Friday, June 23, 2023

Gore Vidal: Narratives of Empire

David Shankbone: Gore Vidal (2009)

Ralph came over to Stu and knelt down. 'Can we get you anything, Stu?'
Stu smiled. 'Yeah. Everything Gore Vidal ever wrote - those books about Lincoln and Aaron Burr and those guys. I always meant to read the suckers. Now it looks like I got the chance.'
- Stephen King, The Stand (1990): 923.

Towards the end of Stephen King's apocalyptic masterpiece The Stand, one of his main characters, Stu Redman, is left behind by his companions in a washed-out gully because he's sprained his ankle and they're unable to lift him out.

Stu's last, rather plaintive request is for a set of Gore Vidal's American history novels. We already know that he's a big reader. Earlier in the story he was enthralled by the adventures of Fiver and the other rabbits in Watership Down, but the Vidal novels seem like quite a departure from the quest narratives Stu loves - and which he and the others are far-from-coincidentally reenacting at this very moment in the story.

Stephen King: The Stand (1978 / 1990)

Curiously enough, if we go back in time to 1978, when The Stand originally appeared - in a form severely truncated by the demands of his publisher's accounting department, much to King's chagrin - we find a rather different version of this scene:
Ralph came over to Stu and knelt down. 'Can we get you anything, Stu?'
Stu smiled. 'Yeah. All those books about that Kent family. I always meant to read em. Now it looks like I got the chance.'
Ralph grinned crookedly. 'Sorry, Stu. Looks like I'm tapped.'
- Stephen King, The Stand (1978): 661.
Ralph's crooked grin is the same on both occasions, but the books Stu longs to read have changed somewhat in the twelve years between the two texts of King's novel.

John Jakes: The Kent Family Chronicles (1974-79)

For those of you who (like me) didn't happen to know, the "Kent Family Chronicles" are, according to Wikipedia:
a series of eight novels by John Jakes written for Lyle Engel of Book Creations, Inc. to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States.
They were published between 1974 and 1979, which positions them nicely to be read by the 1978 version of Stu. All of the books were "best sellers, with no novel in the series selling fewer than 3.5 million copies."

Gore Vidal: Narratives of Empire (1967-2000)

Could the same be said of Gore Vidal's "Narratives of Empire" series? That was the author's final choice for an overall title, though his publisher apparently preferred "the politically neutral series-title 'American Chronicles'."

Although written at various times, over a period of thirty-odd years, out of historical sequence, these seven novels do have interlocking stories and characters - some, admittedly, rather crudely soldered onto the earlier books in order to fit them into Vidal's later vision for the series.

Here they are in order of appearance:
  1. Washington, D.C. (1967)
  2. Burr (1973)
  3. 1876 (1976)
  4. Lincoln (1984)
  5. Empire (1987)
  6. Hollywood (1990)
  7. The Golden Age (2000)
And here they are in chronological sequence:
  1. Burr (1775-1840)
  2. Lincoln (1861-1865)
  3. 1876 (1875-1877)
  4. Empire (1898-1906)
  5. Hollywood (1917-1923)
  6. Washington, D.C. (1937-1952)
  7. The Golden Age (1939-2000)
They were, at various times, referred to as "American Chronicles", "Narratives of a Golden Age" and "Narratives of Empire". Does this apparent indecision on their author's part explain some of the difficulties we find when trying to discuss them as a whole? What are they actually about? Certainly they don't aim to emulate the bicentennial boosterism of John Jakes's Kent Family Chronicles, but do they present a clear alternative to that?

Gore Vidal: Burr (1973)

The series began very promisingly with Burr, a multi-faceted romp through the Revolutionary War and the early years of the Republic, seen through the quizzical eyes of that pantomime villain Aaron Burr (or, rather, a young journalist's attempts to turn Burr's fragments of memoir into a coherent account of a long-lost age).

Of course, all this was long before the musical Hamilton made that particular founding father a household name. I have to confess to not having heard of Aaron Burr before reading Vidal's novel, let alone about his notorious duel with Alexander Hamilton. It was all news to me, in other words.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton (2015)

Burr is clearly a kind of alter-ego for Gore Vidal: a kind of internal émigré, despised by his contemporaries for largely spurious reasons, but brighter and better-informed than any of them. Vidal makes no secret of Burr's flaws - just as he is open about his own in Palimpsest, his 1995 memoir - but the unspoken offence constituted by Vidal's unashamed homosexuality in repressed late-twentieth century America makes a good parallel with Burr's alleged "treason" - another name for the same political opportunism practised more successfully by the Empire-building Thomas Jefferson.

Stylistically, the book had much in common with other post-modern novels of the era such as John Barth's Sot-Weed Factor (1960) or John Berger's Little Big Man (1964). There was, however, a sophistication and depth to Vidal's knowledge of American history which gave it an extra edge. And I suspect that that's why it's still so readable today, when so many of the other dazzling fictions of the era have faded into obscurity.

Gore Vidal: Lincoln (1984)

With the next volume in the series - in chronological, though not in publication order - Vidal went into another gear. Lincoln is a brilliantly empathetic and subtle portrait of America's most famous president. Even Vidal's detractors were forced to admit that he'd managed to transform some of the most hackneyed material imaginable into a kind of secret history of the Civil War.

This was, admittedly, a few years before Ken Burn's classic PBS Documentary series woke up even non-history buffs to the sheer horror and momentousness of this "nineteenth-century catastrophe". Lincoln stands up very well to the comparison, though.

I've read many books about the era - Bruce Catton's and Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogies, Carl Sandburg's six-volume life of Lincoln, Freeman's seven-volume series about Robert E. Lee and his lieutenants, even Allan Nevin's 8-volume Ordeal of the Union - but I haven't spotted any obvious solecisms in Gore Vidal's knowledge, let alone his sophisticated treatment of the characters involved.

Honoré Morrow: Great Captain (1930)

The same could certainly not be said for the above trilogy of Lincoln novels, by Theodore Dreiser-protégée Honoré Morrow, which I also happen to have on my shelves. It dates roughly from the era of movies such as Young Mister Lincoln (1939) and Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), and is rather like them in spirit.

Morrow has concocted a spirited yarn, with heavily fictionalised elements such as the Confederate spy Miss Ford who dominates the Lincoln household in the first novel, Forever Free (1927). Despite the fact that she's been detected separately by each member of the household (with the possible exception of the obnoxious Tad) she's allowed to run loose, concocting abduction and assassination plots with monotonous regularity, until she's finally stabbed by a kitchen hand - whilst disguised as a black slave - in a last desperate attempt to prevent the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation!

The second novel, With Malice Toward None (1928), centres upon a particularly saccharine love affair conducted by Senator Sumner with a Washington socialite, under the watchful eyes of his intimate friends, the Lincolns. Given the unrelenting, abundantly-documented hostility between the real Lincoln and Sumner, this is perhaps the weakest of the three books. (Or, as I'm tempted to add: "What's on the board, Miss Ford?")

