Friday, October 25, 2013

Ray Bradbury, Realist

A couple of days ago, David Barnett blogged for The Guardian about Ray Bradbury's non-SF, non-fantasy writing. It's a good piece, picking out a couple of examples from Bradbury's Irish and Mexican stories, and I'm sure the average Guardian reader would be slightly surprised to find that the famous American "sci-fi guy" was interested in non-fantastical tales.

I've never sat and counted, but I suspect that Bradbury's short fiction deals with "the real" at least half the time. It's certainly true that his interest in genres tended to come in waves: first the weird fiction that got him started in Weird Tales, then the detective stories that he ultimately gave up on (most of which are collected in A Memory of Murder), then science fiction (the stories that became The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451). Then, after the Moby Dick experience, the Irish stories and other "realist" works. However, even among his early works there are realist stories like "I See You Never" and "The Meadow".

Except... while I see the "real" in Bradbury, it's nearly always presented in an unreal way. The Irish stories are not real in any journalistic sense: the characters are exaggerated for comedic effect, or are caricatures of real types that he had met, or are in situations which are enlarged into a tall tale. Other of his "realist" stories from his later career have a dreamlike tone to them - as I've pointed out before, a remarkable number of stories in Bradbury Stories: 100 of his most celebrated tales begin with the narrator waking up, being awoken, or being interrupted.

Nevertheless, for all of the unreality of "The Beggar on O'Connell Bridge" (for example), the story is light-years from being science fiction, or fantasy. In Bradbury's writing there really is a continuous spectrum that runs from complete fantasy to almost real, but most of the time he stays well away from the extreme ends and occupies a middle ground where the real is rendered fantastical, and the fantastic is made real.

 'Tis October, and with the witching season soon upon us it is time for the annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival. This event, now in its eighth year, is a celebration both of Bradbury and of the art of storytelling, and it takes place in Bradbury's birthplace of Waukegan, Illinois. It all begins tonight at 7.30pm in the Genesee Theatre. Details are here - and that link also takes you to a video that summarises Fahrenheit 451 in two minutes and thirty-five seconds!

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