Personal Perspectives

Ray Bradbury and the Sea

A sea monster attacks a ship in an illustration for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.
A sea monster attacks a ship in an illustration for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. (Pierre-Jules Hetzel via Wikimedia Commons)

Today Ray Bradbury died. It might seem strange that I'm writing about Bradbury here on the Ocean Portal, as he's best known for his short stories about space exploration and strange aliens. But he also considered the unexplored realms of our own planet: the ocean.

One story in particular, "The Fog Horn," from his collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, has stayed with me through all these years. Without giving too much away, it's the story of a deep sea monster that attacks land -- but not for the traditional reasons. Its motivation is not some bloodthirsty attack on mankind, a trope that has reared its head for millennia, from sailors' tales to the film Jaws.

Instead, the monster mistakes the blaring fog horn from a lighthouse for the call of its own kind and, in an attempted embrace, tears down the structure. Bradbury's sea creature feels intense loneliness in the depths, and the story is not about destruction; rather, it's about love and loss.

Bradbury always hated when people described his writing as "science fiction." In a 1999 interview, he said, "Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal... It couldn't happen, you see? That's the reason it's going to be around a long time -- because it's a Greek myth, and myths have staying power."

In "The Fog Horn," Bradbury turns sea monster mythology on its head. Instead of being a terrifying and hateful creature that should be feared, his monster inspires sympathy. It's the same message that should be conveyed about sharks, which endure more harm at human hand than vice versa.

Today, in Ray Bradbury's memory, I will reread "The Fog Horn" and consider how he was ahead of his time in so many ways -- including his ideas about the great creatures of the sea.

June 2012