Monday, October 31, 2011


Halloween comes but once a year, and fortunately the traditions don't change much... so I have no reason not to pass on this five-year-old link which explains some of the significance of things we associate with Halloween. The article begins with a quote from Bradbury's The Halloween Tree, which is itself, of course, full of information about those traditions, albeit in a fictional context.

Have you ever wondered about Bradbury's own personal experiences of Halloween? When he was interviewed for Show magazine in 1964, he associated Halloween very much with his Aunt Neva, who did so much to stimulate his imagination. He also identified the significance of rituals like Halloween and July 4th to people in small towns like Waukegan:

My aunt Neva helped bring me up in a world of let’s-pretend, in a world of masks and puppets that she made, in a world of stages and acting, in a world of special Christmases and Halloweens. It was she who read me my first fairy tales, she who read Poe aloud to me when I was seven and taught me all about fabulous mythological country from which I never quite emerged. Ten years older than myself, she was more like an older and loving sister whose art-and-dressmaking studio I hung about sniffing the watercolors and oil paints. Halloweens, she dabbed me with makeup, dressed me as a witch or monster and let me scarify at her parties. She took me roller-skating on autumn nights, in the middle of empty and abandoned concrete streets far out on the edge of town where the houses had not as yet built themselves up. I went with her to collect pumpkins and cornshocks out in farmyards far beyond the city limits and helped fill her big old house with them on October evenings [...]
I suppose when you grow up in a small town rituals like Halloween and the Fourth of July mean a heck of a lot more to you. It is much more basic than in a large city. The whole image of Halloween has changed so fantastically in the last twenty-five years. It’s not the same kind of fun. It’s become a form of bribery where you go and get candy for not doing anything. Well, that to me is not what it’s all about. I like the rawness and the nearness and the excitement of death, which went with the older vision of Halloween. In fact I’ve often wanted to do a one-hour special for TV in which I’d make a comparison between Halloween as it exists today and as it used to exist in America. And the way Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico and South America, where they have the sugar skulls with your name on it, or the name of a dead loved one, and they give you a chance to symbolize and live close by death and try to understand this mystery. We’ve lost sight of it. 
("A Portrait of Genius: Ray Bradbury". Show, December 1964.)
 That idea of a TV special would eventually be realised in The Halloween Tree. Begun as a screen treatment with animator Chuck Jones, Bradbury published it as a short novel in 1972 and later adapted it...for TV.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Something Wicked

The BBC has a surprise Halloween treat this Saturday: a new radio dramatisation of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.

All I know about the production is what is on the BBC web page.

SWTWC has been dramatised a few times. There was a film scripted by Bradbury (and an uncredited John Mortimer) in 1982, a play by Bradbury in 1988, and a radio production by Colonial Radio Theater a couple of years ago. Brian Sibley, co-writer of a number of Bradbury adaptations for radio and writer of the recent BBC Gormenghast adaptations, tried to raise interest in SWTWC as a "classic serial" production a few years ago, but without success.

This new production is written by Diana Griffiths, a playwright with a long list of credits for original works and adaptations. Her CV includes several items in the fantasy and SF genres, so she would appear to be an excellent choice.

You can listen to the play live on the BBC Radio 4 website at 2.30pm BST on Saturday 29th October 2011. It should then be available for catch-up listening for seven days. There is usually no geographical restriction on accessing BBC Radio broadcasts on the web.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

RIP: Norman Corwin

I just heard that Norman Corwin, radio dramatist and producer-director, has passed away at the grand age of 101. Norman's career is remarkable enough in itself (I recommend the obituary in the Los Angeles Times for an overview of his life and achievements. But he also had a significant impact on the life and career of a certain Ray Bradbury.

I wish I had time to go into greater detail, but at the moment the best I can do is mention a couple of things off the top of my head:

Corwin was the one who urged Bradbury to get to New York and try to sell a book. The result of that urging was Ray's meeting with Walter Bradbury, who published Ray's first major-publisher book: The Martian Chronicles.

Corwin was originally intended to direct Bradbury's radio play Leviathan '99, which became Bradbury's first work for the BBC. As it turned out, Corwin didn't get to do the job, but decades later he was able to participate in a new radio version of the story, when Bradbury's novella version of Leviathan '99 was dramatised for radio in LA.

