May 2005

Beth Dugan

nonfiction

The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller

“Biography lends to death a new terror.” – Oscar Wilde

Ray Bradbury, at 85, still has things to do. He was hesitant to let his biography be written since a biography is a bookend, and his life isn’t done. But in a testament to Bradbury’s love of the creative process, and of life, he let Sam Weller into every aspect of his for The Bradbury Chronicles. Weller tells the story of Bradbury from the earliest days in Waukegan, IL, the future setting for his ode to the Midwest, Dandelion Wine, to his foray into Hollywood chasing down starlets, and to his final resting place: firmly entrenched as an icon in the American conscious.

Weller delves very deeply into Bradbury’s past, digging up family history of which even Bradbury wasn’t aware. Weller carefully points out pieces in Bradbury’s history that later come back as “autobiographical fantasies” in Bradbury’s later work. Describing a tradition of the Bradbury family at their summer home in Wisconsin, Weller relates a memory of young Ray: “It was a magical nightly event, a ritual that gave Ray much comfort, like so many rituals did, but it also made him melancholy. He knew these sweet Delavan evenings could not last.” Weller, as always, ties this lovely but unremarkable memory into Bradbury’s future work in a way that shows us the instrument that Bradbury’s memory and ability to recall is. “In 1950, Ray wrote of this simple, childhood memory in the story 'Someone in the Rain,' but, like many of his stories, it remained unpublished…”

Any biographer of Bradbury’s, with his prolific catalog of work across several genres, would have had a gargantuan task ahead of them. Weller documents the spider web of Bradbury’s imagination and life by first being a fan of Bradbury’s, of what he produced, and of the poetry of his language. His knowledge of Bradbury’s work is encyclopedic; every imaginable nook and cranny is mined here to express the arc of Bradbury’s life and work.

Weller visits the recurring themes in Bradbury’s life and work: loneliness, mortality, magic, technology, racism, war, and censorship. It would be easy to get lost in the novelty of Bradbury, a walking contradiction of a man who dreamed of rocket travel but never learned to drive a car and won’t use a computer, but Weller draws out the Bradbury to whom anyone could relate. Beginning with the stories of childhood poverty, an overprotective mother who bottle fed Bradbury until he was six, and following him down the path of his career, Weller doesn’t shy away from commenting on the icon, calling him “a poster boy for the Peter Pan syndrome” at one point, a “nostalgic visionary” in another. Weller also addresses with sensitive details in Bradbury’s life -- including his extramarital affairs -- but with such delicacy and dignity nothing is sensationalized and the events are weighed fairly.

The biography is full of fact, research, and detail and yet it is entirely readable. Weller focused on the incredible story of Bradbury’s life rather than the details and facts. The interviews alone are a testament to how many people Bradbury and his work have reached and how deeply entrenched he is in our lives. From Hugh Hefner to Ace Frehley, a veritable who’s who of science, Hollywood, government, and beyond pour out of the pages to talk about Bradbury’s influence on their lives. It reads like a love story to an American icon with the admirable pacing of “and then, and then…”

The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller
William Morrow
ISBN: 006054581X
400 Pages