Oregon Magazine Exclusive Interview
The October Man by
Most of the
planet thinks Ray Bradbury writes science
This citizen of the planet thinks Ray Bradbury writes only
Ray Bradbury says he writes myths and fairy tales.
He loves the fall, movies and
In a book titled Something Wicked
Way Comes (his first hardcover), he wrote about his favorite
It is not like modern libraries, which with their brilliant overhead
and aisles of colorful books, are about as mysterious as a
No, Bradbury's library is like a shaded pantry on the side of the house
away from the sun. And, the people moving along the dark aisles
for literature whisper with their feet. They are October readers
whose footsteps sound like falling rain.
Bradbury is the perfect man to be a
He is his work. Or, his work is him,
if you prefer. He and his work are a sea monster that sounds like
a foghorn -- a navigation aid that directs readers toward, instead of
from, the shoals. He and his work are a deep, icy pool, hiding a
malevolent beast made of dark -- specifically, that kind of dark
be collected from places never once visited by light. No recent,
Johnny-come-lately dark for the Bradbury beast. Only primordial,
virgin shades for the October man and his tales.
During a September, 2001 interview, I said
to him, "The Martians in your Martian Chronicles were October people."
"“Yes," he replied instantly. "They
"You were not born in October, as I was, yet
have a lifelong connection with the month. Why?"
"It represents life and death, I
And, celebrating Halloween was such a big part of my childhood."
Life and death. Beginnings and
He's seen a lot of that sort of thing.
Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, a
town of 30,000 souls shadowed by the ancient elms and sycamores of
America in the early 1920's. The skies were every day as quiet as
modern American skies were quite recently following the terrorist
of the World Trade Center in New York.
When Bradbury was born, the airplane was barely a decade old. It
still had cloth wings. The pilots still wore goggles. (Photo:
"Queen Bess" Coleman - the first black female pilot.)
when Bradbury was growing up is called the Roaring Twenties. It
a misnomer. There were no jet aircraft and very few commercial
airliners in those skies. There were perhaps a hundred actual
in the midwest at the time, Henry Ford's being one of them. Towns
were often connected by rails, instead of paved roads, and were noisy
a week when the train came through.
It was a mythical time for America.
He watched the rise of the radio and jazz, the appearance and demise of
the barnstormers, two world wars and the Great Depression. He saw
the age of steam rails turn into the age of petroleum roads, then turn
into the age of the nuclear bomb and finally become the era of robot
ships cruising the distant reaches of the solar system. Whole
of Civil War veterans marched in the Waukegan 4th of July parade when
was a kid. The baby he bounces on his knee today will retire to a
community on the moon or Mars in 2102. He has lived from
iron horse to the ion rocket. From the use of kerosene as a cough
syrup to brain imaging so advanced the damned machine can tell the
what the hell you're looking at.
And, so, you ask, what was his favorite part
of all that?
"The movies," he replies.
"I think it is a miracle," I
that the moon is exactly the right size to provide a complete eclipse
the sun, and so prove that Einstein's gravity lens is a fact.
miracle do you recognize?"
"The whole thing of existence." Bradbury said
in his soft, faintly adenoidal voice.. "The existence of the
The existence of the universe. The whole thing is
And I am sorry to end this interview, but my driver is waiting to take
me to Palm Springs. Can you call me tomorrow?"
"Good morning. Do you think
science fiction is junk?"
"I'm not qualified to comment on that," said
Bradbury. "I don't have time to read most of it. I'm too
writing my own stories."
"Well, how about Lucas and Star Wars?"
"It's the Wizard of Oz in outer space," he
said. "There's a lot of L. Frank Baum in there. A lot of Ed
Rice Burroughs. It's good, primitive fun. It's the serials
we loved when we were kids. He took Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers,
which were dreadful serials which I saw on the screen when I was twelve
or thirteen -- and were very primitive and very funny, even then.
And they've taken these and given them a good wash, and polished them,
but it's still the same stuff. You come out feeling good.
had a nice adventure."
"And, he makes money!"
"Forget about the money. That's
not the reason. It's the fun."
