mars, following Edgar Rice Burroughs’ and John Carter’s advice, taking my childhood luggage, my uncles, aunts, my mom, dad, and brother with me. When I arrived on Mars I found them, in fact, waiting for me, or Martians who looked like them, pretending me into a grave. The Green Town stories that found their way into an accidental novel titled
and the Red Planet stories that blundered into another accidental novel called
The Martian Chronicles
were written, alternately, during the same years that I ran to the rainbarrel outside my grandparents’ house to dip out all the memories, the myths, the word-associations of other years.
Along the way, I also re-created my relatives as vampires who inhabited a town similar to the one in
, dark first cousin to the
town on Mars where the Third Expedition expired. So, I had my life three ways, as town explorer, space-traveler, and wanderer with Count Dracula’s American cousins.
I realize I haven’t talked half enough, as yet, about one variety of creature you will find stalking this collection, rising here in nightmares to founder there in loneliness and despair: dinosaurs. From the time I was seventeen until I was thirty-two. I wrote some half-dozen dinosaur stories.
One night when my wife and I were walking along the beach in Venice. California, where we lived in a thirty-dollar-a-month newlyweds’ apartment, we came upon the bones of the Venice Pier and the struts, tracks, and ties of the ancient roller-coaster collapsed on the sand and being eaten by the sea.
‘What’s that dinosaur doing lying here on the beach?’ I said.
My wife, very wisely, had no answer.
The answer came the next night when, summoned from sleep by a voice calling, I rose up, listened, and heard the lonely voice of the Santa Monica bay fog horn blowing over and over and over again.
Of course! I thought. The dinosaur heard that lighthouse fog horn blowing, thought it was another dinosaur arisen from the deep past, came swimming in for a loving confrontation, discovered it was only a fog horn, and died of a broken heart there on the shore.
I leaped from bed, wrote the story, and sent it to the
Saturday Evening Post
that week, where it appeared soon after under the title ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.’ That story, titled ‘The Fog Horn’ in this collection, became a film two years later.
The story was read by John Huston in 1953, who promptly called to ask if I would like to write the screenplay for his film
. I accepted, and moved from one beast to the next.
, I reexamined the life of Melville and Jules Verne, compared their mad captains in an essay written to reintroduce a new translation of
20,000 Leagues Benath the Sea
, which, read by the 1964 New York World’s Fair people, put me in charge of conceptualizing the entire upper floor of the United States Pavilion.