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Becoming Ray Bradbury

Jonathan R. Eller

Publication Year: 2011

Becoming Ray Bradbury chronicles the making of an iconic American writer. Jonathan R. Eller measures the impact of the authors, artists, illustrators, and filmmakers who stimulated Ray Bradbury's imagination throughout his first three decades. Unprecedented access to Bradbury's personal papers and other private collections provides insight into his emerging talent through his unpublished correspondence, his rare but often insightful notes on writing, and his interactions with those who mentored him during those early years. _x000B__x000B_This biography follows Bradbury's development from avid reader to maturing author, making a living writing for pulp magazines. Bradbury's correspondence documents his frustrating encounters with the major trade publishing houses and his earliest unpublished reflections on the nature of authorship. Eller traces the sources of Bradbury's very conscious decisions, following the sudden success of The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, to voice controversial political statements in his fiction, and he highlights the private motivations behind the burst of creative energy that resulted in the classic novel Fahrenheit 451._x000B__x000B_These largely unexplored elements pave the way to a deeper understanding of his more public achievements, providing a biography of the mind, the story of Ray Bradbury's self-education and the emerging sense of authorship at the heart of his boundless creativity.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

In 2007 Ray Bradbury scrawled a cryptic note to himself on an early draft typescript of Becoming Ray Bradbury: “R. B., luckily, doesn’t know I’m hiding in his body and peeking out of his eyes!” For the last forty years and more, Bradbury has shown a great curiosity about the young writer he once was, ...

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pp. 1-6

Throughout his early career, Ray Bradbury was torn between two impulses—on one hand, a mounting obsession with perfection as he revised the stories that seemed to well up continuously from his subconscious mind, and on the other hand, an unflagging aversion to the advice of such genre colleagues as Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch, and Theodore Sturgeon, ...

Part I. Awakenings

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1. From the Nursery to the Library

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pp. 9-15

Bradbury’s birth remains the point of departure for one of his most controversial autobiographical anecdotes—his claim to remember the trauma of birth, the sensation of breastfeeding, the pain of circumcision, and infant nightmares about being born. When he discovered (in his late seventies) that he had been delivered as a ten-month baby, ...

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2. L.A. High and the Science Fiction League

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pp. 16-20

The legacy of Bradbury’s early Hollywood madness survives in his snapshots of scores of Hollywood stars, taken with his father’s box camera, and in more than a thousand autographs that form a cavalcade of Hollywood personalities at all levels, from character actors to A-film stars and executives. ...

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3. Hannes Bok and the Lorelei

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pp. 21-25

For the next four years Bradbury sold the afternoon edition of the Los Angeles Herald and Express out of a stand at Olympic and Norton from about 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. After graduation he had tried out as a delivery boy for the women who made costumes and dresses downtown at the Orpheum Building, ...

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4. NYCon 1939

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pp. 26-32

In January 1938, while still a senior in high school, Bradbury and his close friend Eddie Berrara volunteered to take over the editorship of ’Madge beginning with the March issue. They knew that Forry’s library job at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was making it more and more difficult for him to find time to edit. ...

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5. Futuria Fantasia

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pp. 33-39

Bradbury had been away from Los Angeles for more than a month, but he soon resumed his latest project for the LASFL—his new fanzine, Futuria Fantasia. He put together the inaugural Summer 1939 issue just before the WorldCon pilgrimage; this activity, along with his travels, spelled the end of his autograph-hunting trips to the studios. ...

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6. From the Fanzines to the Prozines

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pp. 40-44

Bradbury’s close encounters with the performing arts reached a high point during 1940, and for a time these activities restricted his writing schedule. He briefly enrolled in drama classes at City College during the spring term but dropped out after a few days; the real world always seemed to be a better teaching environment to Bradbury than a classroom, ..

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7. Early Disappointments: The Science Fiction Pulps

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pp. 45-50

Through the late winter and spring of 1941 Bradbury and Hasse collaborated on four more stories, but in spite of Schwartz’s continuing efforts, publication of these new tales would be a far more difficult proposition than it had been with “Pendulum.” In October 1941, Schwartz finally placed “Gabriel’s Horn” in the superhero pulp Captain Future, ...