Morrow's third and culminating volume, The Last Full Measure (1930), is largely concerned with the ins and outs of John Wilkes Booth's assassination plot. Like Vidal, Morrow doubles the President's wise and wholesome activities with the nefarious treachery of Booth and his low-life accomplices. Like Vidal - and yet so unlike. Once again, she fictionalises freely, and shifts speeches and events as it suits her. It is, nevertheless, probably the best written and constructed of her three novels.

Honoré Morrow's Lincoln is a devoted admirer of the poetry of Walt Whitman; his wife Mary Todd Lincoln is a constant help to him, despite occasional passing fits of temper; Seward, in her version, is a laughing buffoon and Chase a non-entity - it is Sumner who dominates the politics of the time. Above all, her Lincoln is sentimental and teary-eyed to an appalling degree. His obsession with deporting American negroes to Africa, and his refusal to see them as equal with whites are glossed over with facile phrases.

Given the way in which Vidal deconstructs all the convenient myths about Lincoln, it's hard to explain why 'the ancient' (as Nicolay and Hay, his two private secretaries, call him) remains so compelling and - let's face it - loveable as the central figure of his novel. Perhaps it's because he's constantly seen through the eyes of others: particularly John Hay (shown in a far more frivolous light in Morrow's version).

Reading the two novels in such swift succession doesn't really do justice to Morrow, who did a pretty good job under the constraints of her era - and who lacked the splendid Civil War histories now so readily available. The fact that one can still read Gore Vidal's book with admiration forty years after it was published, however, is a tribute not only to his consummate skill as a writer, but also to the profundity of his grasp of American history. He makes up almost nothing, and his book is the stronger for it.

Gore Vidal: 1876 (1976)

If Lincoln is the high point of Gore Vidal's whole series of fictional histories, perhaps it's because his fascination with a figure of the past whom he is unable, finally, to fathom, let alone patronise, drives him to new heights as a writer. 1876, by contrast, albeit another fascinating historical tapestry, was written more in the cynical spirit of Burr.

This is hardly surprising, as it has the same narrator: Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, Aaron Burr's illegitimate son, a reasonably well-known (though unfortunately almost penniless) writer who's been living in Europe since 1839. His return to the bustling republic of the gilded age is the subject of the book, which consists of 'notes' for the series of articles he hopes to write on the experience.

If all this sounds like a foreshadowing of Henry James's year-long return to America in 1904, which inspired his late masterpiece The American Scene (1907) - with its memorable pictures of the devastation of "the great lonely land", and the triumph of greed over the simpler country of his youth - that's presumably quite intentional. The young James only appears in passing in this novel, but will play a far more important part in the next one in line.

James A. Michener: Centennial (1974)

1976, the bicentennial year, was, of course, a time when any number of backward looks over the United States' two centuries of history were to be expected. Besides the Kent Chronicles, one of the best known and most successful was James A. Michener's huge, episodic, chronicle novel Centennial.

Centennial is by no means a casual or optimistic celebration of the journey from there to here. It is, in fact, a long saga of deceit and bloodshed, culminating in the acquittal of a local entrepreneur who has devised a way for rich men to shoot (protected) bald eagles out of helicopters - they almost always miss, so he's devised a way of exploding a small plastic bag of offal outside the cockpit as he surreptitiously shoots the bird himself!

Beyond its rather sombre tone, it has little in common with Vidal's chronicle of political chicanery and intrigue, culminating in the first unequivocally stolen presidential election in American history - until the Bush / Gore débâcle of 2000, that is. Michener, by contrast, tries to take solace in the rich pageant of life on the plains.

The fact that both authors end up in so downbeat a mood may have something to do with the nadir of trust in the American system caused by the Watergate scandal of 1972-74 - Michener's narrator actually watches the hearings in his hotel room whilst charting the fortunes of his representative Colorado middletown of Centennial.

Whatever inspired this gloom in each case, though, it's as well for us as readers to be reminded from time to time that bad as things undoubtedly are now with the 'the land of the free and the home of the brave', they weren't all that great in 1976 - or 1876 - or virtually any other date in history one can name, for that matter - either.

Francis Scott Key: The Star-Spangled Banner (1814)

Gore Vidal: Empire (1987)

Empire tries to do a great deal in a short space of time. This could be seen as admirable or unfortunate, depending on your prior expectations of a novel of this type - or in this series.

On the one hand, it provides us with a kind of updated version of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady in its account of the fascinating rise of Caroline Sanford from cheated heiress to self-assured newspaper publisher (there's something there, too, of Katharine Graham's successful tenure at the Washington Post, I suspect).

However, it's mostly a political history of the McKinley / Roosevelt era of imperial expansion on the part of America: it was, afer all, during this period that Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and a number of other Caribbean and Pacific dependencies were added to the "protection" of the United States.

The rise of yellow journalism and the growing dominance of William Randolph Hearst is also explored in some depth, largely through the former's relations with Caroline's scheming brother Blaise Sanford.

What else? There's a brief history of "the hearts": a group of wealthy Washingtonians including Henry Adams, his dead wife Clover, Secretary of State John Hay, and various others, who seem - in context - to embody some alternate philosophy of life superior to the merciless materialism of the fin de siècle.

All these ingredients would seem to promise a major novel. And it's certainly this which Vidal has laboured to compose. They fail, somehow, to cohere - perhaps because they lack a single central focus, unlike the earlier novels in the sequence.

If it ends up being a fascinating might-have-been in purely fictional terms, so much talent and skill has gone into it that it can still serve as a storehouse of contemporary attitudes and events. Where else, for instance, could I have found out about John Hay's early dialect poems "Little Breeches" and "Jim Bludso", which Henry James persists in quoting at him, embarrassingly, every time they meet?

John Hay: Pike County Ballads (1912)

Gore Vidal: Hollywood (1990)

The problem with Hollywood, which picks up pretty much where Empire left off - albeit with a decade or so in between - is that there's a bit too much scheming and politicking, and not nearly enough Hollywood.

The sordid saga of Warren Gamaliel Harding's rise to power and influence despite (or because of) his legion of crooked, small-town friends is expounded in great - though at times confusing - detail. Interesting though this undoubtedly is, it's hard to see precisely how it meshes with the continuing saga of Caroline Sanford, her brother Blaise, and their various lovers and friends.

Once again, this is an immensely informative novel for those of us who are bit shaky in our knowledge of early twentieth century American politics. For every reader who feels this to be a deficiency, however, I'll bet there are a dozen others who would rather hear more about the silent movies Caroline finds herself first starring in, then producing!

One glimpses, at times, in the livelier chapters of Vidal's book, the possibility of some modern rival to such classic Hollywood novels as Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? (1941) or even Nathanael West's Day of the Locust (1939).

Alas, for the first time one begins to feel that the constraints of Vidal's series are beginning to outweigh the benefits. The book as a whole remains a fascinatingly panoramic view of many aspects of contemporary American life. It just lacks focus. But then, that no longer seems to be a vital part of Vidal's overall scheme.

Nathanael West: The Day of the Locust (1939)

Gore Vidal: Washington, D. C. (1967 / 1994)

The same could not be said of the next in the series - which was also, confusingly, the first to be written. The reason for this, of course, is that even if Vidal dreamed of such a roman fleuve in 1967, when he first published this book, he can have had little idea what precise form it would take.

