“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” – Ray Bradbury
Somewhere in the twilight, a tattoo comes to life. Shifting, spinning, turning, convulsing, the image turns from ink in skin to a living breathing story. Imagination sets in and pretty soon you are reading a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury. Out of all of Bradbury’s works, The Illustrated Man gets the shaft when it comes to great works. But as time has gone on, the tales contained within are becoming more and more relevant.
Ray Bradbury was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. At early age, an encounter at the circus sparked Bradbury’s imagination. The experience filled him with wonderment for not only magic, but science as well. His family moved several times in the late 1920s and early 1930s before settling in Los Angeles in 1934. After graduating high school in 1938, Bradbury sold newspapers rather than go to college. He always believed he could go to any library to get educated. Although published in 1938, Bradbury’s first actual story for which he was paid was “Pendulum”. Co written with Henry Hasse, they earned $15 after the story was published in Super Science Stories, a pulp fiction magazine, in November of 1941.
Bradbury has been lumped as a sceince fiction writer. He may have written about science but Bradbury considered himself more of a story teller. Throughout World War II, Bradbury wrote stories for pulp fiction magazines. Throughout the forties and fifties, Bradbury remained a writer of short stories with fantasy settings. Bradbury did not like the term science fiction. In fact, he says that he only wrote one science fiction story and that was Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury’s first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, was published in 1951.
To understand Bradbury is to understand the times in which he wrote. The early Cold War is punctuated with rockets, paranoia, racism, and Cold War confrontation. All of these are themes throughout his stories. In 1950, The Martian Chronicles put Bradbury on the map. It is an allegorical tale of westward expansionism set on Mars. In 1951, The Illustrated Man was released. Although it was a collection of short stories, Bradbury created two short counterparts, at the beginning and the end, to tie the stories together.
While Bradbury is better known for his later 50s novels, Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, their birth can be seen in The Illustrated Man. The book begins with a prologue of the writer meeting a tattooed man whose images come to life. The first story, “The Veldt”, is set in a futuristic house with a holographic room. The two children of the house use the room to eliminate their parents. It is one of my favorite all-time short stories.It has surprise. It has a setting where a technology is created by the parents as a way to entertain the children that ends up killing the parents. As to who is to blame, some of my students blame the parents, other students blame the children, while others blame the technology. It is one of the most discussed stories I teach all year.
“The Other Foot” is a classic tale of the civil rights movement. My students also like this story a lot. It is tale of African-Americans who immigrated to Mars to escape segregation and racism. When the white people back on Earth destroy Earth, some show up on Mars. What the African-Americans do next is cause for great consternation in my classroom.
“The Man” often perplexes my students as they don’t understand how people will keep on searching for something that is right is front of them. The paranoia of “The Long Rain” details the methods to going mad, “The Rocket Man” and its sadness is something the students enjoy discussing as well as the tales of “The Exiles” which can be seen as an early form of Fahrenheit 451. “Fox and the Forest” is a little time travel tale. “Marionettes, Inc.” deals with the moral complexities of robots and “The Last Night of the World” is a great story students love to discuss about what they would do on their last day on earth.
In the end, when you begin dissect the stories, you see everything present in these stories which later show up in other works. Themes were later expanded, characters take flight and fly in the world of Bradbury’s imagination. Bradbury is a brilliant writer whose fantasy stories were not only a reflection of the times, but are timeless as well. His themes of hopes, dreams, morality, racism, machines, and human expansion and human expression, will live on far beyond us. However, all of those themes can be read in The Illustrated Man. It is truly a wonder of imagination.
For Further Viewing
If you have never seen how funny and charming Ray is, check this out.
Here are the interviews Ray alludes to at the end of the interview above.