Today, the 22nd of August, is the 100th birth anniversary of the celebrated American writer Ray Bradbury. His long career has seen a host of novels and collections, many of which are now indisputable classics: The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), The October Country (1955), Dandelion Wine (1957), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)—and that monumentally prescient work, Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
Bradbury’s work has been with me my entire life. I suspect my earliest encounter with his writing was through the television anthology series, The Ray Bradbury Theatre (1985-92); “The Banshee” was then, as now, one of my favourite episodes: Peter O’Toole starring as cocksure director, Charles Martin Smith as the precocious writer, terrified—like me, then as now—of what wailed in the grounds outside the big house. In middle school I read The Martian Chronicles, and my head cracked open with a sense of wonder for the Red Planet and beyond. I spent my adolescence scouring second-hand bookshops for as many collections as I could find; each of Bradbury’s stories were, to me, compact marvels, precise and alive with metaphor.
It wasn’t until university that I read Green Shadows, White Whale (1992), Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical reverie of Ireland. I admit, it might in part have played a role in my moving to Dublin a few years later. In fact, The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980) was one of two books I brought with me when I moved. These marvelous stories still keep me company to this day.
Based in Rathmines these past twenty years, I now find myself editing The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature. For Issue 2, I commissioned Steve Gronert Ellerhoff to write an article on Bradbury’s time in Ireland. Like me, Steve is a Midwesterner with a passion for Bradbury, delighting in exploring the author’s Dublin many connections. Clearly Bradbury’s love for Ireland never left him, and over the subsequent decades he penned a number of stories inspired by his time here. He later gathered together these stories and wove them into the novel Green Shadows, White Whale. For the day that’s in it, here is a reprint of Steve’s article exploring the composition of that book, a celebration of the life and work of Ray Bradbury, not Irish, but very much one of our own.
– Brian J. Showers, Swan River Press
The Long Reach of Green Shadows:
Ray Bradbury’s Memories of Ireland
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff
“What was I? I was a bag of potatoes that grew up in Ireland finally.” – Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)—born one hundred years ago today—was a connoisseur of nostalgia, an artist who drew again and again from his own longed-for past. His Orphean gaze often looked over shoulder to his Illinois childhood, culminating in cycles of Midwestern stories written from an agreeable adulthood exile in Southern California. Dandelion Wine (1957), his third novel, brings together tales about Douglas Spalding of Green Town, both boy and community bearing autobiographical dimensions. Green Town stood in for his hometown of Waukegan, while Douglas was a fictionalised composite of his childhood self: his middle name was Douglas, while Spaulding had been his father’s and grandfather’s middle name. As Bradbury lived and experienced life, this alter ego appeared in short fiction, inspired so often by actual events. So it was that when Bradbury spent six months in Ireland adapting Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) for the silver screen, Doug was sure to follow.
Bradbury’s term in Ireland came along with the screenwriting job. His boss, film director John Huston (1906-1987), was then renting a Georgian country house in County Kildare called Courtown and wanted the writer working nearby. So it was that in early October 1953, Bradbury, his wife Maggie, their two daughters, and a nanny arrived in Dún Laoghaire from the UK by ferry. Huston put them up at the Royal Hibernian Hotel on Dawson Street in Dublin and Bradbury set to work, adapting Melville’s whaling epic for the man famous for directing The Maltese Falcon. Many nights were spent being driven by cab to Courtown to review his progress with Huston, who vacillated between praising and belittling the writer, whose sensitivities, in turn, gave way to anxieties. The Irish winter and professional pressures proved a toxic combination. “I was suicidal,” Bradbury said, “for the first time in my life” (Weller, Chronicles 222). On 1 February 1954, he sent his family to Sicily so they might find some relaxation following the stress and stayed on alone to do battle with the white whale. During this time he revised the final two thirds of his screenplay, his relationship with Huston deteriorating beyond true reconciliation. He left Ireland at the beginning of April from his point of entry, Dún Laoghaire Port, never to return for an extended stay.
Despite the grief and depression, Bradbury would, as he did with his childhood and trips to Mexico, cultivate nostalgia for Ireland. Biographer Sam Weller writes that “as painful as many of the memories were, there was something undeniably romantic about the loneliness he had felt there” (239). Bradbury recalled this tug in 2009 when introducing a performance of one of his Irish plays, Falling Upward: “When I got home a voice said in my mind, ‘Ray, darling.’ I said, ‘Who’s that?’ He said, ‘It’s your cab driver that drove you out along the Liffey three days a week to meet with John Huston. Do you remember that?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Would you mind puttin’ it down?’ ”. “The First Night of Lent”, the first of his fictional shapings of his Irish experiences, was published in the March 1956 issue of Playboy, two years after he left. More Irish stories would follow over the next thirty-five years, culminating in his eighth novel, Green Shadows, White Whale (1992).