Part II. The Road to Autumn’s House

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8. Living in Two Worlds

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pp. 53-58

Bradbury’s first journey to a far metaphor may be an unpublished story title from his high-school days. “The Road to Autumn’s House” is a schoolboy’s vampire tale, but the title and opening lines provide a glimpse of the October Country that would emerge from his own childhood fears and desires as he created some of his most enduring stories of the mid-1940s. ...

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9. Reading about Writing

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pp. 59-63

Bradbury’s rise from raw and undisciplined talent to literary prominence was remarkably rapid. Once he discovered that he could write with conviction and power from his own hopes, fears, and experiences, he was able to find his way stylistically and break away from imitating the hallmarks of other writers. ...

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10. Early Mentors: Hamilton, Williamson, and Brackett

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pp. 64-69

Brande believed that writers must take “every opportunity to study the masters of English prose writing.” As he observed in an unpublished interview in 2002, Bradbury was still in the early stages of a process of literary education that ran roughly from 1934 to 1953: ...

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11. “Chrysalis”: Bradbury and Henry Kuttner

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pp. 70-74

In terms of his overall development as a writer, Bradbury received his most intense mentoring from Henry Kuttner, one of the first professional writers that he had met when he joined the LASFL in 1937. Kuttner was a bit of an enigma—quiet, apolitical, and most of the time reticent about discussing his own work. ...

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12. A New World of Reading

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pp. 75-80

Once Bradbury began to tap into his reservoir of life experiences, he had the basis to sustain and advance his own evolving style and vivid metaphors. He had always had a gift for metaphor, a gift enhanced from the beginning of his career by his fascination with sensate experience. ...

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13. An Emerging Sense of Critical Judgment

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pp. 81-86

Even as he took the first steps toward defi ning himself more broadly as a fantasy writer, Bradbury continued to read and study the great fiction writers of his time. In 1943, still not earning enough from his stories to owe income tax, he had purchased a copy of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. ...

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14. On the Shoulders of Giants

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pp. 87-92

There were Modernists who appealed to Bradbury in more mature ways than Prokosch had done, and there were in fact abiding lessons that he could take away from some of these other writers. The lessons that Bradbury had learned just after high school by reading Somerset Maugham’s autobiographical The Summing Up led him quite naturally into Maugham’s fiction, ...

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15. The Road to Autumn’s House

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pp. 93-97

During the war years most of Bradbury’s maturing process, both self-taught and mentored, went on beneath the surface of a publication history that was rapidly bringing him to public attention as an unusual new talent in two niche market genres—the weirds and the detective pulps. Throughout the early and mid-1940s, ...

Part III. The Fear of Death Is Death

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16. Exploring the Human Mind

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pp. 99-103

Even as his sense of the rich possibilities of unfettered literary creativity grew, Bradbury also worried about having an adequate understanding of the human experience. He could always generate word associations for potential story subjects, but what kinds of characters would emerge and run off with his stories? ...

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17. Exploring the Human Condition

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pp. 104-109

Even as he broadened his horizons by reading more books than he had ever read before in a single year, Bradbury realized that he also had to broaden his experience with the world beyond books. In July 1944, Kuttner suggested a trip East: “You’re apt eventually to get insular out west, and it might pay you to spend a month or two in Manhattan, seeing editors and writing.” ...

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18. With the Blessings of His Mentors

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pp. 110-113

Between the fall of 1944 and the summer of 1945, Bradbury earned quiet recognition of a most personal kind, and it meant the world to him—one by one, his mentors told him that he was now a seasoned professional, rapidly approaching the time when he could become a major market writer. ...

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19. New Stories and New Opportunities

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pp. 114-118

Bradbury was, in many ways, already beginning to make his own developmental decisions, and during the spring of 1945 he wrote his first quality novella-length story. He had written long stories for both the detective and the science fiction pulps, but only one of these, the long-labored-over “Chrysalis,” had staying power in the genre. ...

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20. Life and Death in Mexico

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pp. 119-125

The logistics of the trip would be complicated by Bradbury’s abiding fear of automobiles—the multiple-fatality accident he had witnessed shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 1934 remained a recurring nightmare, even though he had managed to release some of the effects by writing “The Crowd.” ...

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21. Transitions: Bradbury and Don Congdon

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pp. 126-130

The early months of 1946 were challenging for Bradbury, both personally and professionally. For Christmas, Beach presented Bradbury with a copy of Edwin Seaver’s latest anthology, Cross-Section 1945: A Collection of New American Writing, but there was now a somewhat unfathomable jealousy in Grant’s approach to Bradbury’s career. ...

