Academic journal article Extrapolation

Ray Bradbury Unbound

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Ray Bradbury Unbound

Article excerpt

Ray Bradbury Completed. Jonathan R. Eller. Ray Bradbury Unbound. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2014. 324 pp. ISBN 978-0-25-203869-3. $34.95 hc.

Reviewed by Rafeeq O. McGiveron

Jonathan R. Eller's Ray Bradbury Unbound completes a two-volume biography begun with Becoming Ray Bradbury in 2011. It is a readable and highly enlightening resource for any scholar or non-academic interested in the career of perhaps the most famous name in modern speculative fiction. Using an approach that falls somewhere between the more theoretical and encyclopedic Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction by Eller and William F. Touponce and a more popularly oriented "straight" biography like Sam Weller's The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury, this wide-ranging and engagingly written book examines the evolution, ambitions, and struggles of Ray Bradbury's art from 1953 (after the publication of Fahrenheit 451) until the author's death in 2012. Eller draws on his own extensive research along with his numerous interviews with Bradbury to illuminate the work of the paradoxical man who wrote about rocket travel but would not drive an automobile or attempt commercial airline flight, whose great projects of adaptation for screen and stage often closed off his creation of new writing, and whose bold pronouncements sometimes masked personal insecurities.

The book is divided into five sections comprised of easily digestible chapters of five to ten pages apiece. "A Place in the Sun" covers the period 1953-1954, when Bradbury worked on the screenplay for John Huston's motion picture Moby Dick (1956) and began his friendship with Renaissance art historian Bernard Berenson, who opened his eyes to the grander sweep of art. "The End of the Beginning" discusses the years 1954-1957, including Bradbury's further dabbling in writing for movies, television, and the stage; the release of The October Country (1955); and his professional growth under the friendly mentorship of Charles Laughton and Alfred Hitchcock. "Dark Carnivals" spans 1955-1959 and addresses the publication of Dandelion Wine, more often abortive projects in Hollywood, and a protracted suit against CBS for the plagiarism of Fahrenheit 451. "Cry the Cosmos" focuses on Bradbury at the beginning of the Space Age, foregrounding his adaptation of Leviathan '99 (1972) into a stage and radio play, the release of Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), and his frustrations with Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). Finally, "If the Sun Dies" shows Bradbury's ascendancy as a cultural figure in the last forty-odd years up to his death in 2012-a spokesman for space exploration, a lecturer and writer about writing, always an advocate for the poetic and the emotional in art over the coldly realistic.

The book is not a mere timeline. The five broad periods of his post-Fahrenheit 451 career that Eller scrutinizes are defined by Bradbury's interests and achievements rather than simply the pages of the calendar. Naturally the chronology overlaps and intersects here and there. Eller pulls together characters, events, and motivations, drawing connections and explaining causality, to tell the story of a fairly well-known life in a way that has never quite been done before.

One notable aspect of Ray Bradbury Unbound is its fully rounded treatment of the authorial process. There are times that Eller must discuss the writing of a work-the occurrences that led Bradbury into it, the ideas and imagery he thrashed out, even the competing projects that sidetracked or beguiled him away from speedy completion. This is to be expected, although Eller is a master of this type of textual scholarship. …

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