Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Bradbury, we are often told, is a storyteller at heart. Of course, people say this about many writers. There are, I think, three things that make this a particularly appropriate characterisation of Bradbury.

First is that Bradbury's writings are mostly in the short form. Like the storytellers of old, seated around the camp fire, he keeps things short and to the point. He favours short stories. Short poems. One-act plays. Thirty-minute TV dramas. Yes, he has written plenty of novels, some poetry of epic length, and many full-length screenplays. But even his longest works are really quite short, and nearly all are highly episodic.

Second is that Bradbury likes to re-tell his stories. All good camp-fire stories are ones that have been refined, embellished and enhanced through repeated telling to different audiences. All the great stand-up comedians do this, and some of them keep the same comic tales spinning for years, always adjusting the narrative, delivery and timing for optimum delivery. Bradbury re-tells his stories in many ways. He constantly adapts and re-adapts from one medium to another: short story, play, TV script, novel chapter. And in his interviews and public-speaking engagements, he invariably re-tells familiar anecdotes, like the one about Mr Electrico, or the one about how he remembers being born.

Third is that Bradbury is (or has been until recent years, when his health has got the better of him) a great performer of his own stories. He has recorded audio books of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and many others of his works. Although he's not one of the world's greatest actors, he has been one of the best performing writers.

This autumn, Bradbury's home town of Waukegan, Illinois, is staging a storytelling festival in Bradbury's honour. A small town, and a small event. But the emphasis on storytelling is surely correct. This format seems an ideal way to celebrate his works - and to usher in the Bradbury season of Halloween.

Bradbury won't be attending in person, but he is filming a contribution in California.

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