He had 14 years in Waukegan. Fourteen Octobers. His mother
took him from the crib to see the movies several times a week. He says
she was "a fiend" about the cinema. As he grew older, he caught
film fever and went with friends or by himself -- as many as five or
times a week.
But, there was something else he came
to love, there, too. The Carnegie library.
He says that Carnegie, one of the
men of the early 20th Century, was the most important American who ever
lived because he funded the construction of one-thousand, five
libraries across the nation. He gave the public free knowledge,
in their own home town.
Waukegan's library is the one described at the top of this
(The illustration below is from the Waukegan Carnegie Library website.)
a solid structure, an important building. A sanctum sanctorum of
books. It respects knowledge like a church respects faith.
It captured the future author's attention, suggesting to him that there
were things of value inside.
He decided to give it a try.
Because it was not flooded with light, but
rather had areas of mystery here and there, Bradbury was instantly
up by the place There were long, high shelves of leather and
books which you could take to a wooden table by a tall dusty
that let in the slanting golden rays of the October afternoon sun.
the trees outside that window shed their leaves, a lad could open one
those books and be instantly transported from Illinois to Homer's wine
dark sea, and for a time lash himself to the mast to keep the sirens
calling him to his doom, as well.
Bradbury is presently working with some people
to see if he can recreate that architecture somewhere. "You need
some shadows here and there to make reading an adventure."
Just to make a personal observation,
I agree completely with him on this one. God may also attend
in a shopping center tabernacle, but one feels His presence to the soul
when worshipping in a cathedral. Architecture can be a spiritual
amplifier. And, it guides the visitor as to the importance of the
events that take place within. Modern libraries are places to get
a book, not places which sanctify the written word. It is no
that the young no longer hold the classics in awe. You need to
through stone columns into a place of quiet dignity to understand the
of knowing. .
people compare Fahrenheit 451 to Orwell's 1984."
"There's no comparison," says
Bradbury. "I went through a period forty years ago when CBS'
Fahrenheit 451. I sued them. Took it all the way to the
Court, and won. But, along the way, in order to prove my case I
to show that there was no relationship between my book and Orwell's
or Huxley's Brave New World. The opposition said that they
hadn’t stolen from me, but that I had stolen from Orwell and
I graphed them out and proved (my case.) Huxley didn’t influence
me and I had never even read Orwell's book."
As an aside, Bradbury spent an evening
with Aldous Huxley in England, and considered him, along with Bertrand
Russell (who he also knew) to be one of the smartest men he ever met.
"Can beauty be constructed from
that aren’t beautiful?"
"Beauty," he responded, " is often
that comes from inside. I knew Edmond Hamilton, the science
writer. When I first met him, I thought, 'What a homely man he
He looked like a vulture. But, after an hour with him, I said
a beautiful man.'"
A vulture. A monster. I thought
of Stephen King and Dracula.
"Why do so many writers of horror and fantasy
set their tales of terror in small towns?"
"We write about small towns because that is
where we were born. (When you are young) it is only natural that
part of the town will scare you. I went to see the Phantom of the
Opera in 1925 with my brother, and I came home through the ravine late
at night, and my brother jumped out and scared me. So, that
has stuck with me all these years. When I went back to my home
a few years ago, they dedicated that ravine in my honor. So it's
the Ray Bradbury Dandelion Trail, now."
"You know, you’re describing a scene
from To Kill A Mockingbird, don't you?" I asked. Jeb
Scout walking home through the dark autumn woods after a fall festival
at the school. A farmer angry at their attorney father tried to
the children, but was killed himself by a mysterious, reclusive
the retarded Boo Radley -- played in the film by Robert Duvall.
of his earliest roles, and a beautiful job of acting.
Bradbury has never seen the film, which I
find striking, since he has loved the medium from before he could speak
a word. And, when, at the age of 14, he moved to Southern
the stage was set for that affection to become not only professional,
He began writing before he was a
His first story was published when he was 20, in something he called
Wagner's Script, which was a Beverly Hills magazine." He got
free copies instead of money. The first paid sale came a year
on his birthday, to a publication called "Super Science." The
was 1941. He received fifteen bucks for that one. But, getting
to the Hollywood connection, in 1953 he wrote a book called The Golden
Apples of the Sun. The first story was about a sea beast that
like a foghorn. He sent the book to the legendary director and
John Huston, who read that first story and smelled "the ghost of Herman
Melville" in it.
