Web Essays

My Premature Autobiography

The form of things as they were, as they are, and as they will come to be

By Ray Douglas Bradbury | August 22, 2020
Ray Bradbury at the Miami Book Fair International, 1990 (MDCarchives/Wikimedia Commons)
Ray Bradbury at the Miami Book Fair International, 1990 (MDCarchives/Wikimedia Commons)

Ray Bradbury, who died in 2012 at age 91, wrote this introduction to an imaginary autobiography when he was 21. The essay appears here for the first time in a periodical or online in celebration of the centennial of Bradbury’s birth.


The Purpose

Many of you are wondering why in hell this book was written. Who am I, you ask, to publish my views on the world to a public that is accustomed to snubbing nobodies and cheering somebodies. Am I Noel Coward or Fannie Brice or even Charlie McCarthy? No. I am Ray Bradbury, and I think I am a rather usual sort of individual. At least I have one thing in common with all of you slugs: I am a human.

At least my doctor has informed me that I am human. Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, and survey myself in a mirror, I begin to wonder.

I think I have a novel idea here. Bear with me.

I am not famous now. I probably won’t be famous for a long time, and if I become famous this year I hardly think I will deserve it. It will be a freakish fame, one of those tricks of publicity that fade and die into the past to never be recalled. I’m not so sure I want fame anyway. I want a few of the things fame can give so that I may utilize them, but it is not so important that my last name be on Everyman’s lips. It is more important that someday my deeds or the things I have accomplished will someway affect the life of Man in some memorable way.

This book is the first of three books I intend on writing in my life. It is a book that might rightly be titled “The Workings of an Adolescent Mind.” It is a recording of all the things I think and do and believe in.

If any man, I say, wants to achieve something in life, he must be analytical of his surroundings. He must first know where he is going. Then he must decide what he will do when he gets there.

That is what I intend doing in this book, in a rather stream-of-consciousness, disjointed fashion. I am writing this book BEFORE I become famous, because someday I intend being famous. This is to be my Mental Foundation for the future. I want to lay this book out as a sort of easy-going blueprint of the way my minds thinks.

This book is the pattern of one human being on the threshold of many opportunities, starting his fight for the things he believes in, for the things he wants, for the things he wants others to have. It is the start of a jig-saw that will only be complete 40 years from now.

This book is written in the hope that I will survive those 40 years without being killed off by an airplane or a motor car or a germ fondly referred to as the pneumococci. I MUST be an optimist, to even think I shall span four more decades in such a topsy-turvy universe. In any event, all I can do is wait and see what happens.

I hope you can see what I mean by this book. I think, in years to come, this book will be valuable in numerous ways. We may compare it, as it is written now, with what I shall write later. We will see improvements in the technique of writing, in the technique of living and understanding humans.

I offer my mind and body and soul to you. It is yours in this book to read and criticize. I apologize for none of my peculiar qualities. I offer them as a part and parcel of ONE human on this Earth who hopes he knows where he is bound for and is trying to record things from the inception of his idea on life … until he finally accomplishes in some small way something good in life which, right now, he does not even dream about.

This is a character analysis. It might just as well be your story as mine. It might be Lemuel Jones down the street. It might be what goes on in your father’s brain or even what goes on in YOUR skull. Strange as my thoughts and methods are, we all share the world together, and maybe this book will stop you long enough to make you consider your friends, and why they are friends, and your enemies and why they are enemies. Enemies, to me, are sometimes necessary, but most of the time they are not utilizable and are dangerously excess baggage. I don’t believe in enemies. My life, I hope, will be spent in making friends. Not selfishly—even though some people call it selfishness—but necessarily through happiness and camaraderie and a will to help others and be helped.

Maybe this book will help you.


The Person

This book was started in February 1941. I have considered its possibilities for many months, maybe even two years. I have wondered why no one else ever thought of this. There have been dozens of autobiographies written AFTER people are famous. Hundreds of them. But not even ONE written before the person became well-known, as far as I know.

Writing the story of your life when you are 50 or 60 years old is fraught with drawbacks and irrelevant mists. The memory seems less acute. Little incidents and ways of thinking are forgotten unless a diary is faithfully and verbosely written from day to day.

An autobiography will be richer and more valuable if it progresses with a man’s life. When a man is older he rejects many of the ideals and thoughts of his younger days. Many times he forgets them entirely. He refuses to discuss them or publish them.

Here I am writing irrefutable evidence of my mind at the age of 20 years and six months. I cannot deny it or call it a lie when I am 60. It will be written and, I hope, published fact.

That is why this autobiography is different. It will contain what a lot of other life stories lack. It will embody the adolescent mind today, the mind of 20 years from now and the mind four decades from now. It will show the big and little changes in reasoning that occur over these vast periods. My biographer can only skip over his life, using his memory as a guide. He loses much. This book will be subtler and better defined and complete. There will be no lost characteristics or incidents if I can prevent it.

By my first 20 years you may be able to predict my next 20.

So here I am. Ray Bradbury. My first name is Ray because of a distant relative, a woman, whose name was Rae. I was named for her and spelled my name Rae until I was old enough to realize I was being mocked, when I changed it to the masculine form Ray.

My middle name is Douglas. I was named for Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., the motion picture star. He was exceedingly popular when I was born and my mother was impressionable at the time. She named me Douglas. I have never been sorry. It is a good name. And I was a Fairbanks addict until he died.

My last name is a very old English name. We can trace our line of the Bradbury family back many centuries into English history. One of my great great great grandfathers was Lord Mayor of London a few centuries back. Though I fail to see why anyone should WANT to trace their family back any number of years. Most of them are not worth bothering with and why live in the past? I prefer the grandeur of the Golden Age to come.

So I have a lot of dusty ancestors mouldering in the good fog-misted soil of Britain. The other half of the family comes direct from Sweden.

My mother arrived in America sometime about 1889 or thereabouts. She was about two years old. Her family lived near Stockholm and they were coming to a land of gold-paved streets.

There is some French blood wandering around in my mother’s parents somewhere. On the feminine side. Also some Scotch blood mixed into the English, God knows where or how.

That’s the one thing I like about being American. You have so many bloods and types mixed into you it is impossible to brag about one’s racial credits, one just confusedly gives up and says, “Hell. I’m an American. Isn’t that enough?” It seems to be to me. Doesn’t it to you? Who cares where a man comes from? Where is he going? is more important.


Dedication

I dedicate this book to the Future. There have been no Golden Ages in the past to compare to the one which Man will build when war is gone and Peace has come and humans are finally and blessedly human. I do not regret the tortures and wars of Humanity, for out of all this maelstrom will come a Civilization that will finally understand itself better because of the sacrifices and mistakes of others. If it were not for these many trials and troubles, Man might never have progressed as far as he has. There is a new spirit in man. He is waking from a long sleep. He is becoming aware of the World and he is toiling to utilize his knowledge. I am thankful that I have a part in laying some of the foundation.

 

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