Sunday, 22 August 2010


@ 90

In 1974, I wrote a fan letter to a man whom I considered not just one of the greatest science-fantasy writers ever, but one of the greatest writers ever, period. Amazingly, Ray Bradbury (for it was he) replied – not a brief, cursory note of acknowledgment, but (despite his opening comment) at length!

This letter is one of my most treasured possessions and, as I read it now, I can still remember the thrill which which I read it then...

Ray Bradbury Letter - June 1974 (1)

Ray Bradbury Letter - June 1974 (2)
It was the beginning of thirty-six years of correspondence (enough to fill four large folders) that has continued, latterly, via e-mail and fax. Here's just one of many personally decorated envelopes that contained a Bradbury missive...

We met first in London, but, subsequent visits, have taken place at the Disney Studio in Burbank, Disneyland in Anaheim, EPCOT in Walt Disney World, Florida and at Ray's book-and-memorabilia-crammed home...

Ray and I
Me and Ray in 1995
Photo: Malcolm Prince

If Ray Bradbury had only ever written The Martian Chronicles – his dream of the lives of those who journey to and live on the Red Planet – he would have secured a place in literary history, but he also wrote that sublime portrait of childhood (that is also a compelling psychological thriller), Something Wicked This Way Comes and his dystopian nightmare of an era where books are burned, Fahrenheit 451 as well as dozens of novels and collections of short stories and verses.

I believe some of my very best radio work was done in dramatising some of those stories for two BBC Radio 4 series entitled Ray Bradbury's Tales of the Bizarre which had personal introductions by the author on how he came to write them.

When I asked Ray which book – like the characters in F451 – he would commit to memory if the literary arsonists ever came to power, he told me, it would be Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. That is why, when I wrote a book about Dickens' classic, I asked him for a testimonial for the wrapper. He did me proud...

Today gives me a chance – in addition to wishing my friend and hero a very happy 90th birthday – to say "Thank you!" to a writer of extraordinary vision. From the moment, on a hot July day in my teens, that I read my first Bradbury story ('The Fog Horn') in my first Bradbury book (The Golden Apples of the Sun) he seized my imagination, shook it awake and hauled it screaming with terror and delight into other worlds that I had only previously visited in my dreams.

From that summer day on, I became a different person to the one I might have been because of his gift for seeing the miraculous in the mundane and the tremendous possibilities in the trivial and his unerring talent for prising open the thoughts and emotions of an astonishing range of beings - humans, aliens, robots, puppets and dinosaurs - and giving us an empathetic understanding of their hopes and fears.

The first British edition of Dark Carnival (1948)
with dust-wrapper design by Michael Ayrton

Ray recounts a story from his own childhood of visiting one of the side-show attractions at a carnival where Mr Electrico touched the boy with the fizz and crackle of the electric power that he let run through his body as part of his act and told him to live for ever! With one book (that was the first of many) Ray did just that to me!

Older and wiser, I now know that living for ever is not (at the moment) a biological option, but we can live forever through the chain-reaction by which we pass on our genes or, for those of us who are childless, our enthusiasms, passions and whatever other influences, great or small, rub off on everyone with whom we interact.

As for Ray, he will live as long as books (in whatever form they take) are read – and not burnt. Selfishly, I also hope we will have the man himself around for a good few more years yet!


NOTE: As reproduced on this blog, Ray Bradbury's address and phone number have been edited from the letterheads out of respect for his privacy.

There's more about Ray and his connections with Walt Disney on my Decidedly Disney blog.

You can read about one of my encounters with Ray in The Bradbury Machine.

And here are some of my thoughts on a few of his books: the one that started my love-affair with Ray's writing, The Golden Apples of the Sun, his autumnal tale celebrating the last day in October, The Halloween Tree (with a follow-up note from Ray, and his enduringly evocative masterpiece, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Admirers of Ray's works also need to know that the best website devoted to all things Bradburyesque is the endlessly diverting and informative Bradbury Media.

Images: Caricatures of Ray Bradbury by Patrick Mate.


Boll Weavil said...