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22. The Power of Love

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pp. 131-134

One constant throughout this major transition in Bradbury’s daily work schedule was his need to read—an almost visceral need that was only slightly less of a reflex than breath itself. On April 24, 1946, while reading in Fowler’s Bookstore, he met Marguerite McClure for the first time. ...

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23. From Arkham to New York

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pp. 135-140

Throughout 1946, Bradbury had to navigate the increasingly complicated process of bringing Dark Carnival to publication. Derleth had originally expected to list Bradbury’s first book as an Arkham House release for the summer or fall of 1946, but Bradbury’s continuing revisions resulted in an actual publication date of May 1947. ...

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24. Obsessed with Perfection

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pp. 141-145

In some ways, Bradbury’s public reputation was growing faster than he could handle psychologically. He now had a taste of the high-pressure world of radio production, and he had attracted the attention of major market publishers, editors, and agents on both coasts. ...

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25. Dark Carnival

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pp. 146-150

Dark Carnival soon cost Derleth more in press corrections than all his previous Arkham House titles combined (or so he told Bradbury). But there’s no doubt that Bradbury pushed as hard as he could to update it as it moved toward the May 1947 publication date.1 ...

Part IV. The Tyranny of Words

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26. Lifetime Partnerships

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pp. 153-159

Bradbury and Maggie were hoping to be married soon, and for a time he may have considered securing their future by selling out to the formula-minded pulp editors. Such a thought stands in sharp contrast to the unwavering arguments for quality writing that he was leveling at Bloch, Bok, and Snow. ...

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27. The Illinois Novel

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pp. 160-165

Bradbury was now represented by Don Congdon and the Matson Agency, but a few of his earlier direct negotiations finally brought in some much-needed cash. In October he received nearly $200 from the New Yorker for “I See You Never,” a story from his Figueroa Street tenement days that had been declined by the New Yorker more than two years earlier. ...

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28. Bradbury and Modernity

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pp. 166-172

Bradbury’s early work on the Illinois novel coincided with the development of two novel concepts that would not reach print in any form for sixty years. Only fragments of Masks (1946–1947, 1949) and Where Ignorant Armies Clash By Night (1947–48) have ever been located, and until these fragments were pieced together for small-press limited editions in 2006 and 2008, ...

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29. Modernist Alternatives

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pp. 173-176

Bradbury was still, first and foremost, a short-story writer. The Illinois novel was slowly emerging from a growing nest of Green Town stories, and a wide range of niche market and major market magazine editors were interested in new Bradbury tales. The darker themes and moods of the two failed novels lingered in certain kinds of short stories he was writing, ...

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30. Finding His Own Way

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pp. 179-184

As Bradbury worked through his Modernist impasse, he was also expanding his presence in radio. In May 1947 Jack Snow recommended Nelson Olmsted’s Chicago-based NBC storytelling broadcasts to his friend, and Bradbury wasted no time getting a copy of Dark Carnival to Olmsted’s network office. ...

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31. The Anthology Game

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pp. 185-191

The development of the Illinois novel was also slowed by Bradbury’s increased focus on the science fiction stories he was writing and revising with more and more frequency. In spite of Congdon’s influence with a wide range of editors, these stories were still not selling to the major magazines at all. ...

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32. Paradise Postponed

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pp. 192-197

Bradbury continued to publish short fiction at an impressive rate—eighteen new stories in 1947, twenty-one in 1948, along with an ever-increasing number of reprint sales. As he continued to find a new level of success in the postwar science fiction pulps, he soon became popular as a subject for fanzine articles and interviews. ...

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33. Broadening Horizons

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pp. 198-205

Congdon had essentially advised Bradbury to stay the course and be more patient with a publishing culture that preferred formula over innovation. The insights that emerged from their April 1949 exchange of letters renewed Bradbury’s confidence in his submissions, and he worked with Congdon ever more closely to shuttle his Green Town stories, ...

