Editorial Notebook

You need to read Bradbury

Several years ago I was required to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury over the summer for a high school English class. Like most students forced to read a piece of literature, I detested it. I knew that I was going to be tested on specific events in the plot, so that was where I focused my attention. The language was so confusing that I could barely comprehend it. The dystopian future of Fahrenheit 451 was too convoluted for my taste and each page became a steeper slope to climb; I failed to finish it.

Later that year my creative writing teacher gave me a Bradbury short story titled “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The story is centered around a smart home that continues to operate long after the eradication of the human race. I enjoyed it so much that I bought three collections of Bradbury’s short stories: The October Country, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man.

Bradbury is one of the unappreciated trailblazers of modern entertainment—his work was the inspiration behind The Twilight Zone. He even wrote the hundredth episode, “I Sing the Body Electric.” Considering that Black Mirror is a contemporary adaptation of The Twilight Zone, if you even slightly enjoy Black Mirror, you’ll love Bradbury. He caused me to realize that works of literature are like the immense plots of land in 1849 California and one must delve deep into them to reach the miraculous subterranean pockets of gold. Bradbury had such an innate ability to construct short stories with a mixture of supernatural mysticism and faithful humanity that you begin to contemplate if there is any difference between the two. His prose is elegant and sinister, as if F. Scott Fitzgerald were born in the gothic period of literature. “Water,” he wrote in The October Country, “is like a magician. Sawing you in half. It feels as if you were cut in two, part of you, the lower part, sugar, melting, dissolving away. Cool water, and once in a while a very elegantly stumbling wave that fell with a flourish of lace.” One of my favorite of Bradbury’s quotes is in his short story “The Scythe” and is also the epigraph of The October Country:

“Sobbing wildly, he rose above the grain and hewed to left and right over and over and over! He sliced out huge scars in green wheat and ripe wheat, with no selection and no care, cursing, swearing, the blade swinging up in the sun and falling with a singing whistle!

Bombs shattered London, Moscow, and Tokyo. The kilns of Belsen and Buchenwald took fire.

The blade sang, crimson wet.

Mushrooms vomited out blind suns at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The grain wept in a green rain, falling.

Korea, Indo-China, Egypt, India trembled; Asia stirred, Africa woke in the night…

And the blade went on rising, crashing, severing, with the fury and the rage of a man who has lost and lost so much that he no longer cares what he does to the world.”

If it wasn’t apparent enough, that quote is an open criticism of the world in which he was living following World War II. In the story, a farmer inherits a farm with a field of abundant wheat. In the beginning, he harvests only the ripe wheat. After realizing that the grains of wheat represented souls of humans, he avoids cutting the grains representative of his family; however, after not harvesting them, his family members go into a coma, awaiting death. He is sent into a rage and begins cutting grain that is not yet meant to be cut, the green grain, a metaphor for the genocides of the Holocaust and the eradication of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The October Country was the first of the collections that I read and so it’s the one that I remember well. From “The Lake” to “The Wind” to “The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone” to “The Scythe” to “The Crowd,” it’s a fantastic read. That being said, it is very dark. Bradbury illustrates his contempt of society through his words, especially in Fahrenheit 451, which I must give a second chance.

And if you don’t take my word for it, listen to our former president, Barack Obama, speaking about Bradbury’s death in 2012: “His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Bradbury also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values.” Or maybe you would be more inclined to believe Stephen King, who wrote: “Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great short stories. One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.”

Read Bradbury. Study his word choice, his structure, and his ominous imagination. Some of the issues that Bradbury addressed are still prominent today, and his fear still echoes in modern culture. Bradbury will open your eyes to enchanting writing and profound critiques of society. I’ll wrap this up with a description of Bradbury from Orville Prescott’s 1953 review of Fahrenheit 451 which I could not agree with more:

“An author whose fanciful imagination, poetic prose, and mature understanding of human character have won him an international reputation.”