Washington, D.C. is a very focussed novel indeed. Unfortunately, the main burden of the plot is the evil and underhanded way in which Enid Sanford, daughter of the nefarious Blaise (already familiar to readers of the previous two books), and sister to the protagonist, Peter Sanford, is sacrificed to the political ambitions of her husband, a JFK-clone called Clay Overbury.

The absence of Caroline Sanford from the narrative is due to the fact that she had not yet been invented when Vidal wrote it. In his introduction to the 1994 reissue of 1876, however, he reassures us that:
Now I have rewritten Washington, D.C., the summing-up novel, in order to bring together all the strands of the story.
- Gore Vidal, "Narratives of a Golden Age." 1876: A Novel. 1977. London: Abacus, 1994. vii-xii.
I was interested to check just how substantive this "rewriting" of the earlier novel was. Comparing my 1976 paperback to one published in 2000, I could find only two substantive new passages. The first, in chapter one, involved a more detailed account of Peter's genealogy, based on the events of the earlier books. The second, in chapter seven, involves a two-page exposition of just how their family is related to Aaron Burr, another subject intensively canvassed in Burr and 1876.

Beyond this, it's hard to see any really significant difference between the two texts. Washington, D.C. is largely a morality tale: a denunciation of the inevitable compromises involved in political advancement. Enid, however, is so poisonously mendacious and self-destructive a drunk, and Peter so pompous a prig, that it's hard to see them as constituting much of a moral centre to the narrative. As a whole, it lacks the more nuanced and complex picture of human relationships familiar to us from the earlier (or should I say later?) books in the series.

Perhaps it's just a question of what one expects from it, though. In his own online essay "Gore Vidal's American Chronicles: 1967-2000" (2005), Harry Kloman explains that:
With the appearance of The Golden Age in 2000, Washington, D.C. no longer stands as the closing volume in the Chronicles. Nonetheless, it remains unique among the seven books, arguably the best, and surely - with its introspective look at Washington politics, revealed through the experiences of Vidal's provocative fictional creations - the most intimate and original.
I can't really agree, but it's certainly interesting to read an alternate view on the subject. The trouble is, the more vindictive and self-righteous Peter and his band of buddies became, the more I found myself sympathising with the undeniably dynamic, if a little too morally pliable, Clay Overbury.

Gore Vidal: Washington, D. C. (1967)

Gore Vidal: The Golden Age (2000)

Which brings us to The Golden Age. I wish I could see this as the triumphant culmination of Vidal's immense fictional design it was clearly meant to be.

And, yes, it begins well, with Caroline Sanford's return to America after twenty-odd years in France, and her gradual reintroduction to the new realities of the Franklin - rather than Theodore - Roosevelt era.

Unfortunately she dies halfway through, which leaves us with her self-satisfied nephew Peter as cicerone to the distinct lack of action which distinguishes the rest of the book.

There's a great deal of noise about the old canard that Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbour. There are a lot of cheap shots at his successor, Truman. There are even some perfunctory attempts at metafiction when Vidal introduces himself (both young and old) as a character in the narrative.

But there's none of the old zest, the sense of being in the hands of an immensely knowing and well-informed fictional prestidigitator. Tiresome factual glitches and even downright errors disfigure the pages: Churchill is described as a major player at the post-war Potsdam conference whereas he was actually replaced by his successor Clement Attlee early in the discussions; Clay Overbury has to share the stage with his presumed original, the real JFK (Vidal gets out of this one by having Clay die in a plane crash, which it's hinted may have been arranged by Peter!) ...

Ford Madox Ford: Last Post (1928)

Vidal ends up sounding more and more like a tiresome old conspiracy theorist, and so tendentious are some of his readings of the Second World War and its aftermath that it has the effect of casting doubt on many of his earlier interpretations of "received" history. Was he just a blustering fantasist all the time? It would be a shame to have to think so.

No, like Last Post, that thoroughly dispensable final part of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End sequence, one would probably be better off not reading this one at all. Or certainly not rereading it. For all its chronological and thematic difficulties, it's best to continue to regard Washington D.C. as the last link in his fictional tapestry.

At least, that's what I would have advised Stu Redman, as he lay in his bivouac under the ruined interstate highway. Of course, given it was his version of 1990 at the time, he had little choice in the matter - but he was certainly fortunate that Hollywood would have just appeared to distract him from his seemingly desperate plight!

Gore Vidal: Palimpsest: A Memoir (1995)

Gore Vidal (1948)

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal


  1. Williwaw (1946)
  2. In a Yellow Wood (1947)
  3. The City and the Pillar (1948)
  4. The Season of Comfort (1949)
  5. A Search for the King (1950)
  6. Dark Green, Bright Red (1950)
  7. [as Katherine Everard] A Star's Progress [aka Cry Shame!] (1950)
  8. The Judgment of Paris (1952)
  9. [as Edgar Box] Death in the Fifth Position (1952)
  10. [as Cameron Kay] Thieves Fall Out (1953)
  11. [as Edgar Box] Death Before Bedtime (1953)
  12. [as Edgar Box] Death Likes It Hot (1954)
  13. Messiah (1954)
  14. Julian (1964)
    • Julian. 1962. Panther Books Ltd. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1972.
  15. Washington, D.C. [Narratives of Empire, 6] (1967)
    • Washington, D.C. 1967. Panther Books Ltd. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1976.
    • Washington, D.C. 1967. Narratives of Empire. Vintage. New York: Random House, Inc., 2000.
  16. Myra Breckinridge (1968)
  17. Two Sisters (1970)
  18. Burr [Narratives of Empire, 1] (1973)
    • Burr. 1973. Panther Books Ltd. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1974.
  19. Myron (1974)
  20. 1876 [Narratives of Empire, 3] (1976)
    • 1876. 1976. Narratives of a Golden Age. An Abacus Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK) Limited, 1994.
  21. Kalki (1978)
  22. Three by Box: The Complete Mysteries of Edgar Box (1978)
  23. Creation (1981)
    • Creation: A Novel. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1981.
  24. Duluth (1983)
  25. Lincoln [Narratives of Empire, 2] (1984)
    • Lincoln. 1984. Panther Books. London: Granada Publishing Ltd., 1985.
  26. Empire [Narratives of Empire, 4] (1987)
    • Empire. 1987. Grafton Books. London: Collins Publishing Group, 1989.
  27. Hollywood [Narratives of Empire, 5] (1990)
    • Hollywood: A Novel of America in the 1920s. 1990. Narratives of Empire. Vintage. New York: Random House, Inc., 2000.
  28. Live From Golgotha (1992)
  29. The Smithsonian Institution (1998)
  30. The Golden Age [Narratives of Empire, 7] (2000)
    • The Golden Age. 2000. Narratives of Empire. An Abacus Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.

