The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

“George, I wish you’d look at the nursery.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, then.”
“I just want you to look at it, is all, or call a psychologist in to
look at it.”
“What would a psychologist want with a nursery?”
“You know very well what he’d want.” His wife paused in the middle of
the kitchen and watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for
four.
“It’s just that the nursery is different now than it was.”
“All right, let’s have a look.”
They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which
had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed
and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
Their approach sensitized a switch somewhere and the nursery light flicked
on when they came within ten feet of it. Similarly, behind them, in the
halls, lights went on and off as they left them behind, with a soft
automaticity.
“Well,” said George Hadley.

They stood on the thatched floor of the nursery. It was forty feet
across by forty feet long and thirty feet high; it had cost half again as
much as the rest of the house. “But nothing’s too good for our children,”
George had said.
The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high
noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia
Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede
into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt
appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in color reproduced to the
final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with
a hot yellow sun.
George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.
“Let’s get out of this sun,” he said. “This is a little too real. But I
don’t see anything wrong.”
“Wait a moment, you’ll see,” said his wife.
Now the hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at
the two people in the middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of
lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty
smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air. And
now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery
rustling of vultures. A shadow passed through the sky. The shadow flickered
on George Hadley’s upturned, sweating face.
“Filthy creatures,” he heard his wife say.
“The vultures.”
“You see, there are the lions, far over, that way. Now they’re on their
way to the water hole. They’ve just been eating,” said Lydia. “I don’t know
what.”
“Some animal.” George Hadley put his hand up to shield off the burning
light from his squinted eyes. “A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe.”
“Are you sure?” His wife sounded peculiarly tense.
“No, it’s a little late to be sure,” be said, amused. “Nothing over
there I can see but cleaned bone, and the vultures dropping for what’s
left.”
“Did you bear that scream?” she asked.
‘No.”
“About a minute ago?”
“Sorry, no.”
The lions were coming. And again George Hadley was filled with
admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle
of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one.
Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they
startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone,
not only your own son and daughter, but for yourself when you felt like a
quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery. Well, here it was!
And here were the lions now, fifteen feet away, so real, so feverishly
and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and
your mouth was stuffed with the dusty upholstery smell of their heated
pelts, and the yellow of them was in your eyes like the yellow of an
exquisite French tapestry, the yellows of lions and summer grass, and the
sound of the matted lion lungs exhaling on the silent noontide, and the
smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.
The lions stood looking at George and Lydia Hadley with terrible
green-yellow eyes.
“Watch out!” screamed Lydia.
The lions came running at them.
Lydia bolted and ran. Instinctively, George sprang after her. Outside,
in the hall, with the door slammed he was laughing and she was crying, and
they both stood appalled at the other’s reaction.
“George!”
“Lydia! Oh, my dear poor sweet Lydia!”
“They almost got us!”
“Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal walls, that’s all they are. Oh, they
look real, I must admit – Africa in your parlor – but it’s all dimensional,
superreactionary, supersensitive color film and mental tape film behind
glass screens. It’s all odorophonics and sonics, Lydia. Here’s my
handkerchief.”

“I’m afraid.” She came to him and put her body against him and cried
steadily. “Did you see? Did you feel? It’s too real.”
“Now, Lydia…”
“You’ve got to tell Wendy and Peter not to read any more on Africa.”
“Of course – of course.” He patted her.
“Promise?”
“Sure.”
“And lock the nursery for a few days until I get my nerves settled.”
“You know how difficult Peter is about that. When I punished him a
month ago by locking the nursery for even a few hours – the tantrum be
threw! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery.”
“It’s got to be locked, that’s all there is to it.”
“All right.” Reluctantly he locked the huge door. “You’ve been working
too hard. You need a rest.”
“I don’t know – I don’t know,” she said, blowing her nose, sitting down
in a chair that immediately began to rock and comfort her. “Maybe I don’t
have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much. Why don’t we shut
the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?”
“You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“And dam my socks?”
“Yes.” A frantic, watery-eyed nodding.
“And sweep the house?”
“Yes, yes – oh, yes!”
“But I thought that’s why we bought this house, so we wouldn’t have to
do anything?”
“That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and
mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a
bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub
bath can? I cannot. And it isn’t just me. It’s you. You’ve been awfully
nervous lately.”
“I suppose I have been smoking too much.”
“You look as if you didn’t know what to do with yourself in this house,
either. You smoke a little more every morning and drink a little more every
afternoon and need a little more sedative every night. You’re beginning to
feel unnecessary too.”
“Am I?” He paused and tried to feel into himself to see what was really
there.
“Oh, George!” She looked beyond him, at the nursery door. “Those lions
can’t get out of there, can they?”
He looked at the door and saw it tremble as if something had jumped
against it from the other side.
“Of course not,” he said.

