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In a lower level of Cavanaugh Hall, one of the most prolific and renowned 20th-century American science fiction writers’ memory – and his many, many works – are preserved in impressive and sometimes spooky detail.
The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies is packed with the author’s publications, awards, personal artifacts and many Halloween-worthy souvenirs, like a grotesque and demonic mask that is displayed on one of the author’s many bookcases. The mask was used in conceptual work for the character Moundshroud for the 1993 Hanna-Barbera animated version of “The Halloween Tree.”
The mask is one of thousands of artifacts Professor Jonathan Eller, Director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and Chancellor’s Professor of English, and the School of Liberal Arts have stored and displayed in the center, which also curates a re-creation of Bradbury’s basement office that he maintained for decades in his Los Angeles home while creating masterworks like “Fahrenheit 451,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Illustrated Man.”
The Center opened in Cavanaugh a decade ago and has since become an October hub for annual Bradbury commemorations. IUPUI pays tribute to Bradbury every October with exhibits on campus. Last month, many of the center’s space-related artifacts were on display in the new “Infinite Voyages: Ray Bradbury and the Space Age” exhibit in the Campus Center’s Cultural Arts Gallery.
From the moon to Mars, Bradbury was enthusiastic for space exploration, according to Eller. The Bradbury expert said 1930s sci-fi pulp magazines like Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and Astounding had the future author often looking to the skies in wonderment. By the 1940s, his stories began to appear in the same magazines, and in many others as well. Many of Bradbury’s personal copies of these magazines are on display in the center.
In the 1960s, Bradbury helped keep his fans interested in NASA’s developments. “Ray Bradbury loved the Apollo missions and all of the manned space missions that followed,” said Eller, noting Bradbury’s collection of awards and mementos given to him by NASA. “He also got behind the space shuttle program; he worked to promote the program and knew a number of the key players and crews.”
NASA paid tribute to Bradbury shortly after the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012. The rover, which is still collecting data from the Martian surface, touched down at Gale Crater, just south of Mars’ equator. The site was renamed Bradbury Landing on Aug. 22 to coincide with what would have been the author’s 92nd birthday. Bradbury had died just months before, on June 5, but had lived long enough to see the launch of this landmark achievement in Martian exploration.
Bradbury’s classic 1950 novelized collection of short stories, “The Martian Chronicles,” will forever link the author to the Red Planet, and now the planet is linked to the legendary writer. Some of the “Martian” tales are eerily prophetic and carry much impact, according to Eller. “Curiosity has told us that Mars is a little bit like what Ray Bradbury always thought it would be,” he explained. “We have planetary dynamics in evidence. We have evidence of earlier times of water. All of these things that Ray Bradbury hoped for and dreamed of might have been there at one time.”
In 2016, Eller represented the Bradbury family at the Hugo Awards ceremony. It was a momentous occasion for Eller, as Bradbury was given posthumous awards for his work that predated the Hugos, which honor the top works in science fiction and fantasy.
Eller earned the distinction to accept the award as he and Bradbury struck up a decades-spanning friendship after meeting when Eller was an English professor at his alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy, in the late 1980s. Bradbury was a guest speaker at a weeklong science fiction convention, and then-Major Eller was his host. Over time, Eller learned Bradbury’s “stories behind the stories,” eventually publishing three books on the author.
“Pretty much for the last 15 years of his life, I interviewed Bradbury in depth,” Eller said. “He was a great inspiration for people who loved to write, loved to read and loved to put their finger on the pulse of the human heart.”
While the Martian stories ring with some prescience, “Fahrenheit 451” continues to inspire on Earth’s soil. Proponents for freedom of speech and anti-censorship still look to the classic dystopian tome. Through science fiction and terror tales, Bradbury’s words helped teach millions of eyes to read and millions of brains to think.
“He was a great defender of the freedom of imagination,” Eller said. “He was always a protector of libraries and the precious gift of literacy.”