Bradbury fraternally twinned his title to screenwriter Peter Viertel’s roman à clef White Hunter, Black Heart (1953). Written shortly after his adaptation of C. S. Forester’s The African Queen for Huston, Viertel’s novel depicts a screenwriter struggling with film director John Wilson, who nearly sabotages his own film with an obsession for hunting elephants. Green Shadows, White Whale, pieced together nearly forty years after Viertel’s book, depicts a screenwriter struggling to adapt Melville for John Huston, this time named outright. Bradbury quilted his novel from many, but not all, of the Irish stories written over three decades, adding material as needed to pattern his own semiautobiographical account. Of the twelve previously published stories used, nine debuted in magazines before 1970, setting composition of much of the book’s content well before its publication. “The Hunt Wedding”, an essay that appeared in The American Way (May 1992), is also incorporated. Three of the stories were also published by Dial Press in 1963 as one-act plays in The Anthem Sprinters & Other Antics, and in 1988 Bradbury pieced two of these one-acts together to produce the play Falling Upward. Also worth noting is the fact that leading up to the novel, Bradbury adapted several of the Irish stories for his television series, The Ray Bradbury Theater, which ran from 1985 to 1992 (“The Banshee”, “The Haunting of the New”, and “The Anthem Sprinters”). And yet even more, the story “The Better Part of Wisdom” (1976) and the one-act “A Clear View of an Irish Mist” (1963), which fall within Bradbury’s Irish work, did not become parts of the novel. Their exclusion indicates that Green Shadows is more than a cut-and-paste effort.
When the stories were initially published, Bradbury’s alter ego, Douglas, was sometimes named as the screenwriter who has arrived in Dublin to work on a film. He narrates “The First Night of Lent” (1956), “The Anthem Sprinters” (1963), and “Banshee” (1984, as Douglas Rogers). Though not identified by name, it can be assumed that Douglas also narrates “A Wild Night in Galway” (1959), “The Beggar on the O’Connell Bridge” (1961), “Getting Through Sunday Somehow” (1962), and “McGilahee’s Brat” (1970). When these stories occur in Green Shadows, there is no mention of Douglas—or the name Ray Bradbury. Bradbury-as-narrator allows Huston to call him H. G., short for H. G. Wells. Later, a fictional former flame, Nora (Barnacle perhaps?), calls him William, Willy, Will, flattering him with a pet name alluding to Shakespeare (In the original short story, “The Haunting of the New” , he is Charles, Charlie, Chuck, carrying no literary allusion). Bradbury remains reluctant to identify himself fully in the text, even though the dust jacket blurb on the first edition underlines his biographical connection to Ireland and the story contained.
Perhaps his distancing comes down to the mechanics of fiction-infused memoir. While Bradbury is happy to admit that the novel is inspired by actual events, whereas he even names John Huston and Huston’s fourth wife Ricki, he has all but excised his own family from the Irish experience. Bradbury depicts his time on the island as spent alone, even though his wife, daughters, and their nanny were actually with him for four of the six months. Also absent from the novel are the Hustons’ children Anjelica and Tony. We can speculate any number of reasons for these choices, from the idea that Bradbury was protecting the innocent, so to speak, to the possibility that practicality won out, as populating a narrative with full-fledged families brings considerably complicating factors. The only certainty is that when fusing his life and prior fiction into the novel, Bradbury left certain people out of the story, much the same way he cut fire-worshipping Fedallah from Moby-Dick when writing his screenplay. The familial exclusion has a profound effect, in particular on chapter 13, revised from “The Beggar on the O’Connell Bridge”. When initially published in the Saturday Evening Post (14 January 1961), the narrator’s wife plays his foil; in Green Shadows, the wife is simply replaced, often with dialogue intact, by the saturnine Huston.
In his final years, Bradbury often credited his experiences in Ireland as having established him financially secure as a writer with a respected reputation. Whereas Viertel rushed to express the trauma of working for John Huston in his own novel, Bradbury waited decades, until he was on the other side of adulthood, to put it all together. Biographer and scholar Jon R. Eller has said that the novel “offers a balanced view of events, tempered by the passage of time” (55). The screenwriting job forms the basis of his narrator’s focus, though it often slips out of the narrative as episodic events emerge. While Huston is cast as Ahab to Bradbury’s Starbuck, Ireland and the Irish repeatedly interrupt their self-imposed and often frustrating work together. That is not to say Ireland and the Irish are used merely as comic relief, though there is plenty of comedy and the narrator often takes relief in their company. The question they repeatedly pose the screenwriter is asked upfront in the book’s opening scene by the customs inspector in Dún Laoghaire: “Your reason for being in Ireland?”
