Amidst the witches’ sabbath that the news has become, a rather pleasant centennial has come and gone—that of the birth of Ray Bradbury. The late Mr. Bradbury is author of such novels as The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, numerous short stories, plays, and film and television scripts. It was my pleasure not only to be inspired by his work, but to have known him very slightly for about 37 years. Ray was a humanist in the best sense of the term; he loved mankind. He was delighted by virtue, disturbed by our vices, and gently amused at our follies. As a result, at times during his career he was accused of being a communist—and, in such works as his 1950 short story, “Way in the Middle of the Air,” he attacked Jim Crow pretty plainly. This was not, however, an exercise in party politics. It was, rather, a defense of the human spirit and imagination, something that Ray was keenly aware was and remains under attack.
Perhaps his most forceful political statement was his dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, named after the temperature at which book paper burns. In its pages, Ray foretold a future in which reading was simply illegal. This was a continuation of a theme he had broached in his earlier short story “Usher II.” Therein, a collector of fantasy, horror, and science fiction books, who had had his sizable library seized and destroyed on Earth, has gone to Mars with other colonists. On the freer frontier of the Red Planet, and with the help of an ex-actor in such movies (who was banned from his profession by the authorities), the collector describes what the “guardians of morality” had done back on Earth:
[Poe] and Lovecraft and Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce and all the tales of terror and fantasy and horror and, for that matter, tales of the future were burned. Heartlessly. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1950 and ‘60 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressure; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.