  31. Stories:

  32. A Thirsty Evil (1956)
  33. Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories (2006)

  34. Plays:

  35. Visit to a Small Planet (1957)
  36. The Best Man (1960)
  37. On the March to the Sea (1960–61 / 2004)
  38. Romulus [adapted from Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Romulus der Große (1950)] (1962)
  39. Weekend (1968)
  40. Drawing Room Comedy (1970)
  41. An Evening with Richard Nixon (1970)

  42. Screenplays:

  43. Climax!: A Farewell to Arms [TV adaptation] (1955)
  44. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde [TV adaptation] (1955)
  45. The Best of Broadway [TV adaptation of Stage Door] (1955)
  46. The Catered Affair (1956)
  47. I Accuse! (1958)
  48. The Left Handed Gun (1958)
  49. The Scapegoat (1959)
  50. Ben Hur (1959)
  51. Suddenly Last Summer (1959)
  52. The Best Man (1964)
  53. Is Paris Burning? (1966)
  54. Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970)
  55. Caligula (1979)
  56. Dress Gray (1986)
  57. The Sicilian (1987)
  58. Billy the Kid (1989)
  59. Dimenticare Palermo (1989)

  60. Non-fiction:

  61. Rocking the Boat (1963)
  62. Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship (1969)
  63. Sex, Death and Money (1969)
  64. Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays, 1952–1972 (1972)
    • On Our Own Now: Collected Essays 1952-1972. 1974. Panther Books Ltd. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1976.
  65. Matters of Fact and of Fiction (1977)
  66. Sex is Politics and Vice Versa [Limited edition] (1979)
  67. [Ed.] Views from a Window (1981)
  68. The Second American Revolution (1983)
  69. Vidal In Venice (1985)
  70. Armageddon? [UK only] (1987)
  71. At Home (1988)
  72. A View From The Diner's Club [UK only] (1991)
  73. Screening History (1992)
  74. Decline and Fall of the American Empire (1992)
  75. United States: Essays 1952–1992 (1993)
  76. Palimpsest: A Memoir (1995)
    • Palimpsest: A Memoir. 1995. An Abacus Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 1996.
  77. Virgin Islands [UK only] (1997)
  78. The American Presidency (1998)
  79. Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings (1999)
  80. The Essential Gore Vidal. Ed. Fred Kaplan (1999)
    • The Essential Gore Vidal. Ed. Fred Kaplan. 1999. An Abacus Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2000.
  81. The Last Empire: Essays 1992–2000 (2001)
  82. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace or How We Came To Be So Hated (2002)
  83. Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta (2002)
  84. Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003)
  85. Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (2004)
  86. Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir (2006)
  87. The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (2008)
  88. Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare (2009)
  89. I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics: Interviews with Jon Wiener (2013)
  90. History of the National Security State. Introduction by Paul Jay (2014)
  91. Buckley vs. Vidal: The Historic 1968 ABC News Debates (2015)

  92. Secondary:

  93. Parini, Jay. Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (2015)

Gore Vidal: United States (1993)

Monday, June 19, 2023

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time

Allen Warren: James Baldwin (1969)

God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!
- "Mary Don't You Weep" (traditional)

There's an interesting passage in Charlton Heston's autobiography where he discusses working with James Baldwin on the wording of a statement on civil rights to be read out before Martin Luther King's famous March on Washington in August, 1963.
Some of us in the film community decided to organize a group from the arts ... Burt Lancaster, Jim Garner, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and several others. Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte signed on, but we had no other prominent black performers. You can figure out for yourself who should have been there and wasn't ...

Our job was to get as much ink and TV time as possible. Each of the better known actors had a different media statement. ... They asked me if it was OK for James Baldwin to write my statement; he was a famous black writer, he'd flown over from Paris to join us, and he wanted to make a contribution.

I wasn't crazy about the idea, as a matter of fact. Anything that goes out with my name on it, I write. I always have. Besides, Jimmy Baldwin was on the left fringe of the civil rights movement. The Fire Next Time was the title of his best-known book. I don't know how Dr. King felt about him being there. But the point is, he was there. When an awful lot of good parlor liberals didn't show in case things turned nasty, Jimmy did.

What's more, as a good writer, the speech he wrote for me wasn't what he would've written, but instead very close to what I wanted to say. My only encounter with Jimmy Baldwin was that one meeting, which lasted those few hours. We'd both travelled some little distance to come together, though, as so many hundreds of thousands of people did that day. He died years later in self-imposed exile in Paris. God rest him.
- Charlton Heston, In the Arena: The Autobiography (1995): 315-16.
I guess, on the fact of it, it's hard to imagine an odder pairing. On the right we have the five-term president of the NRA and unrepentant apologist for second amendment rights, whose gun - as he often specified - could only be taken from "his cold, dead hand"; on the left, the "fringe" civil rights activist (with a Jamesian prose style) pictured above, James Baldwin.

Charlton Heston: In the Arena (1995)

Truth be told, it's probably too odd a juxtaposition to make much sense. One doubts that Heston had actually read The Fire Next Time, as he clearly interprets its actually rather equivocal title as some kind of incitement along the lines of "Burn, Baby, Burn". He seems to have been left with kindly feelings for Baldwin, though, despite their obvious differences. Heston's shift to the extreme right was, in any case, mostly in the future at this stage.

Jay Presson Allen / James William Ijames: Capote / Baldwin (2010)

A more fruitful comparison could perhaps be made with Truman Capote, whom I wrote about in a previous post.

Toni Morrison, ed.: James Baldwin (1998)

Capote and Baldwin were born in the same year, 1924. They were both gay. One was a white Southerner, the other a black Northerner. Both were probably more celebrated for their non-fictional prose than for their fiction: Capote for In Cold Blood (1965), Baldwin for The Fire Next Time (1963) and other hard-hitting essays about race in America. Both died in their sixties, comparatively young: Capote in 1984, Baldwin in 1987.

Michael Ondaatje once claimed: “If Van Gogh was our nineteenth century artist-saint, James Baldwin is our twentieth century one.” Such statements can be more intimidating than they are enlightening. They seem to put Baldwin beyond any purely literary judgement, as if his status as a prophet or "artist-saint" were more important than his innate talent and gift for language.

I'm sure that Ondaatje had no such intention, but just as the otherworldly mantle which has descended upon Holocaust poet Paul Celan makes it increasingly difficult to judge him purely as a poet, so Baldwin has somehow escaped the realm of criticism - which would be fine if it didn't also entail an escape from being considered readable.

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time (1963)

Like Chuck Heston, I too must confess to having been put off when I was younger by the title and packaging of Baldwin's most famous book-length essay, The Fire Next Time. Now it looks to me like a striking piece of sixties book-design, with a charming cover photograph and a bold choice of font. When I looked at it as a teenager, though, it looked dauntingly political. I had no idea, back then, of the wonderful interweaving of the personal and the philosophical which distinguishes almost all of Baldwin's non-fictional writings.

Alex Haley: The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)

It wasn't, in fact, until some years later, when an angry (and - let's face it - somewhat stoned) friend informed me that anyone who hadn't read The Autobiography of Malcolm X could not consider themselves educated that I tried to redress this bias. And it is a wonderfully gripping read. Whether this can be attributed primarily to Alex Haley or to Malcolm himself is an interesting question, but the answer is largely immaterial. The vividness and narrative drive of the book itself never flags.