At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic
carnival across town and bad televised home to say they’d be late, to go
ahead eating. So George Hadley, bemused, sat watching the dining-room table
produce warm dishes of food from its mechanical interior.
“We forgot the ketchup,” he said.
“Sorry,” said a small voice within the table, and ketchup appeared.
As for the nursery, thought George Hadley, it won’t hurt for the
children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything isn’t good for
anyone. And it was clearly indicated that the children had been spending a
little too much time on Africa. That sun. He could feel it on his neck,
still, like a hot paw. And the lions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how
the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children’s minds and
created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and
there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun –
sun. Giraffes – giraffes. Death and death.
That last. He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table bad cut for
him. Death thoughts. They were awfully young, Wendy and Peter, for death
thoughts. Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew
what death was you were wishing it on someone else. When you were two years
old you were shooting people with cap pistols.
But this – the long, hot African veldt-the awful death in the jaws of a
lion. And repeated again and again.
“Where are you going?”
He didn’t answer Lydia. Preoccupied, be let the lights glow softly on
ahead of him, extinguish behind him as he padded to the nursery door. He
listened against it. Far away, a lion roared.
He unlocked the door and opened it. Just before he stepped inside, he
heard a faraway scream. And then another roar from the lions, which subsided
quickly.
He stepped into Africa. How many times in the last year had he opened
this door and found Wonderland, Alice, the Mock Turtle, or Aladdin and his
Magical Lamp, or Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, or Dr. Doolittle, or the cow
jumping over a very real-appearing moon-all the delightful contraptions of a
make-believe world. How often had he seen Pegasus flying in the sky ceiling,
or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard angel voices singing. But now,
is yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat. Perhaps Lydia
was right. Perhaps they needed a little vacation from the fantasy which was
growing a bit too real for ten-year-old children. It was all right to
exercise one’s mind with gymnastic fantasies, but when the lively child mind
settled on one pattern… ? It seemed that, at a distance, for the past
month, he had heard lions roaring, and smelled their strong odor seeping as
far away as his study door. But, being busy, he had paid it no attention.
George Hadley stood on the African grassland alone. The lions looked up
from their feeding, watching him. The only flaw to the illusion was the open
door through which he could see his wife, far down the dark hall, like a
framed picture, eating her dinner abstractedly.
“Go away,” he said to the lions.
They did not go.
He knew the principle of the room exactly. You sent out your thoughts.
Whatever you thought would appear. “Let’s have Aladdin and his lamp,” he
snapped. The veldtland remained; the lions remained.
“Come on, room! I demand Aladin!” he said.
Nothing happened. The lions mumbled in their baked pelts.
“Aladin!”
He went back to dinner. “The fool room’s out of order,” he said. “It
won’t respond.”
“Or–”
“Or what?”
“Or it can’t respond,” said Lydia, “because the children have thought
about Africa and lions and killing so many days that the room’s in a rut.”
“Could be.”
“Or Peter’s set it to remain that way.”
“Set it?”
“He may have got into the machinery and fixed something.”
“Peter doesn’t know machinery.”
“He’s a wise one for ten. That I.Q. of his -”
“Nevertheless -”
“Hello, Mom. Hello, Dad.”
The Hadleys turned. Wendy and Peter were coming in the front door,
cheeks like peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles, a smell
of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.
“You’re just in time for supper,” said both parents.
“We’re full of strawberry ice cream and hot dogs,” said the children,
holding hands. “But we’ll sit and watch.”
“Yes, come tell us about the nursery,” said George Hadley.
The brother and sister blinked at him and then at each other.
“Nursery?”
“All about Africa and everything,” said the father with false
joviality.
“I don’t understand,” said Peter.
“Your mother and I were just traveling through Africa with rod and
reel; Tom Swift and his Electric Lion,” said George Hadley.
“There’s no Africa in the nursery,” said Peter simply.
“Oh, come now, Peter. We know better.”
“I don’t remember any Africa,” said Peter to Wendy. “Do you?”
“No.”
“Run see and come tell.”
She obeyed
“Wendy, come back here!” said George Hadley, but she was gone. The
house lights followed her like a flock of fireflies. Too late, he realized
he had forgotten to lock the nursery door after his last inspection.
“Wendy’ll look and come tell us,” said Peter.
“She doesn’t have to tell me. I’ve seen it.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken, Father.”
“I’m not, Peter. Come along now.”
But Wendy was back. “It’s not Africa,” she said breathlessly.
“We’ll see about this,” said George Hadley, and they all walked down
the hall together and opened the nursery door.
There was a green, lovely forest, a lovely river, a purple mountain,
high voices singing, and Rima, lovely and mysterious, lurking in the trees
with colorful flights of butterflies, like animated bouquets, lingering in
her long hair. The African veldtland was gone. The lions were gone. Only
Rima was here now, singing a song so beautiful that it brought tears to your
eyes.
George Hadley looked in at the changed scene. “Go to bed,” he said to
the children.
They opened their mouths.
“You heard me,” he said.
They went off to the air closet, where a wind sucked them like brown
leaves up the flue to their slumber rooms.
George Hadley walked through the singing glade and picked up something
that lay in the comer near where the lions had been. He walked slowly back
to his wife.
“What is that?” she asked.
“An old wallet of mine,” he said.
He showed it to her. The smell of hot grass was on it and the smell of
a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it bad been chewed, and there were
blood smears on both sides.
He closed the nursery door and locked it, tight.

