Ray Bradbury Unbound
By Jonathan R. Eller
University of Illinois Press, 2014, $34.95
Ray Bradbury, a fearless visionary, uncensored political activist and my generation's penultimate storyteller, continues to engage new generations through writing that remains ever fresh and essential. In the second volume of a planned three-part biography of the Waukegan, Illinois-born author, who died in 2012 at age 91, Jonathan R. Eller chronicles Bradbury's life and career from 1953 to early 1970s. The first volume, Becoming Ray Bradbury, spans childhood, early writing and the seminal publication of Fahrenheit 451.
In both volumes, Eller's compelling writing style rivals Bradbury's — richly direct, building incidents towards the crucial "a-ha" moment. Eller, the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI, makes his case incrementally, interlacing descriptions of Bradbury's far-flung projects with profiles people who influenced, aided and abetted him. We also hear from Bradbury regarding each significant activity. Eller presents us a fully dimensional sculpture in the process of creation rather than a framed portrait, snugly secure on a wall.
For those of us who sat in the audience wowed by John Huston's epic film adaptation Moby Dick, to have the back story is an even bigger wow. Bradbury looked at himself as someone who had walked through fire in his professional life after working with Huston on the screenplay.
Eller shows how Bradbury 'unbound' himself from the expected stories that made him beloved and moved to new platforms — stage plays, films, radio and television drama, and the poetry that emerged from his poetic prose style that originally garnered praise from reviewers of his early books. We learn as well, in Bradbury's words, his philosophy about writing and managing the life of a writer. In that sense Bradbury Unbound serves as a manual for aspiring writers as well as a straightforward biography.
Bradbury Unbound is not a book to zip through. You want to read and reflect and perhaps, as I did, digress into reading or rereading Bradbury's books. In Bradbury's world the voice of the carnival magician is ever clear. He never stopped being the 12 year old touched by "Electrico's sword" along with the pronouncement "Live Forever!" Bradbury from that moment onward never stopped writing — that was his way to "live forever." Eller's biography glows with the same light.
Eller tells NUVO that "the third volume will pick up the thread around 1970 (where Ray Bradbury Unbound leaves off), and will continue through the final four decades of his life. I'm beginning to pull research notes together, and I hope to finish it in the next two or three years."