More than one might expect, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood carefully read the novels and short stories of Ray Bradbury. She discussed her assessment of his work with The Globe and Mail.
Did you know Ray Bradbury personally?
Yes. Not well. I know him through his writing, of course. There's a new collection of stories called Shadow Show, written by 26 writers, and we were all asked to write in a Bradburian mode. I wrote a story called Headlife, which you can find on Byliner.com. In the notes at the bottom, I explain that I read Ray Bradbury as a teenager and that those stories really sank in, especially The Martian and the other stories in The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451. Some writers jump straight to what we might call "deep metaphor," writing at a mythic level, and that is what these stories do.
You’ve written about him elsewhere as well.
Yes. In Negotiating with the Dead [Atwood's non-fiction book about writing], I have a couple of bits about Ray Bradbury. One is about The Martian and one is about Fahrenheit 451. He was particularly pleased with those because he felt earlier that he wasn't being treated as a serious writer.
Would you agree that he ought to have been treated as a serious writer?
He ought to have treated as a serious writer by people who understood American romanticism. If you think of Hawthorne's darker tales, if you think about Poe and Melville, you'll understand who his American literary ancestors were. Poe was a major influence on his writing and so probably was Hawthorne.
You encountered Bradbury first in high school?
Yes, if you look at the dates I was in high school and the dates he was publishing his major work, those dates correspond. We all gobbled that stuff up. In Other Worlds, my book about science fiction, you can see what I was reading in high school and for kids of my generation ... our early work was likely to be found on other planets, which mine was.
There are fantasy/sci-fi in your later work as well.
Some of it. Orwell's 1984 came out just in time for me to see the lurid paperback of it. I have a piece in the current New Yorker about encountering a story about spider women who bite men in the neck.
Would you call him an influence?
You never know about influence. Where does this stuff come from? It's really impossible to say, because it's all so pervasive. Is it Ray Bradbury or Grimm's Fairy Tales? Or was Ray Bradbury influenced by Grimm's Fairy Tales?
What is it about his work that spoke to you?
That's a literary question, but I've given you the clues. He's in the line of American, non-realistic writers.
His output was prodigious.
He was of that generation that felt you should be able to make your living that way, and he did, because there was a market for it.
You could live off magazine fiction, especially if you changed your name often enough. He was a model for [the character] Alex in The Blind Assassin. He said he'd write a story a week and he did. Then, $25 actually bought you something – more than five lattes.
Your favourite Bradbury book?
Probably The Martian Chronicles. Read Hawthorne's story Young Goodman Brown and then read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. The Stepford Wives? It's all the same story. Look at American right now. What do you see?
I’ll let you answer that.
Everybody distrusts the neighbours, because you don't know what they're thinking or if they're terrorists. That's been going on since the 17th century and the Salem witch trials. Are they really a witch? It's a deep undercurrent in American writing. Stephen King picks up on it too. Who are you really married to?
So he crops up a lot for you. That speaks volumes.