In the middle of the night he was still awake and he knew his wife was
awake. “Do you think Wendy changed it?” she said at last, in the dark room.
“Of course.”
“Made it from a veldt into a forest and put Rima there instead of
lions?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know. But it’s staying locked until I find out.”
“How did your wallet get there?”
“I don’t know anything,” he said, “except that I’m beginning to be
sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are neurotic at all,
a room like that -”
“It’s supposed to help them work off their neuroses in a healthful
way.”
“I’m starting to wonder.” He stared at the ceiling.
“We’ve given the children everything they ever wanted. Is this our
reward-secrecy, disobedience?”
“Who was it said, ‘Children are carpets, they should be stepped on
occasionally’? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re insufferable – let’s admit
it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring.
They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.”
“They’ve been acting funny ever since you forbade them to take the
rocket to New York a few months ago.”
“They’re not old enough to do that alone, I explained.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve noticed they’ve been decidedly cool toward us
since.”
“I think I’ll have David McClean come tomorrow morning to have a look
at Africa.”
“But it’s not Africa now, it’s Green Mansions country and Rima.”
“I have a feeling it’ll be Africa again before then.”
A moment later they heard the screams.
Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs. And then a roar of
lions.
“Wendy and Peter aren’t in their rooms,” said his wife.
He lay in his bed with his beating heart. “No,” he said. “They’ve
broken into the nursery.”
“Those screams – they sound familiar.”
“Do they?”
“Yes, awfully.”
And although their beds tried very bard, the two adults couldn’t be
rocked to sleep for another hour. A smell of cats was in the night air.

“Father?” said Peter.
“Yes.”
Peter looked at his shoes. He never looked at his father any more, nor
at his mother. “You aren’t going to lock up the nursery for good, are you?”
“That all depends.”
“On what?” snapped Peter.
“On you and your sister. If you intersperse this Africa with a little
variety – oh, Sweden perhaps, or Denmark or China -”
“I thought we were free to play as we wished.”
“You are, within reasonable bounds.”
“What’s wrong with Africa, Father?”
“Oh, so now you admit you have been conjuring up Africa, do you?”
“I wouldn’t want the nursery locked up,” said Peter coldly. “Ever.”
“Matter of fact, we’re thinking of turning the whole house off for
about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence.”
“That sounds dreadful! Would I have to tie my own shoes instead of
letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and comb my hair and
give myself a bath?”
“It would be fun for a change, don’t you think?”
“No, it would be horrid. I didn’t like it when you took out the picture
painter last month.”
“That’s because I wanted you to learn to paint all by yourself, son.”
“I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else
is there to do?”
“All right, go play in Africa.”
“Will you shut off the house sometime soon?”
“We’re considering it.”
“I don’t think you’d better consider it any more, Father.”
“I won’t have any threats from my son!”
“Very well.” And Peter strolled off to the nursery.

