THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES:
THE LIFE OF RAY BRADBURY

by Sam Weller
William Morrow, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-054581-X (hardback)

This review was first published in All Hallows #39, June 2005
© Brian J. Showers 2006

In his introduction, Sam Weller tells us that the biography answers the question that Ray is asked the most: "Where do you get your ideas?" Is there really an answer to the question that is asked of every writer ad nauseum?

Anyone who has read one of Ray Bradbury's introductions will be familiar with a few of the biographical sketches in Sam Weller's The Bradbury Chronicles. How Ray destroyed his beloved Buck Rogers comics after being taunted by classmates; how the sideshow carnie, Mr. Electrico, commanded the young writer to "Live Forever!"; how he typed his classic novel, Fahrenheit 451, on dime-operated typewriters in the basement of the local library. Ray Bradbury has retold his memories so often that they resonate like his own stories--each filled with metaphor.

Weller starts with Bradbury's childhood in Waukegan, Illinois. When Bradbury wasn't wide-eyed in a dark cinema watching The Huntchback of Notre Dame or The Phantom of the Opera, he was in the local library, blowing dust off Baum's Oz and Burroughs's Mars. When the library closed, the young writer, bursting with ideas, sprinted home across the dark ravine, which he later made famous in Dandelion Wine.

During the Depression, the Bradburys moved west, twice to Arizona, before finally settling in Hollywood, California. With roller-skates on his feet, the adolescent Bradbury hung out in front of the major studios pestering Hollywood's Golden Age stars for autographs. (The biography does not say if Bradbury ever took the skates off, but I suspect he'll go to the grave with those wheels still strapped to his feet!) The Hollywood and Venice Beach of Ray's adolescence later made their way into A Graveyard For Lunatics, Death Is A Lonely Business, Let's All Kill Constance, and countless short stories.

By page two hundred, Bradbury is a bona fide icon whose life story begins to cross paths with an endless parade of celebrity characters: Gene Kelly, Walt Disney, Harry Blackstone, Charles Addams, Aldous Huxley, John Steinbeck, Orson Welles, Rod Serling, and John Huston, whom Ray travelled with to Ireland in 1953 to write the screenplay for Moby Dick. Needless to say, this was the inspiration for Ray's numerous Ireland stories as well as his 1992 novel, Green Shadows, White Whale.

Weller's writing-style is as simple and as easy to read as Bradbury's own prose. From the hundreds of interviews conducted by Weller, it is clear that he has a special bond with the entire Bradbury family. Sam Weller is Will Halloway, dragging Jim Nightshade's skeletons into the light. We hear some of the stories that Ray has chosen not to tell in his introductions, like how he lost virginity to a prostitute or how many mistresses he had. While this creates a broader picture of the man, I am now cursed with knowing that one of my favourite short stories 'The Laurel and Hardy Affair' is based on a marital infidelity.

The meat of the biography focuses on the 1940s through the early 1960s. The remaining pages seem more like a brief synopsis of Ray's career from 1960-2005. While much attention is paid, and rightfully so, to the conception of classics such as Dark Carnival, Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and Dandelion Wine, Ray's later books are mentioned only in passing. Even Something Wicked This Way Comes feels glossed over. The implication, however unintentional, is that Ray's glory days were in the 1950s. Of course this is not true. Novels such as Green Shadows, White Whale and the very fine From the Dust Returned deserve more attention.

Only so many stories can fit between two covers. I do not fault Weller for space limitations. To be fair, there are plenty of entertaining anecdotes, but I know there must be more. If anything, I am jealous that I did not get to hear the stories from Ray's own lips myself.

Toward the end of the book, Weller writes that, "Ray Bradbury was in a conscious race against death." This is a sad thing to read for those of us who, when after finishing the last chapter of Dandelion Wine, wept that there was no more. Summer may be over, but Ray is still alive and kicking and writing, so stop referring to him in the past tense, Sam! Bradbury's most recent short story collection, The Cat's Pajamas, was published last year, and he has more projects planned for the future, including a sequel to Dandelion Wine tentatively titled Farewell Summer.

So where does Ray Bradbury get his ideas? Does Ray actually remember his own birth, or is this an embellishment? Or is it a metaphor? Does it even matter? To find out the answer to all these questions, one needs only to read The Bradbury Chronicles. Just as Bradbury searches for metaphors in his stories, so too does he search for metaphors in his life--and an understanding of Bradbury's contribution to literature would not be complete without reading Sam Weller's book.

More information on Sam Weller and his writing can be found at: www.bradburychronicles.com


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