photo of Ray Bradbury


[56] Ray Bradbury


Ray Bradbury is a prolific writer in a field of literature, often called science or futuristic fiction, that seeks to extend man's present into what may or may not be his future.

Bradbury has published more than 500 short stories, poems, novels, and plays in the past 35 years. His work has appeared in almost all major U.S. magazines, from the Saturday Evening Post to Playboy, and from the New Republic to Harper's. His work has also appeared in Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Dime Detective.

Novels by Bradbury includes The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dandelion Wine.

Films have been made of his novels [57] Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man, and his stories The Picasso Summer, The Beast From 20,000 Fathom, and It Came From Outer Space. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston's 1954 film version of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Bradbury formed his own stage group, The Pandemonium Theatre Company, in 1964 to produce his plays The Anthem Splinters, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Dandelion Wine, Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby's is a Friend of Mine, and Leviathan 99.

He spent 35 years writing his first book of poetry, When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Boomed, that was recently published. His latest book is Pillar of Fire, three one-act future time plays. He is finishing work on a book concerning creativity, entitled How to Keep and Feed a Muse, and his next volume of short stories, Long After Midnight, will soon be published.


[57] Mr. Bradbury

Everything, the universe of course, and it remains tremendously exciting. The one question that is asked time and again by people who think they are being practical is, "Haven't they caught up with you?" Well, of course not, because we haven't caught up with the universe yet. We're at the rim of the cave, and I'm the maker of metaphors-I've discovered this along the way. I can service the cause by trying to find metaphors to fit what we're doing.

We survive in so many ways. I'm reminded rather facetiously of this and I give you a humorous example. I have a friend, Chuck Jones, the cartoonist, who calls me all the time with revelations he finds in dictionaries and all kinds of reference books he is reading. He called me on the phone and said, "Ray," and I said, "What?" He said, "Did you know?" I said, "No, tell me." He said, "Did you know that when they were building the Trans-Egyptian Railroad across Africa 100 years ago and they ran out of fuel, they would stop the locomotive, run into the nearest graveyard, steal mummies out of the tombs, bring them back, shove them into the firebox of the locomotive, [59] and use them as fuel to go across Egypt late at night?!" I said, "That's great!" I threw down the phone, ran to my typewriter, and wrote a poem called "The Nefertiti-Tut Express"! Well, there's a metaphor of survival, isn't it? If a mummy works, you burn it. And all the Egyptian gods and goddesses haunt you across the desert forever after that. This metaphor reminds me of Nietzsche's old saying, "We have art that we do not die of the truth."

We Americans suffer from too much data, too many facts, at times. We are bombarded by it on our television. One of the problems we've had the last few years, that NASA has had, is that we have seen almost too much space and have seen the wrong kind. We have been given the facts over and over again, and they are always diminished by what I call the aesthetic of size. Television diminishes everything it touches and makes it small. It takes a rocket that is 300 feet high and crushes it down to a 14-inch image. I have used this sort of comparison time and again over the years; I've told my friends that one of my favorite films is King Kong, that everyone should go see it, it would be good for them. And people see it on [60] television and come back to me and say, "What are you talking about? I saw Kong and it wasn't that much." I said, "No, no, you mustn't see it on TV, there you hold Kong in your hand. You've got to go to the theatre where Kong holds you in his hand and drops you off the side of the Empire State Building." So it is with the space program.

The first time I went to Italy, I saw the real Renaissance paintings, a real Botticelli, a real da Vinci, or whatever it was, or a Tintoretto. These things were larger than myself. A really fine Botticelli is bigger than ourselves, and as we stand before it, an incredible light comes out of the frame and we are changed. We've been raised on a culture where we hold things in our hands-books-they're smaller-they can be shut. And you're bigger than Botticelli. We are raised on TV, which we treat as children. Anything that we are larger than, we have contempt for. The TV is smaller than ourselves, so anything we see on TV must be contemptible because of that aesthetic. Now, as soon as the screen gets larger, we begin to sell the Space Age again, because the Space Age is titanic; it's a whole [61] universe we are talking about. But we've been doing it all wrong; we're data oriented when we should be poetry and symphony oriented. That's my business to find the metaphor that explains the Space Age, and along the way write stones.

Let me give you an example of the sort of thing I do. I'm going to be repeating these metaphors again and again during the evening that sum it up for me. I wrote a story about a year ago about a spaceship going off into deep space. Everyone else onboard the spaceship has gigantic lady toys to take along and wind up-robot women for the journey. But I, as a frivolous intellectual, take along on the journey a special old robot that I summon to life every night. I go down below by the great engines and I speak into the dark and this old man intellectual robot wakes and-How do I wake him? -I say, "Shaw, Mr. Shaw, Mr. George Bernard Shaw?" And this robot blinks his eyes and sits upright and says, "By God, I do accept it." I say, "What?" He says, "The Universe. It thinks; therefore I am!" And we are off and running. How would you like to fall through deep space in the arms of George Bernard Shaw? I can't think of [62] anything better, so I wrote a story.