“Am I on time?” said David McClean.
“Breakfast?” asked George Hadley.
“Thanks, had some. What’s the trouble?”
“David, you’re a psychologist.”
“I should hope so.”
“Well, then, have a look at our nursery. You saw it a year ago when you
dropped by; did you notice anything peculiar about it then?”
“Can’t say I did; the usual violences, a tendency toward a slight
paranoia here or there, usual in children because they feel persecuted by
parents constantly, but, oh, really nothing.”
They walked down the ball. “I locked the nursery up,” explained the
father, “and the children broke back into it during the night. I let them
stay so they could form the patterns for you to see.”
There was a terrible screaming from the nursery.
“There it is,” said George Hadley. “See what you make of it.”
They walked in on the children without rapping.
The screams had faded. The lions were feeding.
“Run outside a moment, children,” said George Hadley. “No, don’t change
the mental combination. Leave the walls as they are. Get!”
With the children gone, the two men stood studying the lions clustered
at a distance, eating with great relish whatever it was they had caught.
“I wish I knew what it was,” said George Hadley. “Sometimes I can
almost see. Do you think if I brought high-powered binoculars here and -”
David McClean laughed dryly. “Hardly.” He turned to study all four
walls. “How long has this been going on?”
“A little over a month.”
“It certainly doesn’t feel good.”
“I want facts, not feelings.”
“My dear George, a psychologist never saw a fact in his life. He only
hears about feelings; vague things. This doesn’t feel good, I tell you.
Trust my hunches and my instincts. I have a nose for something bad. This is
very bad. My advice to you is to have the whole damn room torn down and your
children brought to me every day during the next year for treatment.”
“Is it that bad?”
“I’m afraid so. One of the original uses of these nurseries was so that
we could study the patterns left on the walls by the child’s mind, study at
our leisure, and help the child. In this case, however, the room has become
a channel toward-destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them.”
“Didn’t you sense this before?”
“I sensed only that you bad spoiled your children more than most. And
now you’re letting them down in some way. What way?”
“I wouldn’t let them go to New York.”
“What else?”
“I’ve taken a few machines from the house and threatened them, a month
ago, with closing up the nursery unless they did their homework. I did close
it for a few days to show I meant business.”
“Ah, ha!”
“Does that mean anything?”
“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a
Scrooge. Children prefer Santas. You’ve let this room and this house replace
you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother
and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And
now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here.
You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to
change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature
comforts. Why, you’d starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your
kitchen. You wouldn’t know bow to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything
off. Start new. It’ll take time. But we’ll make good children out of bad in
a year, wait and see.”
“But won’t the shock be too much for the children, shutting the room up
abruptly, for good?”
“I don’t want them going any deeper into this, that’s all.”
The lions were finished with their red feast.
The lions were standing on the edge of the clearing watching the two
men.
“Now I’m feeling persecuted,” said McClean. “Let’s get out of here. I
never have cared for these damned rooms. Make me nervous.”
“The lions look real, don’t they?” said George Hadley. I don’t suppose
there’s any way -”
“What?”
“- that they could become real?”
“Not that I know.”
“Some flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?”
“No.”
They went to the door.
“I don’t imagine the room will like being turned off,” said the father.
“Nothing ever likes to die – even a room.”
“I wonder if it hates me for wanting to switch it off?”
“Paranoia is thick around here today,” said David McClean. “You can
follow it like a spoor. Hello.” He bent and picked up a bloody scarf. “This
yours?”
“No.” George Hadley’s face was rigid. “It belongs to Lydia.”
They went to the fuse box together and threw the switch that killed the
nursery.