Given the prejudices of the time, it's perhaps no surprise that the 'Malcolm X' feature film script James Baldwin was commissioned to write in the late 1960s never actually reached the screen. It would not be till 1992, when Spike Lee undertook the task, that a Malcolm X bio-pic would actually seem possible.

Baldwin's script is a fine piece of writing in itself, but by the time I finally got round to reading it I'd already begun to get acquainted with Toni Morrison's edition of his Collected Essays, published in the canonical Library of America series in the late 1990s. The Auckland public library had a copy, which I took out repeatedly before ordering one of my own so I could read it from cover to cover, chronologically, rather than coninuing to dip into it piecemeal.

Library of America: James Baldwin Edition (1998 & 2015)

There's never been much doubt cast on the merits of his work as an essayist (except possibly by the victims of some of his earlier critical pieces). The Devil Finds Work, his intensely autobiographical meditation on Hollywood movies, is perhaps the most accessible and revealing of the separate book-length essays, but really you could start with any one of them. Even Truman Capote was forced to acknowledge the power and drive of his non-fiction.

Bennett Miller, dir.: Capote (2005)

When it comes to his fiction, however, the response is more mixed. Here's a quote from the movie Capote, inspired by Gerald Clarke's 1988 biography:
Truman Capote:
I had lunch with Jimmy Baldwin the other day.

Party date:
How is he?

Truman Capote:
He's lovely, he's a lovely man. And he told me the plot of his new book. And he said, "I just wanted to make sure it's not one of those problem novels," you know. And I said, "Jimmy. Your book is about a Negro homosexual who's in love with a Jew. Wouldn't you call that a problem?"

Barry Jenkins, dir.: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

On the other hand, the 2018 movie If Beale Street Could Talk, based on his penultimate novel, got rave reviews. One critic described it as "a terrific film, as sinewy as it is sensuous, interweaving stark social-realist themes of prejudice, oppression and imprisonment with a poetic evocation of love, loss and, ultimately, transcendence."
“Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street,” states the opening quotation from Baldwin, citing “the impossibility and the possibility, the absolute necessity, to give expression to this legacy”.
The point is, perhaps, that there will always be another Baldwin to discover alongside the activist. The enduring value of his work will depend on the subtlety and emotional truth of his fiction just as much as it does on the continuing cogency of his political message.

There's no denying his status as one of the finest prose stylists in American literature. The point is that this doubling of the self means that his work remains alive and relevant in a way that cannot honestly be claimed for Capote, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal or indeed most of his more media-friendly contemporaries.

Raoul Peck, dir.: I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Ulf Andersen: James Baldwin (2016)

James Arthur Baldwin

  1. Fiction:

  2. Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
  3. Giovanni's Room (1956)
  4. Another Country (1962)
  5. Going to Meet the Man (1965)
  6. Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968)
  7. If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)
  8. Just Above My Head (1979)
  9. Early Novels & Stories. Ed. Toni Morrison (1998)
    • Early Novels & Stories. Ed. Toni Morrison. The Library of America, 97. [‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’, 1953; ‘Giovanni's Room’, 1956; ‘Another Country’, 1962; ‘Going to Meet the Man’, 1965]. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1998.
  10. Later Novels. Ed. Darryl Pinckney (2015)
    • Later Novels. Ed. Darrell Pinckney. The Library of America, 98. [‘Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone’, 1968; ‘If Beale Street Could Talk', 1974; ‘Just Above My Head’, 1979]. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2015.

  11. Non-fiction:

  12. Notes of a Native Son (1955)
  13. Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961)
  14. The Fire Next Time (1963)
  15. No Name in the Street (1972)
  16. The Devil Finds Work (1976)
  17. The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985)
  18. The Price of the Ticket (1985)
  19. Collected Essays. Ed. Toni Morrison (1998)
    • Collected Essays. Ed. Toni Morrison. The Library of America, 98. [‘Notes of a Native Son’, 1955; ‘Nobody Knows My Name,’ 1961; ‘The Fire Next Time’, 1963; ‘No Name in the Street’, 1972; ‘The Devil Finds Work’, 1976]. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1998.
  20. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (2010)
  21. Baldwin for Our Times: Writings from James Baldwin for an Age of Sorrow and Struggle. Ed. Rich Blint (2016)

  22. Plays / Screenplays / Audio:

  23. The Amen Corner (1954)
  24. Blues for Mister Charlie (1964)
  25. [with Alex Haley] One Day, When I Was Lost (1972)
    • One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1972. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.
  26. A Lover's Question. Les Disques Du Crépuscule, TWI 928–2 (1990)

  27. Poetry:

  28. Jimmy's Blues (1983)
  29. Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems (2014)

  30. For Children:

  31. Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood. Illustrations by Yoran Cazac (1976)

  32. Collaborations:

  33. Nothing Personal. Photographs by Richard Avedon (1964)
  34. [with Margaret Mead] A Rap on Race (1971)
  35. [with Nabile Farès] A Passenger from the West (1971)
  36. [with Nikki Giovanni] A Dialogue (1973)
  37. [with Sol Stein] Native Sons (2004)

  38. Secondary:

  39. David Adams Leeming. James Baldwin: A Biography (1994)
  40. James Campbell. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin (2021)

James Baldwin: Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

Monday, June 05, 2023

SF Luminaries: Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

As various fans have already pointed out, Stephen King's latest novel Fairy Tale (2022) - despite being overtly dedicated to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft, also contains a number of covert references to another distinguished predecessor in the horror/fantasy genre: Ray Bradbury.

For one thing, it takes place in a small town called Sentry's Rest, Illinois - which seems like a nod to the mythical Green Town, Illinois, setting for Bradbury's classic novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). The alternate universe of Empis which King's protagonist, Charlie Reade [get it? "Read"] explores also contains a magic carousel, one of the central features of the travelling carnival in Bradbury's own book.

Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)

Mind you, once you start looking for parallels with other fantasy writers, King's story threatens to fall apart under the sheer weight of allusion. Readers have postulated links with William Goldman's The Princess Bride; Lord Dunsany's realm of Elfland, "beyond the fields we know"; not to mention numerous echoes of King's own Dark Tower saga.

Bradbury is special for him, though. As he himself once put it: "without Ray Bradbury, there is no Stephen King." Or, as he wrote on hearing the news of Bradbury's death in 2012, at the age of 91:
Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called 'A Sound of Thunder.' The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant's footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.
So who exactly was this starry-eyed visonary - this laureate of space and small-town life - and why has he left such a strangely equivocal and contradictory reputation behind him?

Library of America: The Ray Bradbury Collection (2022)
Novels & Story Cycles. Ed. Jonathan R. Eller. The Library of America, 347. [‘The Martian Chronicles’, 1950; ‘Fahrenheit 451’, 1953; ‘Dandelion Wine’, 1957; ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, 1962]. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2021.

