“My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 am. So as not to be dead.” (from The Illustrated Man)
Credited as “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream”, Ray Bradbury shot to recognition unlike most writers–with his best-known work. But the dystopian novel that catapulted him to fame had humble beginnings, in a study room in UCLA’s Powell Library.
Having just graduated high school in the midst of the Great Depression and unable to attend college, Bradbury wasn’t on the UCLA campus to study. Or at least not in the traditional sense. The writer spent at least three days a week at the facility for ten years and in that hall of books found an education for himself that no college or university could have given him. In return he gave us “The Fireman”, a short work set in a futuristic society where books are banned and destroyed by government agencies. When the story was later expanded and published under its new title, Farenheit451, the entire cost of writing the novel came to $9.80–the amount it cost Bradbury to rent a library typewriter during the book’s (and his) most formative years. To date it is one of the highest acclaimed works of science fiction in the world.
Yet throughout his career the author rebelled against being labeled a science fiction writer, claiming his work existed in realms far from reality:
I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time — because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.
And it seems that our memories of Bradbury stay true to that notion; he will be remembered by all who’ve encountered his work as one of the most imaginative, creative, and influential artists, not only one of the most widely read authors, of his generation. His grandson speaks for all of his fans in saying,
His legacy lives on in his monumental body of books, film, television and theater, but more importantly, in the minds and hearts of anyone who read him, because to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know.
Bradbury’s passing is truly a loss to the world of fiction. He was a master in his craft and it makes me happy to know that with Fahrenheit 451 so prevalently taught in school, new generations will discover his work for decades to come. But I also feel that Bradbury himself must have felt the world was too much with him at the end of his long and celebrated life. In some ways we have entered the future he never wanted to come true; for despite his often prescient predictions for the world, the author once stated “I wasn’t trying to predict the future, I was trying to prevent it.”
Now that the future has arrived, the world is still better for the lessons Bradbury has taught us through his career. It reminds us all to live imaginatively, to cherish literature, to tread carefully into this brave new future, and to visit our local libraries more than once in a while.
Bradbury’s tombstone will read simply, at his request, “Author of Farenheit 451.” More on the author’s life can be found at his website here.