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34. The Miracle Year: Winter and Spring

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pp. 206-210

The submission of the Chronicles typescript marked the beginning of Bradbury’s Annus Mirabilis, which can be defined by the major works he submitted to publishers between the fall of 1949 and the fall of 1950—The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and “The Fireman,” the early novella form of Fahrenheit 451. …

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35. The Miracle Year: Summer and Fall

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pp. 211-218

The Chronicles story-chapters and bridges were now properly sequenced, but how would the critics and the reading public respond? A chance meeting with Christopher Isherwood at a Los Angeles bookstore in early July 1950 provided the critical breakthrough that Bradbury needed to bring The Martian Chronicles more fully into mainstream literary appreciation. ...

Part V. The Last Night of the World

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36. Critical Praise, Private Worries

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pp. 221-226

Bradbury’s Miracle Year had now run its course, from the fall 1949 submission of The Martian Chronicles to the fall 1950 sale of “The Fireman.” The Chronicles had also won over a new British publisher who would market his books for the next quarter-century. ...

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37. New York, 1951

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pp. 227-231

Bradbury enjoyed the comforts of a larger roomette on his 1951 trip to New York; he wrote two new pages for “The Magical Kitchen” (one of the projected Illinois novel’s chapter-stories) and coaxed his portable typewriter into producing a new page for a very short time-travel piece titled “The Dragon.” ...

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38. Controversial Fictions

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pp. 232-239

Almost immediately, the New York trip began to reap dividends. Doubleday soon agreed to a contract on The Illinois Chronicles, and Bradbury’s first major-market interview, conducted during the last days of his New York trip by columnist Harvey Breit, was finally featured in the August 5, 1951, issue of the weekly New York Times Book Review. ...

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39. New Worlds: Graphic and Television Adaptations

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pp. 240-244

Martha Foley provided the only public literary recognition that Bradbury’s more controversial stories achieved prior to Fahrenheit 451. By the end of the year she would select “The Other Foot” for the Best American Short Stories 1952 annual. This was Bradbury’s third selection, and it was one of the few science fiction stories to appear in the series to that point. ...

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40. The Wheel of Fortune

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pp. 245-248

In early 1952 William F. Nolan, who was about to begin his own career as a genre author, published a booklet documenting Bradbury’s creative output as projected through the end of the year. The Ray Bradbury Review included a comprehensive enumerative bibliography gathered over the three years that he had known Bradbury as a friend; ...

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41. Joe Mugnaini and The Golden Apples of the Sun

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pp. 249-256

Excitement did return to Bradbury’s creative explorations, and the circumstances were purely serendipitous. It all began with his discovery of California artist Joseph Mugnaini, a product of Otis Art Institute who would have a long career teaching at Otis-Parsons and serving for a time as chair of the Drawing Department. ...

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42. Bantam and Ballantine

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pp. 257-260

If Bradbury was still having trouble with the novel form, he was clearly maturing in other ways. As he settled back from work on the Golden Apples collection, he was gratified to see the Bantam mass-market paperback anthology Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow reach bookstores in time for the fall 1952 publishing season. ...

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43. Hollywood at Last

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pp. 261-267

Before Bradbury could turn in earnest to his expansion of “The Fireman,” new and largely unexpected opportunities were opening for him in Hollywood. During the summer and fall of 1952, he was able to establish his first writing credits in the motion picture industry. On one very basic level, his qualifications rested with his credentials as a moviegoer. ...

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44. Political Controversy

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pp. 268-274

The dark vision of space exploration at the core of Bradbury’s extensive screen treatments for It Came from Outer Space reflected his concern with the sobering foreign and domestic challenges that America faced as the election of 1952 approached. For some time, he had been growing disenchanted with the Democratic Party. ...

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45. Fahrenheit 451

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pp. 275-280

Bradbury already knew he wanted a title that would allude to the temperature at which book paper burns. This was an objective correlative of sorts for the cultural inversion at the center of the original novella, but the major university science departments in Los Angeles were unable to provide even an approximation of the combustion threshold for him. ...

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46. The Last Night of the World

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pp. 281-288

In the end, Fahrenheit 451 illustrates how the ideas in Bradbury’s science fiction, often dark and occasionally hopeful, had become cautionary. His goal had become one of protecting mankind from the future, not predicting it. For Bradbury, the future danger was not technology, but the humans who will control it; ...


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pp. 289-304


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pp. 305-324

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About the Author, Back Cover

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Jonathan R. Eller is a professor of English at Indiana University in Indianapolis, the senior textual editor of the Institute for American Thought, and the cofounder of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093357
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036293

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Bradbury, Ray, 1920-2012.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Science fiction, American -- History and criticism.
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