RAY BRADBURY UNBOUND

by Jonathan R. Eller

University of Illinois Press

978-0-25203-869-3

352pp/$34.95/August 2014

Ray Bradbury Unbound

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


In Ray Bradbury Unbound, the successor to his 2011 biography Becoming R ay Bradbury, Jonathan R. Eller follows the author’s career from 1953, as Fahrenheit 451 was about to be published, through the following two decades as Bradbury pursued a career in film, television, and stage, and became a literary icon far beyond the genre magazines that originally published his work.

Eller, who is also one of the editors of The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition, focuses on Bradbury’s collaboration with John Huston on the screenplay for Moby Dick to an extent that the publication of Fahrenheit 451 is practically and afterthought.  Sequestered in Ireland and England during the screenwriting process, Bradbury’s awareness f the publication and the novel’s reception is limited by the letters from his agent and friend, Don Congdon. This opening sets the themes which are carried through the study: Bradbury’s increasing interest in mass media and his desire to work with friends.

Following a sojourn in Italy, Bradbury returns to Los Angeles where Eller depicts him as pounding on doors trying to interest studios in adaptations of his published works or hiring him to write additional screenplays, mostly with a lack of success or satisfaction. In New York, Bradbury’s editor and publisher are awaiting the promised and contracted “Illinois novel,” which wouldn’t see publication until after the turn of the millennium. Even as Eller lists Bradbury’s attempted scripts, he notes the paucity of stories published and the number of older works which fill out collections Bradbury publishes during these years.

At the same time, Bradbury is depicted as the toast of the literati. Even though the period saw the publication of Something Wicked This Way Comes, there is a sense of an author resting on his laurels, his reputation made so he can attempt other things, secure in the knowledge that he is a preeminent man of letters.

Bradbury does have some success, during this period with public speaking and as an essayist, however these areas almost seem like an afterthought to Eller with the result that they spring on the scene as full blown successes and peripheral to Bradbury’s Hollywood adventures.

Eller is mostly interested in Bradbury’s career, and so while friends are mentioned, it is often within the confines of how they are helping Bradbury achieve his career goals. Perhaps the only time the actual warmth of friendship comes through is following the death of Charles Laughton, when Bradbury reaches out to his widow, Elsa Lanchester. Similarly, Bradbury’s wife and daughters appear as almost supernumeraries moving in the background.  

The second volume of Eller's work traces Bradbury's career through a time when he wasn't producing much that the public was seeing, but also at a time when his reputation was becoming set.  Although Eller doesn't show a lot of Bradbury's personal life in his work, Bradbury's personality shows through in his persistence, the manner in which he approaches the studios, and his responses to both set-backs and triumphs.


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