The Illustrated Man, The October Country & Other Stories. Ed. Jonathan R. Eller. The Library of America, 360. 1951, 1955. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2022.
You know that you've really arrived when they not only reprint your collected works in the canonical Library of America series, but even provide a specially designed slipcase to put them in!

Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles (1950)

You'll notice, though, that most of the work included in this set is comparatively early - dating roughly from the 1940s to the early 1960s. And even Stephen King claims only three great Bradbury novels among the dozen or so he actually published.

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

There's little doubt that two of the three must be Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). The third is more debatable: The Martian Chronicles (1950) would be most people's first choice for the honour, but it is technically a 'story-cycle' rather than a novel. That would leave us with Dandelion Wine (1957) - to me almost unbearably saccharine in its evocation of untroubled boyhood, but certainly a book which has its admirers.

Ray Bradbury: Dandelion Wine (1957)

Are there any other serious candidates? Not really. Ray Bradbury was a writer who peaked comparatively early, with a dazzling series of science fiction and horror short stories published throughout the 1940s and 50s, some of the strongest of which were reprinted in the early collection Dark Carnival, by H. P. Lovecraft's disciple and friend, August Derleth, at his legendary imprint Arkham House.

Ray Bradbury: Dark Carnival (1947)

Only 15 of the 27 stories in this unrelentingly dark and pitiless collection were reprinted, several in revised versions, in The October Country (1955). As Wikipedia tells it:
For many years, Bradbury did not permit Dark Carnival to be reprinted ... However, a limited edition ... with five extra stories and a new introduction by Bradbury, was printed by Gauntlet Press in 2001.
A new paperback edition of this seminal collection is promised for early 2024.

The fact is that it was horror stories such as "The Veldt" (in The Illustrated Man), "The Next in Line" (in Dark Carnival & The October Country), and "Mars is Heaven!" (in The Martian Chronicles) which were responsible for much of Bradbury's early vogue. Cannibalism, live burial, and homicidal children are just a few of his early themes.

So before you go writing him off as an old sentimentalist dreaming of some kind of Tom Sawyer-like childhood paradise in rural Illinois, never forget the dark, Lovecraftian roots behind much of his best work.

A couple of his early Martian stories interested me particularly as I reread all the early collections reprinted in the Library of America boxset.

They're entitled (respectively) "Way in the Middle of the Air" [included in early editons of The Martian Chronicles, 1950] - which concerns a mass exodus of African American people to Mars; and "The Other Foot" [included in The Illustrated Man, 1951] - which tells us what happens when the news of the return to Mars of the last few white people left after their latest suicidal war reaches the now exclusively black population of the red planet.

By today's standards both stories sound rather naive and patronising. There's a lot of Huck Finn-style dialect, use of the "n"-word, and other now unacceptable linguistic usages. Both stories are also intensely well-meaning - it's worth noticing that they long predate such civil rights landmarks as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, let alone the compulsory integration of US schools.

And yet, both now read like museum exhibits: Liberal Northern White Attitudes (c.1950). By contrast, his more complex and haunting stories of the time: "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" (1949), for instance - about the gradual possession of an all-American family by the haunting (and haunted?) landscapes and mores of Mars - have a mysterious resonance as powerful now as it was then.

John Huston, dir. Moby Dick (1956)

Perhaps the true turning point for Bradbury was the year he spent working on John Huston's adaptation of Moby Dick. It's not a terrible screenplay - there's a bit too much poetic language in the voice-overs, maybe, but the two of them did a competent enough job at transferring an almost unfilmable novel to the screen.

But Huston's habit of belitting and insulting his collaborators - allegedly (he claimed) to get the best out of them, but actually (it would appear) to indulge his own petty sadism - had a particularly bad effect on the ebullient Bradbury. He wrote a fictionalised version of their encounter in the novel Green Shadows, White Whale, which made it clear that he'd been brooding on the matter for quite some time.

John Huston, dir. Green Shadows, White Whale (1992)

It's not that there aren't gems among the later stories - "The Parrot Who Met Papa" (1972), about the search for a legendary parrot alleged to have memorised Hemingway's last novel as a result of his endless rambling monologues in its presence, for instance - but they're pretty few and far between.

Some terrible lapse in self-confidence - or, perhaps, reluctance to indulge the dark side of his nature any further than he'd already done (one of the most prominent themes in Something Wicked This Way Comes) - seems to have kept him largely on the sunny side of the street thereafter. There's a relentless verbosity in his work from the 1970s onwards - occasionally, mercifully, spiked by humour, but mostly a turbid stream of two-bit words and phrases.

He leaves behind, then, a divided legacy: the dark mysteries of his early stories and novels, and the wordy bathos of his later work. As the Library of America has already signalled, there's little doubt which will prevail in the eyes of posterity.

It does leave you wondering, though, just what did Huston (and, for that matter, Herman Melville) do to him in that windy old castle in Ireland? The novel he wrote about it - after, he claimed, having read Katharine Hepburn's account of her own mistreatment at Huston's hands during the making of "The African Queen" (1951): How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind (1987) - is just that: a novel. What really happened to him there we'll never know.

Charley Gallay: Ray Bradbury (2007)

Ray Douglas Bradbury

Books I own are marked in bold:


  1. The Martian Chronicles [aka The Silver Locusts] (1950)
    • The Silver Locusts. 1950. London: Corgi Books, 1969.
  2. Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
    • Fahrenheit 451. 1953. London: Corgi Books, 1963.
  3. Dandelion Wine (1957)
    • Dandelion Wine. 1957. London: Corgi Books, 1972.
  4. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)
    • Something Wicked This Way Comes. 1962. London: Corgi Books, 1969.
  5. The Halloween Tree (1972)
    • The Halloween Tree. 1972. Illustrated by Joseph Mugnaini. London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1973.
  6. The Novels of Ray Bradbury (1984)
    • The Novels of Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes. 1953, 1957, 1962. London: Book Club Associates, by arrangement with Granada Publishing Limited, 1984.
  7. Death is a Lonely Business (1985)
  8. A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990)
    • A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities. Grafton Books. London: Collins Publishing Group, 1990.
  9. Green Shadows, White Whale (1992)
  10. From the Dust Returned (2001)
  11. Let's All Kill Constance (2002)
  12. Farewell Summer (2006)
  13. Novels & Story Cycles. Library of America (2021)
    • Novels & Story Cycles. Ed. Jonathan R. Eller. The Library of America, 347. [‘The Martian Chronicles’, 1950; ‘Fahrenheit 451’, 1953; ‘Dandelion Wine’, 1957; ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, 1962]. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2021.

