Morrow , 2001
many years, the paperback editions of all of Ray Bradburys
books carried the tag line, "The Worlds Greatest Living
Science Fiction Writer." While Mr. Bradbury has certainly earned
a place among the worlds great storytellers, the term "Science
Fiction" has never quite described his work. Unlike the great
science fiction writers of world literature such as H.G. Wells,
Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, real scientific theories rarely
drive Mr. Bradburys stories. While he speculated about the
first manned mission to Mars in The Martian Chronicles,
Mars is as much a place of the imagination as Tolkiens Middle-Earth
or LeGuins Earthsea.
To this day, Ray
Bradbury remains wonderfully difficult to categorize. Since the
1940s, he has written hundreds of short stories, novels, poetry
and plays for the stage, film, television and radio. His first novel,
stands today as a powerful cautionary tale
about government sponsored censorship. Dandelion Wine
a fantastical reimagining of his boyhood summers in a fictionalized
Midwestern town. Something Wicked This Way Comes,
in a fictionalized Midwestern town in the 1930s, shows a far
more sinister vision of the carnivals he loved as a child.
One of the categories
that genuinely seems to fit Mr. Bradburys work is Magic Realism.
His new book, From the Dust Returned,
contains elements of
fantasy set in the context of a familiar world, defining it as a
work of Magic Realism. It is collection of old and new stories brought
together to form a single work that is not quite a novel or an anthology
but that has elements of both.
The premise of
From the Dust Returned
is a reunion of a family of fantastic
beings. Grandmere, the family matriarch, calls the rest of the family
home to be together one more time. Some members of the family include
Cecy, whom Ray Bradburys readers will remember as "The
April Witch," and Uncle Einar, a winged man. Six of the stories
appearing here, including "The Wandering Witch" and "Uncle
Einar," have appeared before and are well known to Mr. Bradburys
The earlier stories
were written between 1947 and 1988. Those stories are not merely
collected in this book, but are also integrated with the story line
of the new work. The characters who are being called home are in
fact characters who have been out in the literary world since the
beginning of Ray Bradburys career. It is almost as if, by
arranging a fictitious homecoming, Bradbury is staging a real homecoming
of sorts for the characters he created so many years ago.
And the homecoming
is classic Ray Bradbury. In addition to the characters from his
past stories, there are also new characters who manage to break
new ground but still bear Mr. Bradburys unmistakable mark.
Some of these include a cat who was buried with Ramses, cousins
who cannot be seen in mirrors and another cousin whose eye "tended
to be half shut or half open, depending on how you stared at him,
and the eye behind the lid was pure fire crystal and tended to stay
But for all of
the fantastical beings that Mr. Bradbury presents here, it is the
human elements they have and the situations in which they find themselves
that make them memorable. Cecy, the April Witch, is an immortal
being, but her yearning for human experience is as old and resonant
as that of Pinnochio. "On the Orient North," which has
appeared previously in The Toynbee Convector,
is one of Mr.
Bradburys most memorable stories. In it a woman has an encounter
with a ghost on the Orient Express. But what is memorable about
this story is not the ghost, but the fact that the woman, in the
middle of a very ordinary life, accompanies the ghost on his journey
of her own free will as a lark.
Ray Bradbury has
long been known for his prose style, and it is in evidence in this
book. In attempting to make a comparison of Mr. Bradburys
writing to the stylings of other writers, one tends to look to poets.
Like Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury is closely attuned to the music
and evocative power of words. Walt Whitmans influence can
also be felt in the long, soaring rhythms of his sentences.
Now in his eighties,
Mr. Bradbury still manages to view the world with a sense of wonder.
It is no accident that he often uses children as protagonists in
his work, tapping into a childs sense of the world as a continually
new place. As with Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way
and many of his short stories, much of the action in From
the Dust Returned
is seen through a childs eyes. In this
case, the child is a boy named Timothy, the one mortal in this family
of immortals. He alone among the characters understands that all
things must come to an end someday. This provides the child with
a certain wisdom that the other beings lack, in spite of their powers.
It is possible
to analyze Mr. Bradburys work, including this book, as one
might the work of any great author. One could examine his use of
symbolism or relate the body of his work to the whole of fantasy
writing in the late twentieth century. One could explore the various
aspects of Magic Realism in his work and relate it to the works
of other Magic Realists, some of whom have cited him as an influence.
But most readers
prefer not to analyze too much, and that is a good thing. As with
a flower or a John Lennon song, something important would be lost
in the analysis. It is better to simply disengage from the here
and now and go with the story. Even after all these years, Ray Bradburys
work is a ride worth taking.