The two children were in hysterics. They screamed and pranced and threw
things. They yelled and sobbed and swore and jumped at the furniture.
“You can’t do that to the nursery, you can’t!”
“Now, children.”
The children flung themselves onto a couch, weeping.
“George,” said Lydia Hadley, “turn on the nursery, just for a few
moments. You can’t be so abrupt.”
“No.”
“You can’t be so cruel…”
“Lydia, it’s off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of
here and now. The more I see of the mess we’ve put ourselves in, the more it
sickens me. We’ve been contemplating our mechanical, electronic navels for
too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!”
And he marched about the house turning off the voice clocks, the
stoves, the heaters, the shoe shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers
and swabbers and massagers, and every other machine be could put his hand
to.
The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical
cemetery. So silent. None of the humming hidden energy of machines waiting
to function at the tap of a button.
“Don’t let them do it!” wailed Peter at the ceiling, as if he was
talking to the house, the nursery. “Don’t let Father kill everything.” He
turned to his father. “Oh, I hate you!”
“Insults won’t get you anywhere.”
“I wish you were dead!”
“We were, for a long while. Now we’re going to really start living.
Instead of being handled and massaged, we’re going to live.”
Wendy was still crying and Peter joined her again. “Just a moment, just
one moment, just another moment of nursery,” they wailed.
“Oh, George,” said the wife, “it can’t hurt.”
“All right – all right, if they’ll just shut up. One minute, mind you,
and then off forever.”
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” sang the children, smiling with wet faces.
“And then we’re going on a vacation. David McClean is coming back in
half an hour to help us move out and get to the airport. I’m going to dress.
You turn the nursery on for a minute, Lydia, just a minute, mind you.”
And the three of them went babbling off while he let himself be
vacuumed upstairs through the air flue and set about dressing himself. A
minute later Lydia appeared.
“I’ll be glad when we get away,” she sighed.
“Did you leave them in the nursery?”
“I wanted to dress too. Oh, that horrid Africa. What can they see in
it?”
“Well, in five minutes we’ll be on our way to Iowa. Lord, how did we
ever get in this house? What prompted us to buy a nightmare?”
“Pride, money, foolishness.”
“I think we’d better get downstairs before those kids get engrossed
with those damned beasts again.”
Just then they heard the children calling, “Daddy, Mommy, come quick –
quick!”
They went downstairs in the air flue and ran down the hall. The
children were nowhere in sight. “Wendy? Peter!”
They ran into the nursery. The veldtland was empty save for the lions
waiting, looking at them. “Peter, Wendy?”
The door slammed.
“Wendy, Peter!”
George Hadley and his wife whirled and ran back to the door.
“Open the door!” cried George Hadley, trying the knob. “Why, they’ve
locked it from the outside! Peter!” He beat at the door. “Open up!”
He heard Peter’s voice outside, against the door.
“Don’t let them switch off the nursery and the house,” he was saying.
Mr. and Mrs. George Hadley beat at the door. “Now, don’t be ridiculous,
children. It’s time to go. Mr. McClean’ll be here in a minute and…”
And then they heard the sounds.
The lions on three sides of them, in the yellow veldt grass, padding
through the dry straw, rumbling and roaring in their throats.
The lions.
Mr. Hadley looked at his wife and they turned and looked back at the
beasts edging slowly forward crouching, tails stiff.
Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.
And suddenly they realized why those other screams bad sounded
familiar.

“Well, here I am,” said David McClean in the nursery doorway, “Oh,
hello.” He stared at the two children seated in the center of the open glade
eating a little picnic lunch. Beyond them was the water hole and the yellow
veldtland; above was the hot sun. He began to perspire. “Where are your
father and mother?”
The children looked up and smiled. “Oh, they’ll be here directly.”
“Good, we must get going.” At a distance Mr. McClean saw the lions
fighting and clawing and then quieting down to feed in silence under the
shady trees.
He squinted at the lions with his hand tip to his eyes.
Now the lions were done feeding. They moved to the water hole to drink.
A shadow flickered over Mr. McClean’s hot face. Many shadows flickered.
The vultures were dropping down the blazing sky.
“A cup of tea?” asked Wendy in the silence.

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Ray Bradbury’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

**Listen to the tone and feeling behind the words he speaks. He is not just giving a stock answer to a question he has been asked over two thousand times. This answer is from the heart. Enjoy the video! ~ Meyer Lane

 

Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No.203 (Part 1)

** Interview pulled from the Paris Review**

 

INTERVIEWER

Why do you write science fiction?

RAY BRADBURY

Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Imagine if sixty years ago, at the start of my writing career, I had thought to write a story about a woman who swallowed a pill and destroyed the Catholic Church, causing the advent of women’s liberation. That story probably would have been laughed at, but it was within the realm of the possible and would have made great science fiction. If I’d lived in the late eighteen hundreds I might have written a story predicting that strange vehicles would soon move across the landscape of the United States and would kill two million people in a period of seventy years. Science fiction is not just the art of the possible, but of the obvious. Once the automobile appeared you could have predicted that it would destroy as many people as it did.