  14. Collections:

  15. Dark Carnival (1947)
    1. The Homecoming
    2. Skeleton
    3. The Jar
    4. The Lake
    5. The Maiden
    6. The Tombstone
    7. The Smiling People
    8. The Emissary
    9. The Traveler
    10. The Small Assassin
    11. The Crowd
    12. Reunion
    13. The Handler
    14. The Coffin
    15. Interim
    16. Jack-in-the-Box
    17. The Scythe
    18. Let's Play 'Poison'
    19. Uncle Einar
    20. The Wind
    21. The Night
    22. There Was An Old Woman
    23. The Dead Man
    24. The Man Upstairs
    25. The Night Sets
    26. Cistern
    27. The Next In Line
  16. The Illustrated Man (1951)
    1. The Veldt
    2. Kaleidoscope
    3. The Other Foot
    4. The Highway
    5. The Man
    6. The Long Rain
    7. The Rocket Man
    8. The Fire Balloons
    9. The Last Night of the World
    10. The Exiles
    11. No Particular Night or Morning
    12. The Fox and the Forest
    13. The Visitor
    14. The Concrete Mixer
    15. Marionettes, Inc.
    16. The City
    17. Zero Hour
    18. The Rocket
    • The Illustrated Man. 1951. Corgi SF Collector’s Library. London: Corgi Books, 1972.
  17. The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953)
    • The Golden Apples of the Sun. 1953. Corgi SF Collector’s Library. London: Corgi Books, 1973.
  18. The October Country (1955)
    1. The Dwarf
    2. The Next in Line
    3. The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse
    4. Skeleton
    5. The Jar
    6. The Lake
    7. The Emissary
    8. Touched With Fire
    9. The Small Assassin
    10. The Crowd
    11. Jack-in-the-Box
    12. The Scythe
    13. Uncle Einar
    14. The Wind
    15. The Man Upstairs
    16. There Was an Old Woman
    17. The Cistern
    18. Homecoming
    19. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone
    • The October Country. 1955. London: New English Library, 1973.
  19. A Medicine for Melancholy (1959)
  20. The Day It Rained Forever (1959)
    • The Day It Rained Forever. 1959. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.
  21. The Small Assassin (1962)
    • The Small Assassin. 1962. London: New English Library, 1970.
  22. R is for Rocket (1962)
    • R is for Rocket. 1962. London: Pan Books, 1972.
  23. The Machineries of Joy (1964)
    • The Machineries of Joy. 1964. London: Panther Books, 1977.
  24. The Autumn People (1965)
  25. The Vintage Bradbury (1965)
  26. Tomorrow Midnight (1966)
  27. S is for Space (1966)
    • S is for Space. 1966. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.
  28. Twice 22 (1966)
  29. I Sing The Body Electric (1969)
    • I Sing The Body Electric! 1969. London: Corgi Books, 1972.
  30. Ray Bradbury (1975)
  31. Long After Midnight (1976)
    • Long After Midnight. 1976. London: Panther Books, 1978.
  32. The Mummies of Guanajuato (1978)
  33. The Fog Horn & Other Stories (1979)
  34. One Timeless Spring (1980)
  35. The Last Circus and the Electrocution (1980)
  36. The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980)
    1. The Night (1946)
    2. Homecoming (1946)
    3. Uncle Einar (1947)
    4. The Traveler (1946)
    5. The Lake (1944)
    6. The Coffin (1947)
    7. The Crowd (1943)
    8. The Scythe (1943)
    9. There Was an Old Woman (1944)
    10. There Will Come Soft Rains (1950)
    11. Mars Is Heaven! (1948)
    12. The Silent Towns (1949)
    13. The Earth Men (1948)
    14. The Off Season (1948)
    15. The Million-Year Picnic (1946)
    16. The Fox and the Forest (1950)
    17. Kaleidoscope (1949)
    18. The Rocket Man (1951)
    19. Marionettes, Inc. (1949)
    20. No Particular Night or Morning (1951)
    21. The City (1950)
    22. The Fire Balloons (1951)
    23. The Last Night of the World (1951)
    24. The Veldt (1950)
    25. The Long Rain (1950)
    26. The Great Fire (1949)
    27. The Wilderness (1952)
    28. A Sound of Thunder (1952)
    29. The Murderer (1953)
    30. The April Witch (1952)
    31. Invisible Boy (1945)
    32. The Golden Kite, The Silver Wind (1953)
    33. The Fog Horn (1951)
    34. The Big Black and White Game (1945)
    35. Embroidery (1951)
    36. The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953)
    37. Powerhouse (1948)
    38. Hail and Farewell (1948)
    39. The Great Wide World over There (1952)
    40. The Playground (1953)
    41. Skeleton (1943)
    42. The Man Upstairs (1947)
    43. Touched by Fire (1954)
    44. The Emissary (1947)
    45. The Jar (1944)
    46. The Small Assassin (1946)
    47. The Next in Line (1947)
    48. Jack-in-the-Box (1947)
    49. The Leave-Taking (1957)
    50. Exorcism (1957)
    51. The Happiness Machine (1957)
    52. Calling Mexico (1950)
    53. The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1958)
    54. Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed (1949)
    55. The Strawberry Window (1954)
    56. A Scent of Sarsaparilla (1953)
    57. The Picasso Summer (1957)
    58. The Day It Rained Forever (1957)
    59. A Medicine for Melancholy (1959)
    60. The Shoreline at Sunset (1959)
    61. Fever Dream (1959)
    62. The Town Where No One Got Off (1958)
    63. All Summer in a Day (1954)
    64. Frost and Fire (1946)
    65. The Anthem Sprinters (1963)
    66. And So Died Riabouchinska (1953)
    67. Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar! (1962)
    68. The Vacation (1963)
    69. The Illustrated Woman (1961)
    70. Some Live Like Lazarus (1960)
    71. The Best of All Possible Worlds (1960)
    72. The One Who Waits (1949)
    73. Tyrannosaurus Rex (1962)
    74. The Screaming Woman (1951)
    75. The Terrible Conflagration Up at the Place (1969)
    76. Night Call, Collect (1949)
    77. The Tombling Day (1952)
    78. The Haunting of the New (1969)
    79. Tomorrow's Child (1948)
    80. I Sing the Body Electric! (1969)
    81. The Women (1948)
    82. The Inspired Chicken Motel (1969)
    83. Yes, We'll Gather at the River (1969)
    84. Have I Got a Chocolate Bar for You! (1976)
    85. A Story of Love (1951)
    86. The Parrot Who Met Papa (1972)
    87. The October Game (1948)
    88. Punishment Without Crime (1950)
    89. A Piece of Wood (1952)
    90. The Blue Bottle (1950)
    91. Long After Midnight (1962)
    92. The Utterly Perfect Murder (1971)
    93. The Better Part of Wisdom (1976)
    94. Interval in Sunlight (1954)
    95. The Black Ferris (1948)
    96. Farewell Summer (1980)
    97. McGillahee's Brat (1970)
    98. The Aqueduct (1979)
    99. Gotcha! (1978)
    100. The End of the Beginning (1956)
    • The Stories of Ray Bradbury. London: Granada, 1981.
  37. The Fog Horn and Other Stories (1981)
  38. Dinosaur Tales (1983)
  39. A Memory of Murder (1984)
  40. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone (1985)
  41. The Toynbee Convector (1988)
  42. Classic Stories 1 (1990)
  43. Classic Stories 2 (1990)
  44. The Parrot Who Met Papa (1991)
  45. Selected from Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed (1991)
  46. Quicker Than The Eye (1996)
  47. Driving Blind (1997)
  48. Ray Bradbury Collected Short Stories (2001)
  49. The Playground (2001)
  50. Dark Carnival: Limited Edition with Supplemental Materials (2001)
  51. One More for the Road (2002)
  52. Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales (2003)
    1. The Whole Town's Sleeping
    2. The Rocket
    3. Season of Disbelief
    4. And the Rock Cried Out
    5. The Drummer Boy of Shiloh
    6. The Beggar on O'Connell Bridge
    7. The Flying Machine
    8. Heavy-Set
    9. The First Night of Lent
    10. Lafayette, Farewell
    11. Remember Sascha?
    12. Junior
    13. That Woman on the Lawn
    14. February 1999: Ylla
    15. Banshee
    16. One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!
    17. The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair
    18. Unterderseaboat Doktor
    19. Another Fine Mess
    20. The Dwarf
    21. A Wild Night in Galway
    22. The Wind
    23. No News, or What Killed the Dog?
    24. A Little Journey
    25. Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby's Is a Friend of Mine
    26. The Garbage Collector
    27. The Visitor
    28. The Man
    29. Henry the Ninth
    30. The Messiah
    31. Bang! You're Dead!
    32. Darling Adolf
    33. The Beautiful Shave
    34. Colonel Stonesteel's Genuine Home-made Truly Egyptian Mummy
    35. I See You Never
    36. The Exiles
    37. At Midnight, in the Month of June
    38. The Witch Door
    39. The Watchers
    40. 2004-05: The Naming of Names
    41. Hopscotch
    42. The Illustrated Man
    43. The Dead Man
    44. June 2001: And the Moon Be Still as Bright
    45. The Burning Man
    46. G.B.S.-Mark V
    47. A Blade of Grass
    48. The Sound of Summer Running
    49. And the Sailor, Home from the Sea
    50. The Lonely Ones
    51. The Finnegan
    52. On the Orient, North
    53. The Smiling People
    54. The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl
    55. Bug
    56. Downwind from Gettysburg
    57. Time in Thy Flight
    58. Changeling
    59. The Dragon
    60. Let's Play 'Poison'
    61. The Cold Wind and the Warm
    62. The Meadow
    63. The Kilimanjaro Device
    64. The Man in the Rorschach Shirt
    65. Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned
    66. The Pedestrian
    67. Trapdoor
    68. The Swan
    69. The Sea Shell
    70. Once More, Legato
    71. June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air
    72. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone
    73. By the Numbers!
    74. April 2005: Usher II
    75. The Square Pegs
    76. The Trolley
    77. The Smile
    78. The Miracles of Jamie
    79. A Far-away Guitar
    80. The Cistern
    81. The Machineries of Joy
    82. Bright Phoenix
    83. The Wish
    84. The Lifework of Juan Díaz
    85. Time Intervening/Interim
    86. Almost the End of the World
    87. The Great Collision of Monday Last
    88. The Poems
    89. April 2026: The Long Years
    90. Icarus Montgolfier Wright
    91. Death and the Maiden
    92. Zero Hour
    93. The Toynbee Convector
    94. Forever and the Earth
    95. The Handler
    96. Getting Through Sunday Somehow
    97. The Pumpernickel
    98. Last Rites
    99. The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse
    100. All on a Summer's day
  53. Is That You, Herb? (2003)
  54. The Cat's Pajamas: Stories (2004)
  55. A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories (2005)
  56. The Dragon Who Ate His Tail (2007)
  57. Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band Is Playing & Leviathan '99 (2007)
  58. Somewhere a Band is Playing: Early Drafts and Final Novella (2007)
  59. Summer Morning, Summer Night (2007)
  60. Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 2 (2009)
  61. We'll Always Have Paris: Stories (2009)
  62. A Pleasure To Burn (2010)
  63. The Lost Bradbury: Forgotten Tales of Ray Bradbury (2010)
  64. The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition – Volume 1, 1938–1943 (2011)
  65. The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition – Volume 2, 1943–1944 (2014)
  66. Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury (2020)
  67. The Illustrated Man, The October Country & Other Stories. Library of America (2022)
    • The Illustrated Man, The October Country & Other Stories. Ed. Jonathan R. Eller. The Library of America, 360. 1951, 1955. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2022.

