Fabled Bradbury This Way Comes

Most think of him as a writer of science fiction, he prefers to be known as a fantasy writer; but by any definition Ray Bradbury is a living legend of American literature. In addition to such masterworks as ‘The Martian Chronicles,’ ‘The Illustrated Man,’ ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes,’ the prolific author, now 83, has published more than 30 books, close to 600 short stories and numerous poems, essays and plays. Bradbury will appear at the Palisades Branch Library, 861 Alma Real Drive, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 13. The author traces his creative roots to what happened when he was 9 years old. ‘I fell in love with literature, libraries, rocket ships, magicians, carnivals and life,’ Bradbury told the Palisadian-Post during a recent telephone interview. A native of Illinois, Bradbury attended high school in Los Angeles, the city he’s called home ever since. The ‘happy compulsion’ driving Bradbury to write for over 70 years shows little sign of abating. He just finished ‘The Cat’s Pajamas,’ a new collection of short stories to be published in July. A film based on his short story ‘Sound of Thunder’ is in production in the Czech Republic and he speaks enthusiastically about the new movie version of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ which is under way, produced by Mel Gibson and directed by Frank Darabont, whose credits include ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ In his famously forthright style, Bradbury weighs in on earlier adaptations of his work, describing ‘The Illustrated Man’ as dreadful, but praising Disney’s 1998 film ‘The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ as one of the finest ever. Speaking of cinema in general, ‘As Good As It Gets,’ the 1997 Academy award-winning film starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, is among Bradbury’s all-time favorites. ‘It’s a fabulous screenplay with characters you care about,’ he says. ‘A wonderful, wonderful film. The camera didn’t jump around. Rather it made love to the people and stayed with them. “There’s a constant theater going on inside my head,” Bradbury says, revealing the source of his own storytelling gifts. “When waking in the morning, I choose one of the metaphors bouncing around in my head and go to work. Often I’ve finished a short story by noon.” Bradbury uses a typewriter and scoffs at the idea of converting to a computer. “Why would I need two things that do the same thing?” he says with a chuckle. In ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ the book many consider to be the author’s masterpiece, Bradbury imagines a world of extreme censorship and political correctness, where firemen are charged with finding and burning down hidden libraries, and where technology’the protagonist’s wife surrounds herself with a three-walled television screen’has a stranglehold on the human spirit. On the prophetic nature of the novel, written in 1953, Bradbury says he “feels lucky these things occurred to me when I was only 29 years old.” Eminently quotable, the author once commented: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” “Our educational system is crap,” says the author when pressed to elaborate on the remark. “We don’t teach reading and writing,” he says. “Our whole civilization will go to hell if we keep on with this.” Bradbury always intended adults to be his audience, but happily concedes that the work “appeals to everyone from 8 to 88. At readings, I would see all these kids in the audience who loved ‘The Martian Chronicles’,” he recalls. “It was simply great.” The author has four daughters and eight grandchildren. His wife of over 50 years, Maggie, passed away last fall. As to his appearance at the Palisades Branch Library, Bradbury says he never prepares remarks. “I’m like a grenade,” he says with a laugh. “I get up there, pull the pin, and explode.”