Ray Bradbury at 90
A literary legend commences his tenth decade.


Roughly a decade before he created the Christmastime television movie The Homecoming and the long-running series it inspired, The Waltons, Earl Hamner was a successful novelist and writer of scripts for live television in New York. In 1961, as a recent transplant to Southern California, he wanted to break into the world of writing for taped television programs but couldn’t seem to get his foot in the door anywhere.

He consulted a short list of contacts who might help him in his job search and came across the name of Ray Bradbury: scriptwriter for John Huston’s Moby Dick, and author of such minor classics as The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Dandelion Wine as well as numerous well-respected short stories. Would this giant be willing to offer a helpful tip or two to the new arrival?

Taking a chance, he telephoned Bradbury, who said he would be glad to help.

The two met at the MGM commissary, just down the street from Bradbury’s house. During a friendly chat over lunch, Bradbury encouraged Hamner to submit script ideas to the producers of a quirky, fairly new television show called The Twilight Zone. Hamner took this advice, and the eight scripts he crafted for Rod Serling’s program launched his new career. He has been warmly grateful to Bradbury ever since.

Over the many years of his career, Bradbury has inspired loyalty and affection from many who have known him and are familiar with his works. Even those who have never met Bradbury — who turns 90 on August 22 — have been touched to the depths of their being by his stories and novels, sometimes to their dismay.

I remember a dorm-room bull session during my long-ago college years, when a know-it-all from down the hall sneered, “Ray Bradbury? Come on! Who reads him any more?”

“After all,” the lofty young sophisticate explained, “his stories are all filled with . . . ethics and things.”

What “things”? Well, the average reader might find that Bradbury’s fiction exhibits such characteristics as lively writing, intelligent plotting, a sense of wonder, evidence of a cartwheeling imagination, and other such “things” deemed hopelessly unfashionable by his self-anointed betters.

As for ethics, they are elemental in Bradbury’s fiction and screenplays, and even in his horror stories (every devotee of ghostly fiction should read his collection of early stories titled The October Country). Moral truths appear not in obvious nuggets, like raisins in a raisin cake, but blended among the basic ingredients. They bespeak Bradbury’s beliefs that human beings are more than the flies of summer — they are in fact made for knowing beauty, truth, and eternity — and that each movement toward political centralization, materialism, sham intellectualism, and needless destruction of the natural environment endangers all that makes life fulfilling and worthwhile, rendering man little more than a trousered ape.

Bradbury long ago made it known that he is no champion of utilitarianism, applied science as a panacea, gadgetry, literature that strikes a mighty blow for progressive causes, or death to the unwanted and unproductive. Long identified as a prophet who foresaw the coming of flat-screen televisions, ATMs, and televised police chases, avidly watched, Bradbury is — to the surprise of many — a despiser of the Internet and e-reader devices, a believer that technology can easily be as much a destroyer as a benefit, and a man who didn’t take an airplane flight until his late ’60s. As he has told many people, he doesn’t even consider himself a science-fiction writer, but a writer of myths, metaphors, and fantasies.