Commentary Magazine

Literary Blog

Ray Bradbury, 1920–2012

The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury died last night in Los Angeles at 91.

Although I have not read him since high school, Bradbury was a formative literary influence — and not upon me alone. Andrew Fox, himself an excellent SF writer, testifies to Bradbury’s lifelong influence upon him in this moving tribute.

As John Fund said over at National Review Online, Bradbury was a great conservative. Perhaps there is no better image of his conservatism than this. In Fahrenheit 451, his classic dystopian novel from 1953 about a world that burns books, there is a band of wandering scholars, headed by a mysterious man named Granger, who memorize books to preserve them from total destruction. Granger himself has memorized Plato’s Republic; or, as he puts it, “I am Plato’s Republic.”

The irony is delicious, because Plato too wanted to suppress books. “[W]e can admit no poetry into our city save only hymns to the gods and the praises of good men,” Socrates tells Glaucon in Paul Shorey’s translation [607a]. “For if you grant admission to the honeyed Muse in lyric or epic, pleasure and pain will be lords of your city instead of law. . . .” By poetry is meant everything that would now be called literature. In Bradbury’s city as opposed to Plato’s, cultural memory preserves even the calls for its own extermination.

It may be no exaggeration to suggest that Bradbury understood literature’s place in human life, to say nothing of the utopian seduction, better than Plato.