INTERVIEWER

Does science fiction satisfy something that mainstream writing does not?

BRADBURY

Yes, it does, because the mainstream hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time—developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species—have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me. I can’t explain it, except in terms of intellectual snobbery.

INTERVIEWER

There was a time, though, wasn’t there, when you wanted recognition across the board from critics and intellectuals?

BRADBURY

Of course. But not anymore. If I’d found out that Norman Mailer liked me, I’d have killed myself. I think he was too hung up. I’m glad Kurt Vonnegut didn’t like me either. He had problems, terrible problems. He couldn’t see the world the way I see it. I suppose I’m too much Pollyanna, he was too much Cassandra. Actually I prefer to see myself as the Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra, warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past—a combination of both. But I don’t think I’m too overoptimistic.

INTERVIEWER

Vonnegut was written off as a science-fiction writer for a long time. Then it was decided that he wasn’t ever a science-fiction writer in the first place, and he was redeemed for the mainstream. So Vonnegut became “literature,” and you’re still on the verge. Do you think Vonnegut made it because he was a Cassandra?

BRADBURY

Yes, that’s part of it. It’s the terrible creative negativism, admired by New York critics, that caused his celebrity. New Yorkers love to dupe themselves, as well as doom themselves. I haven’t had to live like that. I’m a California boy. I don’t tell anyone how to write and no one tells me.

INTERVIEWER

Yet you did receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. How important was that for you?

BRADBURY

It was a fantastic evening. There was a real problem getting back to my hotel room, though. The hotel where they held the ceremony in New York was so huge, it filled me with despair. Since my stroke, I walk very slowly. I saw a sign that night that said, next restroom: two hundred and eighty miles. The registration desk was on the eighth floor. You have to wait ten minutes for an elevator just to go up and register! That night some of the women were taking me back to my room and I said, For God’s sake, where’s the men’s room? We couldn’t find one. One of the girls said, There’s a potted palm over there, why don’t you go use it? So I went over. Nobody saw me. At least I don’t think so.

INTERVIEWER

Was that award a signal that science fiction had become respectable?

BRADBURY

To some extent. It took a long time for people simply to allow us out in the open and stop making fun of us. When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. Of course sixty years ago hardly any books were being published in the field. Back in 1946, as I remember, there were only two science-fiction anthologies published. We couldn’t afford to buy them anyway, since we were all too poor. That’s how bereft we were, that’s how sparse the field was, that’s how unimportant it all was. And when the first books finally began to be published, lots of them in the early fifties, they weren’t reviewed by good literary magazines. We were all closet science-fiction writers.

INTERVIEWER

Does science fiction offer the writer an easier way to explore a conceptual premise?

BRADBURY

Take Fahrenheit 451. You’re dealing with book burning, a very serious subject. You’ve got to be careful you don’t start lecturing people. So you put your story a few years into the future and you invent a fireman who has been burning books instead of putting out fires—which is a grand idea in itself—and you start him on the adventure of discovering that maybe books shouldn’t be burned. He reads his first book. He falls in love. And then you send him out into the world to change his life. It’s a great suspense story, and locked into it is this great truth you want to tell, without pontificating.

I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual.

INTERVIEWER

Do you read your science-fiction contemporaries?

BRADBURY

I’ve always believed that you should do very little reading in your own field once you’re into it. But at the start it’s good to know what everyone’s doing. When I was seventeen I read everything by Robert Heinlein and Arthur Clarke, and the early writings of Theodore Sturgeon and Van Vogt—all the people who appeared in Astounding Science Fiction—but my big science-fiction influences are H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. I’ve found that I’m a lot like Verne—a writer of moral fables, an instructor in the humanities. He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally. His hero Nemo—who in a way is the flip side of Melville’s madman, Ahab—goes about the world taking weapons away from people to instruct them toward peace.

INTERVIEWER

How about writers younger than you?

BRADBURY

I prefer not to read the younger writers in the field. Quite often you can be depressed by discovering they’ve happened onto an idea you yourself are working on. What you want is simply to get on with your own work.