“Reason has nothing to do with it,” he answers (2). There is no tie to Moby-Dick that would make adapting it on Irish soil pertinent. Indeed, these Americans are in Ireland simply because they can be. In Melville’s novel, Ishmael asks, “What to that redoubted harpooner, John Bull, is poor Ireland, but a Fast-Fish?” (310). According to whaling rules, “A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it” (308). John Bull stands in for England in Ishmael’s statement, but the same could be said about John Huston. Huston’s choice of Ireland was his simply because he felt entitled to it. Bradbury offers fox-hunts and horse riding as Huston’s main draw to the island, not the people, the culture, the history, or even the common American lure of ancestry. There is not a single good reason for the narrator to be brought far from his home in Southern California, the capital of American filmmaking, where screenwriting is an industry. Huston’s irrational choice of work setting carries the effect of making every encounter Bradbury’s narrator has with Ireland a twinkling of serendipity.
For Bradbury, who proudly sentimentalised whatever he loved, Ireland receives his signature nostalgic treatment. Stereotypes of the land and people abound. Ireland is green: “Not just one ordinary sort of green, but every shade and variation. Even the shadows were green” (1). Rain abounds, as does fog, the weather played up in a typical fashion. But where many narratives of a stranger in a known land will use local landmarks to excess, Green Shadows remains innocent of that literary misdemeanor. Dublin is largely limited to Grafton Street, St. Stephen’s Green, and the O’Connell Bridge. When dealing with Huston, the setting typically shifts to the grounds of Courtown in County Kildare and, to recover from the stress, Heeber Finn’s Pub in Kilcock. There are no side-trips to kiss the Blarney Stone, sheep-gaze at Tara, or walk the Giant’s Causeway in the North. Green Shadows does not stand as a traditional travel narrative, and while the narrator is conscious of his own naiveté—“ ‘Kind to Dogs’ is writ on my brow,” he claims (90)—this is not The Innocents Abroad.
“The greatest temptation for a writer in dealing with the Irish,” wrote Irish critic Bruce Cook in his 1966 article “Ray Bradbury and the Irish”, “is to be taken in by their quaintness” (225). Coming from the Midwest, the region most stereotypically equated with quaintness in the United States, Bradbury plays up this quality in the Irish while also playing it up in his narrator. It is difficult to fault him with it when he so readily makes it a foundational aspect of his alter ego. His folksy, hail-fellow-well-met manner harmonises with that presented by the Irish characters and forms an in-road to their lives; friendliness meets friendliness, and there relations remain. There are no intimate connections made, though casual friendships are plentiful. Cab driver Nick and publican Heeber Finn receive the most attention, Finn even taking over narration in chapters 12 and 18, telling tales published earlier as “The Terrible Conflagration Up at the Place” (1969) and “One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!” (1985), and chapter 26, in which he relates a story about George Bernard Shaw visiting his pub. These are the only instances where the narrator yields to an Irish character and show Bradbury’s effort to represent a sustained Irish voice. He does not attempt to render brogue through phonetic spellings, apart from the odd “Jaisus”, and this is to his credit. While the characters’ speech may not always ring true to an Irish reader, it can hardly offend.
The pub stories are often humorous, focusing on playful conflicts between locals and gentry, represented here as Lord Kilgotten. One of Finn’s tales recounts an episode from the revolution where their intention to burn down the lord’s house is foiled by Kilgotten’s gentle appeal that they spare his artwork, which all appreciate. In the other, old Kilgotten has died, his departure “like the Normans’ rowing back to France or the damned Brits pulling out of Bombay” (129), and his intention to take his wine collection to the grave with him is circumvented by a crowd of thirsty villagers all too happy to make sure that his last wish come true. “And bless this wine, which may circumnavigate along the way, but finally wind up where it should be going,” they solemnly swear. “And if today and tonight won’t do, and all the stuff not drunk, bless us as we return each night until the deed is done and the soul of the wine’s at rest” (139). These tales are not so much parody of Ireland’s fight for independence as they are Bradbury’s pastiche of the stories he heard told in pubs by the people he met.
