Ray Bradbury will be remembered forever as one of America’s greatest authors, but the truth is he never wrote anything. At least, that’s how he told it.
Whenever the storyteller, who died Tuesday at age 91, was asked about the creation of his classic tales — such as the novels Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes — Bradbury tended to say it was a mystery to him too.
In 2003, after a screening of the movie based on his short story “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” he told an audience that he couldn’t claim credit for any of his stories. Bradbury said he sat down to do the typing, and the “demon” who lived inside him would start to speak. “Everything comes to me,” he told Fox News in 2004. “Everything is my demon muse. I have a muse which whispers in my ear and says, ‘Do this, do that,’ but it’s my demon who provokes me.”
The 20th century was full of iconic writers who explored deeper parts of who we are through the genres of sci-fi and fantasy. Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Ursula K. Le Guin are just a few, and Bradbury stood out among them as perhaps the most optimistic. While many writers in these genres sent out warnings, Bradbury preferred to send out hope. The one major dystopian exception was perhaps his most famous work – Fahrenheit 451, the story of a society where books are outlawed, and burned when found.
In an interview with The Paris Review, Bradbury acknowledged he was the happy outcast among these contemporaries. “I’m glad Kurt Vonnegut didn’t like me either,” Bradbury said of the Slaughterhouse-5 author. “He couldn’t see the world the way I see it. I suppose I’m too much Pollyanna, he was too much Cassandra.”
While the author’s work certainly had its share of darkness, he strained toward the light. He wrote everything – plays, television, and even some movies, most notably John Huston’s adaptation of Moby Dick. He was a friend of Walt Disney’s and also helped design Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT center.
What he’ll be remembered most for are the words he committed to the page, which is an old-fashioned legacy he would surely love. Here’s a look back at some of those classic stories – as told to Ray Bradbury, by the demon who lived inside him.
• “The Rocket”
• “A Sound of Thunder”
• Dandelion Wine
• Fahrenheit 451
• “I Sing the Body Electric”
• Something Wicked This Way Comes
• The Martian Chronicles
• “The Illustrated Man”
• The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit
• From the Dust Returned
(Special thanks: Libraries and librarians were two of Ray Bradbury’s favorite things, and this story could not have been put together as quickly without the help of one in particular: Susanna Eng-Ziskin of the Oviatt Library at California State University, Northridge.)