  68. Edited:

  69. Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow (1952)
  70. The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories (1956)

  71. Children's Books:

  72. Switch on the Night (1955)
  73. The Other Foot (1982)
  74. The Veldt (1982)
  75. The April Witch (1987)
  76. The Fog Horn (1987)
  77. Fever Dream (1987)
  78. The Smile (1991)
  79. The Toynbee Convector (1992)
  80. With Cat for Comforter (1997)
  81. Dogs Think That Every Day Is Christmas (1997)
  82. Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines: A Fable (1998)
  83. The Homecoming (2006)

  84. Non-fiction:

  85. No Man Is an Island (1952)
  86. The Essence of Creative Writing: Letters to a Young Aspiring Author (1962)
  87. Creative Man Among His Servant Machines (1967)
  88. Mars and the Mind of Man (1971)
  89. Zen in the Art of Writing (1973)
    • Zen in the Art of Writing. 1973. In The Capra Chapbook Anthology. Ed. Noel Young. Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1979.
  90. The God in Science Fiction (1978)
  91. About Norman Corwin (1979)
  92. There is Life on Mars (1981)
  93. The Art of Playboy (1985)
  94. Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (1990)
  95. Yestermorrow: Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures (1991)
  96. Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Ed. Steven L. Aggelis) (2004)
  97. Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars (2005)
  98. Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451 (2007)

  99. Poetry:

  100. Where Robot Mice & Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns (1977)
  101. To Sing Strange Songs (1979)
  102. Beyond 1984: Remembrance of Things Future (1979)
  103. The Ghosts of Forever (1980)
  104. The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury (1982)
  105. The Love Affair (1982)
  106. I Live By the Invisible: New & Selected Poems (2002)

  107. Screenplays:

  108. The Best of The Ray Bradbury Chronicles (2003)
  109. It Came from Outer Space: Screenplay (2003)
  110. The Halloween Tree: Screenplay (2005)

  111. Miscellaneous:

  112. Long After Ecclesiastes: New Biblical Texts (1985)
  113. Christus Apollo: Cantata Celebrating the Eighth Day of Creation and the Promise of the Ninth (1998)
  114. Witness and Celebrate (2000)
  115. A Chapbook for Burnt-Out Priests, Rabbis and Ministers (2001)
  116. The Best of Ray Bradbury: The Graphic Novel (2003)
  117. Futuria Fantasia: SF Fanzine (2007)

  118. Secondary:

  119. Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles. Harper Perennial. 2005. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
  120. Eller, Jonathan R. Becoming Ray Bradbury. Vol. 1 of 3. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2011.
  121. Eller, Jonathan R. Ray Bradbury Unbound. Vol. 2 of 3. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2014.
  122. Eller, Jonathan R. Bradbury Beyond Apollo. Vol. 3 of 3. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2020.

Jonathan Eller: The Bradbury Trilogy (2011-2020)

Sam Weller: The Bradbury Chronicles (2005)