Bradbury at 100

James E. Person Jr.

Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) was born one hundred years ago today, August 22. Bradbury was the author of numerous novels and stories beloved by several generations of readers worldwide, notably The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, The October Country, Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Bradbury was a friend of the permanent things, a fact that Russell Kirk readily grasped and appreciated. His works continue to live. In a short assessment of Bradbury’s significance, Kirk wrote (in part):

Bradbury has been injudiciously described as the world’s greatest living science-fiction writer. Now he does, indeed, look forward to man’s exploration of the planets, although not to the gloating “conquest” of space. But Bradbury is no more an idolater of science and technology than was C. S. Lewis. H. G. Wells expected man to become godlike through applied science; yet Wells’ interior world was dry, unloving, and egotistical. Bradbury (who never drives … and detests most gadgets) thinks it more probable that man may spoil everything, in this planet and in others, by the misapplication of science to avaricious ends—the Baconian and Hobbesian employment of science as power. And Bradbury’s interior world is fertile, illuminated by love for the permanent things, warm with generous impulse.

Kirk adds,

If spirits in prison, still we are spirits; if able to besmirch ourselves, still only we men are capable of moral choices. Life and technology are what we make of them, and the failure of man to live in harmony with nature is the failure of moral imagination. That failure is not inevitable.…

In Bradbury’s fables of Mars and of the carnival [in Something Wicked This Way Comes], fantasy has become what it was in the beginning: the enlightening moral imagination, transcending simple rationality. The everyday world is not the real world, for today’s events are merely a film upon the deep well of the past, and they will be swallowed up by the unknowable future. The real world is the world of the permanent things, which often are discerned more clearly in the fictional dead cities of Mars or the fictional carousel of Cooger and Dark than in our own little private slice of evanescent experience. And—what is a wondrous thing in itself—the new generation of Americans are not blind to the truth of the fabulists, for Bradbury is their favorite author.

And he continues to hold a high position in the minds of intelligent readers.

What moved Bradbury to create new stories and novels? The spirit that informs his work might be summed up in a passage from a letter he wrote many years ago to Kirk: “The thing that drives me most often is an immense gratitude that I was given this one chance to live, to be alive the one time round in a miraculous experience that never ceases to be glorious and dismaying. I accept the whole damn thing. It is neither all beautiful or all terrible, but a wash of multitudinous despairs and exhilarations about which we know nothing.”

Bradbury spoke—he continues to speak—to the despair and the exhilaration, the glory and the dismay, the miraculous gift of life given to this strange creature flawed by sin but made for eternity: the human being.

In the late short-story collection called We’ll Always Have Paris, Bradbury included one poem, and it speaks presciently to our current discontents. That short piece, “America,” is a Whitmanesque celebration of the author’s native land, and it encourages America’s citizens to cease being so overly critical of her flaws and instead focus upon her promise.

Bradbury’s friend Earl Hamner, author of Spencer’s Mountain and creator of the long-running television series The Waltons, once said that through good storytelling that touches the human heart, “we can ennoble and enrich our viewers and ourselves in our journey through this good time, this precious time, this green and wonderful experience we call life.”  

James Person, a Senior Fellow of the Russell Kirk Center, is the editor of The Unbought Grace of Life: Essays in Honor of Russell Kirk and Imaginative Conservatism: The Letters of Russell Kirk. He is the author of Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind and Earl Hamner: From Walton’s Mountain to Tomorrow.

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