Along the way, I take my robot Shaw up above and we look at the stars together and we begin to talk of the future and we look at the great universe and the great Milky Way, and we drink in the night together. And he points his beard at the Pleiades and we talk great talk and finally I say to him, "Say it, Mr. Shaw," and he says, "What?" I say, "You know what I want to hear, say it." He turns to me and he begins to explain everything that he is looking at and he says, "What is this Thing? What is the Life Force in the Universe? What is this remarkable thing that we are? We are matter and force changing ourselves over into intelligence and will. Into imagination and will! Matter and force that does not know itself, changing itself in the long night of the universe into imagination and will, willing itself to survive." These words are from Shaw's religious science fiction writings of 50, 60, and 70 years ago that I put in a story to explain just what we are doing in space in the first place.

And after I had finished a story like that, I finally wound up going down to Kennedy Space Center 4 weeks ago for [63] the first time. I am taken to the vehicle assembly building, I walk in and they take me up in the strut-works, 500 feet above the hangar floor, and I look down at the great rocket engines, the great containers of Saturn components waiting to be filled with energy to go off to the Moon on another journey. I am in tears the whole afternoon. I am looking down 500 feet at this and I look at the hangar itself. I try to find the metaphor to explain this titanic thing I am looking at and the only thing I can think of is that I am walking around inside Shakespeare's head. That is the metaphor. And then you come down out of all of that and you write a poem. Now that I have you trapped here, here is the poem:


"Othello's occupations, here they lie
In countries where the space men flow in fire
And much desire the Moon and reach for Mars
And teach the fiery atoms how to sing
And bring intemperate blood to God-lost lands
To warm his snow-frost lunar sands
And never ask To Be or Not To Be
For here All is
And is again at our behest.
Man's quest makes footfall here
for transfer across space
To lift mankind. Here blind
We catwalk breadths and heights,
[64] Fix sights in rare assembly shops
As vast as Shakespeare's mind
And think that Melville once drowsed here
And dreamt the Beach awake,
Pumped Lox for blood
And with one quake of God's triumphant voice
Made rocket blast
Thus rousing lunar whales to swim in star tides vast.
But this too solid flesh will fall,
Resolve itself into a dew.
No, ask this solid flesh to rise,
Resolve itself into a fire,
Conspire to see and know and build and try,
For if God's dead
Then Man will surely die. But all being one-
It is, it is! God, Man, Ghost takes as bride,
Entire comet Universe, to yoke with pride.
Put out the light
And then put out the light?
No, No, rekindle night!
And then rekindle night.
Othello unemployed, now reemployed
To summon racial memory from Jung and Freud
And in genetics marrow.
Seek God's Will, to find lost man
And send him up the hill of stars
To change the dreadful dates of 1984 and
send them up with shouts
To make a score man could not dream or hope or care to do.
Make Orwell laugh in year 2002.
Grand Things To Come? Yes. Cabell stands here,
the towering son of Wells, who saw a sea of
wheeling orbs and sparks and cried,
[65] 'Which shall it be,'
Sink back to dust and tomb, to worms and grave,
Or onward to lost Mars and mankind save?
And star-blown winds then echo endlessly,
Which shall it be?
Oh wandering man, which shall, which shall it be?
I tread this place and read his time and dream,
his corridors of night,
His islands lost in him. His thunders, rumors,
Questionings of self
To be or not to be on Saturn's shelf:
I measure our vast journeys in his head
And find alive what was considered dead.
From ear to ear tread halls of fire blood
Where room in room like chambered Nautilus lost
man makes neighborhood
Of Kennedy-Canaveral-Avon's birthing place.
Not lost? No no, not lost in dust
Or rain or falling down of years.
From Yorick's skull, God's manifesto peers.
From graveyard dirt he shapes a striding man
To jig the stars and go where none else can.
What pulls him there in aeroflights of ships?
A birth of sons that fall from Shakespeare's lips.
Not dumb dull TV news inspires lost man
But will,
Who turned in sleep earthquakes are plan
And answers Job
Whose agonies and sulks ask why
This fragile flesh is thrust forth cold
To sink and die
'Not so!' says Pleiades for tongue,
'Not so, not so!'
[66] From Stratford's fortress-mind we build and go
And strut-work catwalk stars across Abyss
And to small wondering seedbed souls do promise this:
To Be is best
and Not To Be far worse
And Will says What?
Stand here, grow tall, rehearse
Be God-grown-man,
Act out the Universe!''