Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How Ray Bradbury became a literary icon

MONDAY, AUG 22, 2011 21:01 ET
How Ray Bradbury became a literary icon
A new book explores the acclaimed sci-fi writer's rise to fame -- and how he helped make a genre cool

This article appears courtesy of The Barnes & Noble Review.
These days, when it's common to see adults engrossed in Harry Potter on the subway, and the edgiest shows on HBO are about vampires and dragons, it's hard to believe there was once a time when sci-fi and fantasy fiction were confined to a cultural ghetto. But in his new study, "Becoming Ray Bradbury" (Illinois), Jonathan R. Eller shows that being a sci-fi writer in pre-World War II America was thoroughly unglamorous -- less a career than a dubious kind of hobby. Ray Bradbury himself was an undistinguished high school senior when he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League in 1937, and in the years that followed he seemed likely to remain in that amateur realm: sending his stories to mimeographed fanzines, scraping together bus fare to attend annual conventions. The highest glory available was to publish in "prozines" with names like Astonishing Stories and Thrilling Wonder, which actually paid their contributors -- sometimes as much as a penny a word.

As Eller shows, Bradbury cherished a secret sense that he was marked out for something greater. "I believe there was always one core of belief in me that burned from the time I was twelve on: I want to be different, to be different from everybody else ... It is only that hard core of wanting to be different that separates the true artist, I believe, from the man who writes merely as a means of livelihood." Eller's book is an academic study, charting Bradbury's early career in thorough, at times numbing detail, up to the publication of the three books that made him famous: "The Martian Chronicles," "The Illustrated Man" and "Fahrenheit 451," which appeared in rapid sequence in the early 1950s.

But it is easy to imagine a novelist turning the young Bradbury into a character like Jude Fawley, in Hardy's "Jude the Obscure": a gifted man, cut off by poverty and provincialism from the sources of high culture, struggling to make his way into the literary world where he belongs. What allowed Bradbury to succeed where Jude failed was partly luck; for one thing, his bad eyesight spared him from the draft, allowing him to spend the World War II years practicing his craft.

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1 comment:

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Enjoyed this post, Mr Gorman, thanks. Ray Bradbury is a permanent fixture on my limited-space bookshelf. To his three most famous novels I would like to add one more, THE HALLOWEEN TREE. The Paris Review did an engaging interview with RB in 2010.