Monday 22 August 2011


Today my favourite author (and dear friend) RAY BRADBURY is 91 years young!

It is no exaggeration to say that the book on the left changed my life. I can still remember the day in the 'sixties when I saw it on a twirling rack of paperbacks outside the stationers shop in Chislehurst village – that's back in the days when local villages had stationers!

I had never heard the name Ray Bradbury, but I was excited by the cover: the title (although I didn't recognise it as a quotation); the startling combination of black, red and purple; the monstrous grotesques depicted (I didn't know then that they were by Goya and other dark visionaries); and the promise of what lay within its pages: Stories of weird, beautiful and wonderfully improbably people, places and things...

How could I resist? I read the book in a day and was overwhelmed! I had never read anything like it: the style, the ideas flooded my imagination...

Years later, I dramatised a story from this book for radio ('The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl') and I was reminded how much this book is part of my psyche when I was pulled up short in front of a display case in the current British Library exhibition Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as we know it by a copy of Collier's magazine (28 June, 1952) containing the first appearance of another of those golden apples, 'The Sound of Thunder', a fantastic tale combining time-travel and dinosaurs!

Ray Bradbury ‘A Sound of Thunder’, first published in Collier’s Weekly, 28 June 1952

I looked at the powerful illustration by Frederick Siebel and was a kid again!

Back to my youthful discovery of of The Golden Apples of the Sun: the very next day I was hot-footing it to the library in search of more volumes bearing the open sesame name, Ray Bradbury...

I have written elsewhere (and those interested can follow some of the links at the end of this post) about how those books led, years later, to a correspondence and friendship that has continued to this day.

But, for now, to celebrate Ray's birthday, here are a couple of portraits of the man who hurled me into outer space with The Martian Chronicles; transported me back in time with a glass of Dandelion Wine; lifted the tent-flap of the dark carnival and told me Something Wicked This Way Comes and struck a match in the dark and warned me against the Fireman who burn books at Fahrenheit 451.

The first portrait was made back in 1963 by Ray's long-time illustrator (of, among other books, The Golden Apples) Joseph (Joe) Mugnaini

[Image lost]

The second was created, forty-seven years later, in 2010 to mark Ray's 90th birthday by a huge Bradbury fan, Lou Romano, production design artist on the Pixar animated films Up, The Incredibles and Monsters Inc.

On his blog, Lou Romano explains the genesis of the piece and how he created it

As for the little doodle on the left, it is one I made many years ago to accompany an article I wrote about Ray for a magazine that I've forgotten and which is, anyway, probably now defunct!

If you've time for another coffee...

There's a terrific video portrait of Ray on the website of The National Endowment for the Arts.

My blog, The Works, has a prose portrait of him, The Bradbury Machine.

And you might enjoy seeing some of Ray's letters to me in last year's blog post, Ninety Years from Mars.

Oh, yes, and there's more Bradbury stuff over on my Ex Libris blog.


"Remember this: Love is at the centre of your life.
The things that you do should be things that you love

and things that you love should be things that you do."


Lo said...

Wonderful.....thanks for posting this. I, too, worship Bradbury and congratulate you on becoming a pen pal with him.

I loved reading his letter. Thanks.

Boll Weavil said...

I first read Bradbury when I was at school but really got into his work after reading the Martian Chronicles twenty years ago.He is one of those people (Paul Simon is another) that are actually as enthralling as their work.The interviews you have done with him and his own willingness to share his working methods and ideas show that.As a writer I actually equate him with Dickens, which may sound absurd but he has the same enthusiasm for life and understanding of human nature. This comes through in all his work and has meant that, as in The Martian Chronicles, he has explored issues like ecology and race before they became wider concerns and his accuracy in observing human nature has given him remarkable prescience as to the way society has developed.If you add to this the relentless tide of imagination (again exactly like Dickens)that has resulted in a massive catalogue of work, it is obvious why so many rate him so highly as a source of inspiration. With our endless fascination for the human condition, its easy to see why his ideas have been endlessly imagined and reimagined in films and radio series over the years and will continue to be so.I still can't believe I have my first copy of The Martian Chronicles signed by him (thanks to you). It's rather like opening up Oliver Twist and seeing 'Cheers Nick, Your Mate Chas' on this inside cover.
Happy Birthday Ray
May the last fireworks of your life never disappear from the sky

Brian Sibley said...

Lo – My pleasure! A lesson learned from Ray: no enthusiasm is worth a light until it gives illumination to others!

Boll Weavil – Late last night, I said to myself: "In the morning, Boll will have something to say about today's post!" So, thank you for not disappointing me and thank you for such an eloquently expressed tribute.

The comparison with Dickens that you make is so very apt, especially when one remembers that Ray's favourite book is the one which so fully captures the essence of Dickens – A Christmas Carol.

I might add that among the other literary fairy-godfathers who blessed his youthful imagination were Wells, Verne, Huxley, Melville, Shakespeare, Poe and Lewis Carroll but, by mutual agreement, they all decided that none of their individual inspirational gifts should be greater than that brought by Mr Dickens!

Elena said...

Wow, thanks for the wonderful post, and happy birthday Ray Bradbury!

Susan D-L said...

That very same paperback edition of 'Golden' is what helped start my love of wonderful writing back when I was a little kid looking for something new to read on my parents' bookshelves. To this day not a few of those stories are still nestled in my mind. Masterful stuff. Happy Birthday Mr Bradbury!

Boll Weavi said...

It's never easy to evaluate great authors in comparison with others because of their different styles and timeframe. Each of us, I am sure, has great memories of first coming across Ray's work and how it affected us. When I read his books, I feel like Douglas - drinking heavily of the first tastes of summer or running down the street in a Halloween costume. If anyone else experiences even a fraction of that same exhilaration then Bradbury's legacy will be great indeed.

Wobble The Witch Cat said...

Hello Brian I hope that Ray has a really great birthday I remember meeting the great man on that July day in the Disneyland Hotel in 1988! A lovely charming man I hope he reaches 100!

Brian Sibley said...

Susan D-L – How many millions of copies were printed I wonder, yet for both of us it remains an intensely personal possession!

Boll Weavil – For me it was the opening words of 'The Fog Horn', the first story in The Golden Apples of the Sun:

"OUT there in the cold water, far from land, we waited every night for the coming of the fog, and it came, and we oiled the brass machinery and lit the fog light up in the stone tower. Feeling like two birds in the grey sky, McDunn and I sent the light touching out, red, then white, then red again, to eye the lonely ships. And if they did not see our light, then there was always our Voice, the great deep cry of our Fog Horn shuddering through the rags of mist to startle the gulls away like decks of scattered cards and make the waves turn high and foam..."

Wobble the Witch Cat – Twenty-three years ago! Can it really be that long? Ray was 67 but seemed no older than me and I was not yet 40... And you, old friend, were – a mere child! Ah, the memories! :)