Huston hired Bradbury to co-write the script
of Moby Dick with him and when the film came out, they both won OSCARs.
I asked Bradbury what Huston taught him about
writing a movie.
"Nothing," he replied. "After all those
years of watching films, it had just seeped in through my pores."
Which brings up the process of writing,
Bradbury keeps no schedule. He writes
when the passion strikes him. He creates no advance characters,
or plots. He starts the story and stops when it comes to the
There is a key to understanding how he does this, I think. The
came when I asked him what, after all these years, he misses from the
days. I thought it would be old ladies in aprons, coming out from
screened back porches with a slice of rhubarb pie. Maybe quiet
He said that the only thing he missed was " …
my most beloved friends." At his age, in his Eighties, he
a good friend damn near every week.
"When I teach writing," he explains, "I
tell them to make a list of things you hate, and write about
Then, make a list of things you love, and write about them. These
are very primitive emotions, and should be the center of your writing."
. The underlying truth of Bradbury’s work -- what
stimulates him to write from an unplanned nowhere to a very satisfying
somewhere -- must reside in the humanity of imagination. In human
fears and desires. In striving and winning or losing. In
or lack of faith. In superstition, greed, sorrow, revenge,
hate, prejudice, tenderness, loyalty and all the rest.
"I was educated in the movies," says Bradbury, "but
at the same time my grandparent’s house next door was full of
And my uncle, on the opposite side of the block had all the Tarzan
and the John Carter, Warlord of Mars books. So I had a library
"Yes. A book of fairy tales which I still
It contained things like Beauty and the Beast -- all the
tales. I got it for Christmas from my aunt when I was five years
old, and the pictures in it are glorious. They affected me.
I became a writer of fairy tales. Except for Fahrenheit 451, I’m
not a science fiction writer. I’m a writer of fantasy, of fairy
of metaphors -- and that's, I think, all because of this one book that
me and I read over and over, again."
| "Walt Morey," I said,
"was the author
of a number of books for kids. The most famous of these was
Ben. He was a good friend. The first book he ever read was
called Chip of the Flying U. It was about Charles M. Russell, the
legendary western painter. Do you recall the first book you ever
of Walt Morey by Dennis Stoveall)
His chauffeur was waiting for another trip
to Palm Springs. I called him again the next day to finish the
"How in the world do you maintain any
of normalcy when you're a world-class literary superstar?"
"You don’t think of those things," Bradbury
stated flatly. "You mustn't, ever. Get your work
Tend to it. Don't think of that stuff. It's
If something nice happens to you, that's great. If people don't
attention, that's alright, too. Be quiet and get your work done."
The way he said it made me chuckle, then I
asked the last question I had.
"Let's say that you could travel back in
The kid standing in front of that library in Waukegan -- what would he
of the man he saw before him? Would he judge you as being worthy
of his future?"
. "You damn rights!” he said forcefully. "Yeah,
I belong on the shelves with my heroes. I loved Edgar Allen
I loved Washington Irving. I loved Jules Verne. I
H.G. Wells was fantastic. I read all the works of L. Frank Baum,
every summer when I was ten, eleven and twelve. Am I worthy of
You damn rights, 'cause I love them and they would have loved me."
OMED: Bradbury's books are in every school and every
library in America.
He is, to his own surprise, being taught all over the world.
seems to have rediscovered him, lately. The Illustrated Man is
remade, as is the Martian Chronicles. Mel Gibson is producing
451. Pierce Brosnan will appear in a version of The Sound of
which will soon begin filming in Yucatan. Frost and Fire will be
filmed in Iceland next March or April. "Outside of that," says
Bradbury, "not a damn thing is happening."
Update June 6, 2012: An email from John Learned, a leading experimental neutrino physicist:
Ah, a sad day with the passing of a master