Another demographic that receives attention is the urban poor of Dublin, beggars being central in two distinct episodes. Bradbury, a survivor of the Great Depression, was not ignorant of hardship. His father was out of work for long periods during his childhood and lack of money dictated that the suit he wore to high school graduation came from an uncle who had been shot dead wearing it. But in the early fifties he was also getting to know American prosperity, making his living as a writer in the postwar years. His anxieties about money and the potential lack of it are present in his fixation on Irish beggars. In the first episode he resolves to help a blind concertina-player, often seen on the O’Connell Bridge, by buying him a cap to keep his head dry, only to discover the man committed suicide the day before by jumping into the Liffey. A rare Dublin snow falls and the narrator, standing outside the Royal Hibernian Hotel where he is staying, looks up at the lit windows wondering what it is like inside. This is his private, conscious attempt to put himself in the beggar’s place. Later in the novel, he does interact with some beggars he recognises from his first trip to Ireland, fifteen years in the past. The catch is that the woman’s infant has not grown in all that time, the narrator discovering that the babe is actually her dwarf brother, McGillahee’s Brat. His attitude to the beggars this go around has him unmasking the ruse before adopting a conspiratorial stance, promising to keep their secret and not write about it for thirty years. The siblings’ hope is to save enough money to immigrate to New York, a Tír na nÓg wish the narrator supports. And so Bradbury’s Dublin is home to beggars both despondent and hopeful. Their presence provides a contrast to the bored wealth displayed by Huston and his acquaintances among the foxhunting class.
Bradbury’s summation of the Irish people in the end is based on the observations not of a Hibernophile, but a working visitor. Finn asks him, at his departure and the close of the novel, “On the Irish now. Have you crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s? How would you best describe . . . ?” (269). The narrator’s insight, for what it is worth, comes down to his appreciation for the people’s imagination:
“Imagination,” I went on. “Great God, everything’s wrong. Where are you? On a flyspeck isle nine thousand miles north of nowhere!! What wealth is there? None! What natural resources? Only one: the resourceful genius, the golden mind, of everyone I’ve met! The mind that looks out the eyes, the words that roll off the tongue in response to events no bigger than the eye of a needle! From so little you glean so much; squeeze the last ounce of life from a flower with one petal, a night with no stars, a day with no sun, a theater haunted by old films, a bump on the head that in America would have been treated with a Band-Aid. Here and everywhere in Ireland, it goes on. Someone picks up a string, someone else ties a knot in it, a third one adds a bow, and by morn you’ve got a rug on the floor, a drape at the window, a harp-thread tapestry singing on the wall, all starting from that string! The Church puts her on her knees, the weather drowns her, politics all but buries her . . . but Ireland still sprints for that far exit. And do you know, by God, I think she’ll make it!” (269-70)
A portion of his declaration echoes Shaw from Finn’s earlier story: “The Irish. From so little they glean so much: squeeze the last ounce of joy from a flower with no petals, a night with no stars, a day with no sun” (197). And while his narrator’s exposure to Shaw in the novel amounts to what Finn has told him, Bradbury actually attended a performance of Shaw’s play St. Joan while living in Dublin. The production marked the beginning of his love for Shaw, which intensified as he aged. In 1976 he published a tribute, “G.B.S.—Mark V,” the story of a lonesome astronaut who befriends the robotic George Bernard Shaw installed on his rocket. And of Shaw’s collected play prefaces, Bradbury in his eighth decade would say, “That book is my bible” (Weller, Listen 162). Shaw was his favorite writer in the second half of his life, making it deliberate that the narrator in Green Shadows should in the end turn to Shaw-via-Finn in his attempt to understand the Irish.
The men at the pub do not react to his summation of them. They do not stand or see him out as he leaves for good, making for a most casual farewell. There is no Lion, Tin Woodsman, or Scarecrow to embrace, the many acquaintances he made remaining just that: acquaintances. The novel is dedicated in part “to the memory of Heeber Finn, Nick (Mike) my taxi driver, and all the boyos in the pub . . . ” Memory of his cab driver spurred Bradbury to write his first Irish tale and it is to memory that he offered a novel nearly forty years later. Scholars Eller and William F. Touponce believe “Bradbury’s Irish ultimately turns out to be a reflection of his own concerns . . . about affirming the life of the imagination even in the presence of overwhelming negativity” (426). It is also his way of giving thanks to Ireland for providing the ground upon which he crossed the threshold into his own maturity.
Bradbury, Ray. Green Shadows, White Whale. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Cook, Bruce. “Ray Bradbury and the Irish”. Catholic World 200 (1965): 224-30.
Eller, Jonathan R. “Adapting Melville for the Screen”. The New Ray Bradbury Review 1 (2008): 35-60.
Eller, Jonathan R. and William F. Touponce. Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. Kent: Kent State University, 2004.
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. New York: Norton, 2002.
Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
Weller, Sam. Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2010.
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff holds a PhD in English from Trinity College Dublin. He is the author of Mole (Reaktion Books) and Post-Jungian Psychology and the Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut: Golden Apples of the Monkey House (Routledge). Honouring Bradbury’s centenary in 2020, he co-edited Exploring the Horror of Supernatural Fiction: Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (Routledge). Currently he is writing Jung and the Mythology of Star Wars and a novel. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.