INTERVIEWER

How early did you begin writing?

BRADBURY

It started with Poe. I imitated him from the time I was twelve until I was about eighteen. I fell in love with the jewelry of Poe. He’s a gem encruster, isn’t he? Same with Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter. I was doing traditional horror stories, which I think everyone who goes into the field starts out with—you know, people getting locked in tombs. I drew Egyptian mazes.

Everything went into ferment that one year, 1932, when I was twelve. There was Poe, Carter, Burroughs, the comics. I listened to a lot of imaginative radio shows, especially one called Chandu the Magician. I’m sure it was quite junky, but not to me. Every night when the show went off the air I sat down and, from memory, wrote out the whole script. I couldn’t help myself. Chandu was against all the villains of the world and so was I. He responded to a psychic summons and so did I.

I loved to illustrate, too, and I was a cartoonist. I always wanted my own comic strip. So I was not only writing about Tarzan, I was drawing my own Sunday panels. I did the usual adventure stories, located them in South America or among the Aztecs or in Africa. There was always the beautiful maiden and the sacrifice. So I knew I was going into one of the arts: I was drawing, acting, and writing.

INTERVIEWER

Where did you do your acting?

BRADBURY

One day in Tucson, Arizona, when I was twelve, I told all my friends I was going to go down to the nearest radio station to become an actor. My friends snorted and said, Do you know anyone down there? I said no. They said, Do you have any pull with anyone? I said no. I’ll just hang around and they’ll discover how talented I am. So I went to the radio station, hung around for two weeks emptying ashtrays and running out for newspapers and just being underfoot. And two weeks later I wound up on radio every Saturday night reading the comics to the kiddies: Bringing Up Father, Tailspin Tommy, and Buck Rogers.

INTERVIEWER

You seem to have been open to a variety of influences.

BRADBURY

A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame. I’ve had my “literary” loves, too. I like to think of myself on a train going across America at midnight, conversing with my favorite authors, and on that train would be people like George Bernard Shaw, who was interested in the fiction of ideas. He himself on occasion wrote things that could be dubbed science fiction. We’d sit up late into the night turning over ideas and saying, Well, if this is true about women in 1900, what is it going to be in the year 2050?

INTERVIEWER

Who else would be on that train?

BRADBURY

A lot of poets: Hopkins, Frost, Shakespeare. And writers like Steinbeck, Huxley, and Thomas Wolfe.

INTERVIEWER

How has Wolfe helped you?

BRADBURY

He was a great romantic. When you’re nineteen, he opens the doors of the world for you. We use certain authors at certain times of our lives, and we may never go back to them again. Wolfe is perfect when you’re nineteen. If you fall in love with Shaw when you’re thirty it’s going to be a lifetime love. And I think that’s true of certain books by Thomas Mann as well. I read Death in Venice when I was twenty, and it’s gotten better every year since. Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth. I learned from John Steinbeck how to write objectively and yet insert all of the insights without too much extra comment. I learned a hell of a lot from John Collier and Gerald Heard, and I fell madly in love with a number of women writers, especially Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter. I still go back and reread Edith Wharton and Jessamyn West—The Friendly Persuasion is one of my favorite books of short stories.

INTERVIEWER

The Martian Chronicles, your first major success, was called a novel, but it’s really a book of short stories, many of which had appeared in pulp-fiction magazines during the forties. Why did you decide to collect them as a novel?

BRADBURY

Around 1947, when I published my first novel, Dark Carnival, I met the secretary of Norman Corwin, a big name in radio—a director, writer, and producer. Through her I sent him a copy of Dark Carnival and wrote a letter saying, If you like this book as much as I like your work, I’d like to buy you drinks someday. A week later the phone rang and it was Norman. He said, You’re not buying me drinks, I’m buying you dinner. That was the start of a lifelong friendship. That first time he took me to dinner I told him about my Martian story “Ylla.” He said, Wow, that’s great, write more of those. So I did. In a way, that was what caused The Martian Chronicles to be born.

