Your First Bradbury

For me, my first Bradbury was “The Veldt.” (Read the story here.)

It was seventh grade or so, and we first read the story and then watched the short film — if you aren’t familiar with the story, it tells the tale of a family of four where the parents are growing increasingly concerned about the power and even the reality of their house’s “nursery,” a virtual-reality Holodeck-style playroom. The children continue to set it to the veldt, in Africa, where hungry lions wait.

Is the room pure fantasy? Could it become real? Are those lions… hungry?

(Doubly awesome that the children are named Peter and Wendy.)

This story blew everything open for me.

It was my first taste of science-fiction, for one — okay, sure, I’d seen (and adored) Star Wars and Transformers and all the expected sci-fi of my youth. But none of it was mature, transgressive, nor did they carry the power intrinsic to the genre. They were fantasies of a sort. “The Veldt” was no such fantasy.

In fact, it was pretty damn scary.

And so, it was also my first taste of horror. Believe me when I tell you that “the Veldt” is a horror story at its core — oh, not the horror you might think of with chainsaws and underground monstrosities and insane alien gods from behind time and space, but it’s a scary story (especially to a seventh grader). Bradbury could write across genre like nobody else (and in that way remains very much an inspiration to me — his career was not one where he fell into a genre hole and remained trapped there for all time).

Finally, it was my first look of the short story as an art form. Bradbury says that if you want to learn how to write, learn how to write short stories first. It’s a good and interesting piece of advice and his short fiction is some of the best around even still. (You know how Bradbury wrote many of his early stories? Most writers start with an idea, but he started with titles. He cobbled together a list of titles, one after the other, and then went down the list one by one, writing a short story to go with each. Thus proving that you can write however the fuck you want to write, no rules, no laws, no preconceived notions, as long as you write.) The short story up until that point was not a thing I was really all that aware of.

I was a reader, yes, a voracious one, but “The Veldt” was the first door I opened beyond the somewhat childish reads I’d been handed to that point. It was my gateway drug to Robert McCammon and Stephen King, to Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, to most of the books on my shelves then and even now. And how appropriate for it to be “The Veldt” — a story about a room of fantasy that threatens to become real, a room that is itself a gateway.

I was inspired by Bradbury and many of my other inspirations were themselves inspired by Bradbury.

Even now as a writer I’m inspired by him, sometimes opening Zen In The Art Of Writing to read.

But “The Veldt.”

That was my first Bradbury.

What was yours?

72 comments

  • We read Something Wicked This Way Comes in freshman English. We hadn’t yet had enough assigned reading that I thought I wasn’t supposed to like it. I read ahead of the class, and gladly reread the parts we were going to discuss in class to refresh my memory.

    It was also when I realized how much went on in a good story. That book has a coming-of-age, it remarks on mortality and aging, and it creeps you out worse than any horror movie.

    I need to reread that book now.

  • All Summer In A Day, though I admit it was not the text but the short movie version they showed over and over again on HBO when I was a kid. It has always stayed with me, and I didn’t know it was Ray until yesterday. I need to read it, though I’ve read much of his other work in the interim and also plan on re-reading “Zen” soon.

  • The Martian Chronicles was my first Bradbury experience. I remember checking the book out from the library on a whim when I was 12 years old to have something to read for the summer. I started the book in the morning and read it in one sitting all the way through without pause (except for a chocolate milk break). Bradbury was one of two writer’s that made me KNOW that I had to be a writer.

  • It was the “The October Country” for me. I remember, growing up in Salem, MA, how amazed I was that someone else referred to their environs this way. I called my town “October Land”.
    Reading “the Dwarf” and “The Scythe” showed me what the short form could accomplish (when written by the Zen Master).
    Fair winds, Mr. Bradbury….

  • “The Veldt.” I didn’t realize, or even remember it, until I read your piece above. Then I distinctly remembered sitting in my 6th grade reading class and discussing it with the teacher. I miss those days, having a class where all you were expected to do was read a book or story and discuss it for 45 minutes.

  • “The Veldt” was my first Bradbury, too. Scared the hell out of me. I was also quite astonished by the era in which this piece was written–Bradbury, if nothing else, in my opinion, was way ahead of his time. The story was introduced to me in the same week I first read Perkins-Gilman’s (another writer way ahead of her time) “The Yellow Wallpaper” in a Lit anthology during Spring semester three years ago. So, yeah, that was kind of a WOW week as reading experiences go!

  • My first was The Halloween Tree. It was 4th grade and we were walked down to the library in October to pick out some Halloween books. I remember that it was perched on a the top of the card catalog with it’s orange and black cover emblazoned with a tree covered in Jack O’ Lanterns. The story sucked me and I have loved it ever since. I blame Ray Bradbury for my ensuing love of anthropology and cross-cultural fascinations with holidays around the world. At 8, I had never imagined that Halloween or any other holiday was different anywhere else in the world.

    Thanks Ray.

  • As a teenager I probably read all the sc-fi in my small town’s library, and haunted the New Releases shelf every week. Bradbury was included but can’t remember which one was my first.
    I’d forgotten about The Veldt – and am listening to it now, via YouTube and Stephen Colbert http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSoigRHHNLM
    If you’ve a paper copy in hand, you might play the composition by Deadmau5 and Chris James – The Veldt – lyrics inspired by the short story – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiUAq4aVTjY

  • “All Summer in a Day” was my first too, back in middle school. One of the most touching pieces I’ve ever read. I feel sad and nostalgic just thinking about it. R.I.P., friend.

  • Back in the high school days 30 some odd years ago, I think it was The Martian Chronicles. I loved sci fi/fantasy back then and devoured so many can’t remember. My hubby and I recently read Fahrenheit 451 and had a fun time discussing the story. Reread Something Wicked This Way comes last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • I’ve never read Bradbury, until now. I looked up “The Veldt” after reading this post. What a fantastic story. I really need to read some more of his stuff. I’m sure he will be missed.

  • My first Bradbury experience came from “The Martian Chronicles” mini-series back in the 1970′s. When I was old enough to read the actual book, I drew pictures of the spaceship that will take me to Mars. In my head, I’m still drawing that spaceship.

    @David, “There Will Come Soft Rains” is one of my favorites short stories. “The Veldt” is included in The Illustrated Man collection. In the same era, there was a movie series based on the book starring Rod Steiger.

  • My first was Fahrenheit 451 as a ‘recommended reading’ in my youth. I still remember it because it was one of those books that cracked open the window to a dystopian world, a world with people and an ‘almost normal’ life that went horribly wrong.
    It led me to the YA “the Giver” by Lois Lowry, and then to the darker 1984… But there was something about Fahrenheit 451 that stayed with me.
    It’s a notion I found myself incorporating into my writing a good deal, the idea that society, with just the right nudge, can go horribly wrong. And it all started with Ray’s writing.
    RIP Mr. Bradbury, you were an inspiration.

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