I don't believe we have, yet, fully acknowledged the Bradbury genius. The reason for this is, that,like Dickens, we just haven't got right down to the brilliance of every aspect of his books. This isn't the first time we have commented on him on this blog. Previously, we've said what a fantastic foreteller of the future he was - not only imagining the walkman generation with his 'shells' in Farenheit 451 but accurately describing the OJ style chase scenes that have become so much a part of our television experiences. His idea of an interactive home entertainment system has still yet to become a reality but we are certainly getting there.Socially, he imagined an ecological conflict in The Martian Chronicles that we now are familiar with. Politically he recognised a black-white power struggle in the same book that happened for real only a few years afterwards. All this from sitting in the New York YMCA trying to hastily adapt a book of short stories so he could pass it off as a novel in 1950 !
For me though, having spent three years training to become, firstly a hypnotherapist and latterly a psychotherapist, he is great for what he understands about the human condition and controlling his own mental faculties. For his short story 'The Smile' he recalls sifting through his sub-conscious to access a momentary scene first seen, almost subliminally, in 'Pinocchio' many years earlier. That one fragment was enough to spark off a brilliant short-story. I couldn't guarantee such accuracy of recall with a client under hypnosis, nevermind just randomly at will !
Although he has become a master of word association, you cannot underplay the ability Bradbury has to relive fragmentary moments from any part of his life, apparently at will, to use with appropriate emotions and build into stories. I haven't even mentioned that his understanding of the human mind is such, it is difficult for me to find a flaw in the way he interprets how his characters would respond in given situations and what effect each one would have on their condition. I can only say that this results in books that are so accurate, they are totally believable even if they happen to be set on Mars or years into the future.
What a great day then, for literature to celebrate the 90th birthday of this giant of the profession. No surprise that his enthusiasm and his joy for living has powered him forward to a great age. He is not just the best science-fiction writer of our generation but of any generation and frankly, to me, in the top ten of best writers of our age and any age previously. Live forever Mr Bradbury !

Brian Sibley said...

Boll - BRAVO! You've said it all: not so much a 'comment' as a superb essay on a writer of genius. Thank you!

Geno said...

Bradbury was one of the four writers that truly "captured" my childhood. (Tolkien, Lewis, and Asimov were the others). You are truly blessed to have had personal correspondence with him for so long! Happy Birthday Mr. Bradbury!

Steven Hartley said...

That's a legend gone - wasn't Ray Bradbury related to animator and comic artist Jack Bradbury?? May he rest in peace...

Oh, by the way - do you remember on Facebook when I sent you the message about my play - well I've scanned the first few pages and I've posted them on my blog website, you should have a look because I'm very proud of it! ;)

Brian Sibley said...

Tolkien and Lewis were two of my heroes, too, Geno, plus Lewis Carroll. I read Asimov and other science-fantasy writers but NONE baptised and confirmed my imagination as Ray did. He is one of a handful of writers (Dickens is another) whom I feel wrote directly to my mind and heart.

Ray is not dead, Steven! Today is his 90th birthday! Have you ever read any of his stories? I never heard that he was related to Jack Bradbury, but I'll ask him sometime and I'll visit your blog and read your play! :)

Steven Hartley said...

Sorry my mistake - maybe I hadn't read it properly, my apologies for this! I've made a BIG error!

No, I've not read his stories, but I've seen a picture of him with Ward Kimball and Chuck Jones I believe, and it was a party or something!

Brian Sibley said...

Ray certainly knew Ward, Chuck and most of the Disney guys.

Try one of his books sometime: maybe The Halloween Tree or Something Wicked This Way Comes, they are VERY special... :)

Raymond Huber said...

Dear Brian, I too was changed forever by Golden Apples and inspired to become a writer (though it took 40 years!). I've just discovered your wonderful blogs and share a passion for Moomins – can't imagine a world without them!
Raymond Huber

Brian Sibley said...

Hi, Raymond, thanks for stopping by! I have just visited your web-site and have been reading about your novel, Sting. Congratulations on what sounds like a great story. What a debt we owe to Ray.

What's more, I see you live in the land of movie hobbits! Sadly I never made it to Christchurch, but – who knows – if Mr Jackson ever returns to Middle-earth, I may return to NZ!!

Anonymous said...

When will the great 1946 Walt Disney classic Song of the South finally be available on DVD?

When will the complete run of the Wonderful World of Disney TV series be available on DVD?

Thank you.

Steven Hartley said...

What did you think of the play??

Brian Sibley said...

Anonymous - Sorry. No idea.

Steven - I'm rather busy with work at the moment, so I'm afraid I haven't yet had an opportunity to read it.

Phil said...


I've just returned from my US trip, which included dropping in on Bradbury's birthday party. I was also granted two short visits to Ray at home, where I passed on your birthday gift. I have photos of Ray with it, which I will send you as soon as I can.

I can report that Ray was in good shape for a 90-year-old, and seemed to be hearing better than when I first met him two years ago. (I am told he has recently had a new hearing aid, which has helped him immensely.) His marathon birthday party - which for him was really a two-hour book-signing - tired him out, but the next day he told me he loved every minute of it.

Thanks for the plug for my website!

- Phil

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks for the update, Phil. Glad you got to spend time with Ray and that he was on good form.

We spoke for a few minutes on his birthday and whilst the new hearing aid didn't seem to help much with telephonic communication (!), I later had a characteristic message via an e-mail from one of his daughters.

Jeff Milner said...

Brian, I understand someone showed Ray this video at his birthday party. Have you seen it?

(NSFW lyrics)

Brian Sibley said...

I'm speechless! But I do hope Ray laughed!

(Let me just reiterate the warning on Jeff's comment before you go back and follow his link: the lyrics are absolutely NOT suitable for work, for younger readers and certainly not for any easily offended aliens!)