There was another reason. In 1949, my wife Maggie became pregnant with our first daughter, Susan. Up until then, Maggie had worked full-time and I stayed home writing my short stories. But now that she was going to have the baby, I needed to earn more money. I needed a book contract. Norman suggested I travel to New York City to meet editors and make an impression, so I took a Greyhound bus to New York and stayed at the YMCA, fifty cents a night. I took my stories around to a dozen publishers. Nobody wanted them. They said, We don’t publish stories. Nobody reads them. Don’t you have a novel? I said, No, I don’t. I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I was ready to go home when, on my last night, I had dinner with an editor at Doubleday named Walter Bradbury—no relation. He said, Wouldn’t there be a book if you took all those Martian stories and tied them together? You could call it “The Martian Chronicles.” It was his title, not mine. I said, Oh, my God. I had read Winesburg, Ohio when I was twenty-four years old, in 1944. I was so taken with it that I thought, Someday I’d like to write a book like this, but I’d set it on Mars. I’d actually made a note about this in 1944, but I’d forgotten about it.

I stayed up all night at the YMCA and typed out an outline. I took it to him the next morning. He read it and said, I’ll give you a check for seven hundred and fifty bucks. I went back to Los Angeles and connected all the short stories and it became The Martian Chronicles. It’s called a novel, but you’re right, it’s really a book of short stories all tied together.

INTERVIEWER

One of the most popular stories in the book is “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about a mechanized house that continues to operate after the atomic bomb has been dropped. There are no people in that story. Where did you get the idea for that?

BRADBURY

After Hiroshima was bombed I saw a photograph of the side of a house with the shadows of the people who had lived there burned into the wall from the intensity of the bomb. The people were gone, but their shadows remained. That affected me so much, I wrote the story.

INTERVIEWER

Some of the passages in The Martian Chronicles, as well as some of your other books, are intensely lyrical. Where did that lyricism come from?

BRADBURY

From reading so much poetry every day of my life. My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well. I used to study Eudora Welty. She has the remarkable ability to give you atmosphere, character, and motion in a single line. In one line! You must study these things to be a good writer. Welty would have a woman simply come into a room and look around. In one sweep she gave you the feel of the room, the sense of the woman’s character, and the action itself. All in twenty words. And you say, How’d she do that? What adjective? What verb? What noun? How did she select them and put them together? I was an intense student. Sometimes I’d get an old copy of Wolfe and cut out paragraphs and paste them in my story, because I couldn’t do it, you see. I was so frustrated! And then I’d retype whole sections of other people’s novels just to see how it felt coming out. Learn their rhythm.

INTERVIEWER

What about Proust, Joyce, Flaubert, Nabokov—writers who tend to think of literature in terms of style and form. Has that line of thought ever interested you?

BRADBURY

No. If people put me to sleep, they put me to sleep. God, I’ve tried to read Proust so often, and I recognize the beauty of his style, but he puts me to sleep. The same for Joyce. Joyce doesn’t have many ideas. I’m completely idea oriented, and I appreciate certain kinds of French writing and English storytelling more. I just can’t imagine being in a world and not being fascinated with what ideas are doing to us.

INTERVIEWER

You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

BRADBURY

Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

INTERVIEWER

You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

INTERVIEWER

But your books are taught widely in schools.

BRADBURY

Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel. People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them and that’s what kids like in school. They read about rocket ships and encounters in space, tales of dinosaurs. All my life I’ve been running through the fields and picking up bright objects. I turn one over and say, Yeah, there’s a story. And that’s what kids like. Today, my stories are in a thousand anthologies. And I’m in good company. The other writers are quite often dead people who wrote in metaphors: Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne. All these people wrote for children. They may have pretended not to, but they did.

INTERVIEWER

How important is it to you to follow your own instincts?

BRADBURY

Oh, God. It’s everything. I was offered the chance to write War and Peace for the screen a few decades ago. The American version with King Vidor directing. I turned it down. Everyone said, How could you do that? That’s ridiculous, it’s a great book! I said, Well, it isn’t for me. I can’t read it. I can’t get through it, I tried. That doesn’t mean the book’s bad. I just am not prepared for it. It portrays a very special culture. The names throw me. My wife loved it. She read it once every three years for twenty years. They offered the usual amount for a screenplay like that, a hundred thousand dollars, but you cannot do things for money in this world. I don’t care how much they offer you, and I don’t care how poor you are. There’s only one excuse ever to take money under those circumstances: If someone in your family is horribly ill and the doctor bills are piled up so high that you’re all going to be destroyed. Then I’d say, Go on and take the job. Go do War and Peace and do a lousy job. And be sorry later.