Astro Riff: Ray Bradbury

Original Photo by Alan Light

Original Photo by Alan Light

I cannot think of a celebrity death that saddened me more than the death of Ray Bradbury in 2012. His book Fahrenheit 451 was one of the most formative books of my teenage years. Reading the final scene in which the rebel vagrants discuss their attempts to save great culture by memorizing passages from books was the first time I really understood that just because something is great and old doesn't mean it's permanent. Works of art can be destroyed. Great stories can be forgotten, and the only thing keeping any of these things on this planet but gravity and inertia is the memory of careful and attentive people who remember and pass on what they know. To me, Ray Bradbury was himself a great work of art, and when he died, I was taken right back to that moment in my room at night reading his novel with my flashlight determined to remember everything, and I knew that I am a better, more thoughtful and attentive person today because of that encounter with that book. So, when I stumbled on his birth chart recently, I wondered, "Who was the man really behind the legend of my childhood?" 

With his Sun in Leo, his Moon in Sagittarius, and his Ascendant in Capricorn, Ray Bradbury was a child with the soul of a philosopher and the mask of the father. I never had the privilege of meeting him, so I can't say if these archetypes match who he was in his personal life, but they resonate deeply with his public image.

The interview he did with the Paris Review begins with the question, "Why science fiction?" Ray Bradbury channeled Sagittarius in his reply:

Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Shortly before he died, a group of authors came together to put together a collection of stories inspired by his work. They say Ray Bradbury was delighted. When the book was presented to him, he said that the writers in the book were his children, and he was their literary papa. All of the most popular images of Ray Bradbury show him when he was old, even though he was relatively young when he became a successful author. Capricorn as an archetype comes into its own when it is old and wise, and so the pictures of Ray Bradbury that seems to most reflect the person are ones in which he's older. 

Underneath the philosophical patriarch (in the best sense of the word) of science fiction, though, you could see the inner child. At the beginning of every episode of Ray Bradbury Theater [video], a television series based on his work, the camera panned over his office which was filled with toys. These were the things that inspired him, he said. Some of his best-loved works--even the otherworldly Martian Chronicles--were inspired by his childhood in the midwest. With a South Node in Taurus in the 3rd House, Ray Bradbury was a natural storyteller who deep in his bones loved simplicity and a quiet life, the kind who sits on the porch at sunset with a glass of lemonade spinning slow yarns and reminiscing. 

Even though he romanticized his country childhood, his work never once approaches preciousness. In fact, some of Ray Bradbury's work is quite dark. With a midheaven in Scorpio conjunct Mars in the 10th House you would expect to find someone who has encountered the darker side of life and needed to be brave, especially with the north node nearby in Scorpio in the 9th House, and that assessment matches Ray Bradbury's biography. Early in life during the depression, he was uprooted from the midwestern home he wrote about as an adult repeatedly and eventually moved to California with his family, so his father could find work.

He was here to transcend the simplistic shadow side of Taurus and explore the darker corners of human experience and the psyche. This he did in his writing. The novel he is most famous for, Fahrenheit 451, is about a dystopian future in which books are banned. One can imagine no darker future for a writer, especially one living before the age of e-books, but even in his darkest works there is a playfulness underneath it all, as if he can't quite convince his inner child that being able to replace the walls in your living room with screens wouldn't be the best thing ever.

Jeffrey Wolf Green calls planets square the nodes "skipped steps." For most people they are roadblocks on the path to evolution that plague them their entire lives. Ray Bradbury had Neptune conjunct Mercury in the 7th House in Leo square his nodes. Neptune is the planet of theater. With verbal Mercury in the sign of the performer, it was necessary for Ray Bradbury to learn verbal theater in order for his soul to evolve. With all of this happening in the 7th House, it would have been most important for him to learn how to do in his closest relationships. I don't know if he struggled to integrate the lessons of those planets in his personal life, but one of the things that awes me about his chart is the way that he seemed to use Mercury and Neptune like the base of a seesaw. Over and over in his writing, he used the wholesome simplicity of his south node Taurus to leap into a story with a dark underbelly, using his nodes to compliment and balance each other like the bitter sweetness of dandelion wine.