Friday, October 14, 2011

SF Encyclopedia Live - in beta

One of the best source books for the study of science fiction - for both the scholar and the casual fan - is The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Two print editions of the book appeared in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by a CD-ROM version. Now the SF Encyclopedia has gone online, and is freely accessible to everyone:

The text is a beta version: this means that the text from previous versions has been ported across, but not all entries have been updated. It also means that there may still be some formatting and factual errors, as well as glaring omissions for some modern topics.

Perhaps because his name is near the front of the alphabet, Ray Bradbury seems to have benefitted from a revised entry, although I suspect the text is little changed since the CD-ROM edition. If the editors were of a mind to be exhaustive, they might perhaps include information on some of Ray's most recent books, although many of these fall outside the SF genre. I would personally argue for some passing mention of the recent graphic novels, since they seem to have been significantly successful in market terms, and maybe a mention of "Leviathan '99", although since this novella is hidden within Now and Forever it might not be particularly visible.

There is one glaring factual inaccuracy (which I have reported): they give Ray's full name as Raymond Douglas Bradbury. Oops. Even Wikipedia knows that he has always been Ray, never Raymond!

Read the full entry here.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Jack in the Box

Production has just begun on another short film based on a Bradbury story. Jack in the Box is directed by Alex Gray as his thesis film at the Colorado Film School.

The production is being promoted at IndieGoGo, where you are invited to contribute to the film's production fund - in return for a DVD (or something better still if you offer more money).

The short story of "Jack in the Box" first appeared in Bradbury's out of print Dark Carnival, and is also collected in his (first) greatest hits compilation, The Stories of Ray Bradbury. The only previous media adaptation that I know of was a BBC radio production for the series Ray Bradbury's Tales of the Bizarre.

Bradbury has given permission for this new adaptation. We can assume that the film will follow Gray's earlier short, Derek, onto the festival circuit.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Who to blame, who to praise?

I recently saw this brief piece on the web which compared the novel and film versions of Something Wicked This Way Comes. The article mentions in passing that "Disney" made some changes to the story in adapting the novel to film, specifically the invention of some new minor characters.

This first made me smile, because I wondered if the author of the article was aware that the screenplay for the film was written by... Ray Bradbury himself. To "blame" Disney for the alterations seems wrong, if the original author was in control of the adaptation.

But then I had second thoughts.

Although Bradbury receives sole screen credit for the screenplay, it is no secret that the late John Mortimer carried out some uncredited rewrites, under the instruction of the film's director Jack Clayton. Without talking to Bradbury about it, or better still examining the script drafts, it's impossible to be sure how much was Bradbury's and how much was Mortimer's. Or Clayton's. Neither Clayton nor Mortimer are with us any more, so Bradbury is more or less the only one left who we could ask, with the possible exception of the film's producer, Peter Douglas.

But even if we learned whether Bradbury invented a given character himself, that wouldn't necessarily tell us what prompted him to do it. It could be his own free creative choice, or it could be at the suggestion of... "Disney".

I've been having similar thoughts about Bradbury's largely unpublished (and totally unfilmed) screen work in adapting The Martian Chronicles. I am currently studying various materials from the 1950s and 1960s, where Bradbury was attempting to work for a succession of production entities (for want of a better phrase) on bringing MC to the screen. I see an enormous amount of evolution of the script materials, but without access to script notes, correspondence, studio memos and the like, it is impossible to know for sure what motivated many of Bradbury's rewrites.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Leiva Reviews Eller; Guardian Readers Review Truffaut

Steven Paul Leiva, the writer and producer who co-ordinated events for Ray Bradbury Week in Los Angeles in 2010, has written a review of Jon Eller's new book Becoming Ray Bradbury.

The review, for Neworld Review, is here.

My own review of Becoming Ray Bradbury is here, and the publisher's page for the book is here.

Meanwhile, over on The Guardian's website, the reading group for Fahrenheit 451 have been discussing Truffaut's 1966 film version of Bradbury's book. It's interesting to see how opinions remain divided on this film. On the one hand, it looks very much a child of the 1960s, but on the other hand the stylisation of the film is, I think, plainer to see forty-odd years on. My own view is that it's a fascinating film to watch, but is far from being a great film. But if you watch it in the context of the films Truffaut made before and after it, you can see how it is part of a continuum.