When Ray Bradbury passed away last week, we all lamented the loss of the man who created classics like The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and more. But what about the stuff nobody talks about? What about the quieter, lesser-known pieces of Bradbury art out in there in the world? With a man this prolific, there’s a staggering amount of work to wrap your mind around.
Below are five Bradbury-penned pieces I rarely hear mentioned that are totally worth a look.
The Cat’s Pajamas
Released in 2004, this short story collection contains Bradbury offerings which were, for the most part, brand new. Sporting an awesome cover illustration drawn by Bradbury himself (around the same time), several of these stories are not only slick little prose masterpieces, but also very touching. The best stories here are the quietist, particularly the title story, “The Cat’s Pajamas.” A man and woman place a rescued cat in the center of a bed as they try to settle their disagreement as to who should adopt it. The cat doesn’t move from its spot—but someone else does. And, in “The Mafioso Cement-Mixing Machine,” a man wants F. Scott Fitzgerald to finish writing The Last Tycoon, and succeeds in getting his wish!
Overall, there’s a sense in all of these stories that Bradbury isn’t trying to blow your mind with anything new, but instead to deliver the tightest, prettiest sentences around.
“Christ, Old Student in A New School” from Again, Dangerous Visions
When I first read Again, Dangerous Visions as a teenager I was totally disappointed by this entry. It was Bradbury but it was a poem! About Jesus! Booooring. I felt ripped off. Shouldn’t a Bradbury entry in Ellison’s racy anthology be an awesome crazy short story with twists and turns? But then you grow up, you change, and you realize this is a beautiful, painful piece of work. Am I sure what it’s really about? Not totally, but I do I think it suggests that Jesus is a space alien. Bradbury (like Ridley Scott!) certainly isn’t the first person to suggest Jesus might be some kind of alien, but this is a poem more about failure and confusion than anything else. Again, the ideas here aren’t really what’s important. It’s a beautiful, epic poem which will make any earnest reader super sad.
Theatre Versions of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” and “The Veldt”
In a nifty paperback book called The Pandemonium Theatre Company Presents The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays, dramatized versions of famous and charming Bradbury stories are presented in script format. I’ve never actually seen a staged production of any of these scripts, but even approached as closet dramas, these are fantastic. The famous story “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” about a perfect suit shared by a group of similarly-sized men during the course of one evening is even more adorable and novel when rendered exclusively through dialogue. Bradbury goes a little over the top with stage directions here, and I’m sure anyone with an MFA in script writing would likely freak out. But still, his exuberance and specific vision for these stories as works of drama is charming.
Most interesting is the stage version of “The Veldt.” The play only suggests the holographic lions, and in doing so, actually becomes a beautiful minimalist piece of work. A worthy companion piece to an unforgettable story.
This story has been anthologized a bunch of places, though I first read it in A Medicine for Melancholy. The premise revolves around a post-apocalyptic society which hates art, and willing to destroy it to prevent the culture from becoming the way it once was. To this end, they are about to destroy a painting which is loathsome to them all for the simple fact that it depicts something. The painting is of course, the Mona Lisa, and in the rubble of an old society, crazed people (even worse than some of the Fahrenheit 451 folks) rip it to shreds. Touchingly, the famous smile of the painting is saved by a young boy. To me, this story is far darker than most of Bradbury’s work insofar as the contempt the future humans have for art is so savage and disorganized. If you know someone who has never read a Bradbury story, in my opinion, this one would be a fantastic introduction.
Bradbury’s love of dinosaurs is one of the things that makes him the original nerd. This collection includes all his stories which either deal with dinos directly or reference them. The beautiful story “The Fog Horn” is here, as is the very famous time-travel story “A Sound of Thunder.” More importantly, the collection features a heartfelt introduction from the legendary stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. Best fact about the two Rays: Harryhausen and Bradbury knew each other as teenagers. Harryhausen captured the attention of a young Bradbury because the latter Ray noticed the former Ray making weird dinosaur masks. The pair wore the dinosaur masks to a local movie theater and were dinosaur buddies for the rest of their lives.
What is your favorite obscure or rarely mentioned Bradbury?
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com.