My favorite of Ray Bradbury’s lesser-known short stories: ‘Dear Santa’

One of the things I like about Truman Capote, other than the celebrated author’s writing, was that owing in part to his discovery of Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Homecoming,” (languishing in a stack of unsolicited manuscripts in the offices of the fashion magazine Mademoiselle) we have been treated to the masterful works and writings of Bradbury’s literary fame.

Both writers resided in the Coachella Valley—Bradbury, in his Twin Palms midcentury modern, and Capote (who keenly dished the oft-repeated account of his “discovering” Bradbury while hosting lavish parties), at his Alexander Movie Colony home in Palm Springs. George Davis, Mademoiselle’s editor, paid Bradbury $400 and published the Halloween-themed story. And the rest is history.

Great artists are often limited in memory by the sole recognition of their best-known creations, and not the consideration of what they were trying to say throughout the entirety and essence of their work as a whole.

Bradbury, a case in point, is mostly known for his dystopian novels, “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451” (a title inscribed on his gravestone). But that misses what was essential about Bradbury’s writing; he was so much more. The sci-fi writer’s short fiction rounds out the essence of his most consistent theme—that is, looking at life through the lens of a child’s wild-eyed imagination.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein said. “For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

Amidst the unlimited sense of wonder and fascination featured in Bradbury’s work, his command in consistently keeping the idyllic vision of childhood intact and prevalent is evident in all his writings. Bradbury didn’t suffer fools when he came to criticism regarding the motive of space travel (and/or the endless possibilities of science) in his work—he’d simply pack up his toys and depart. When it comes to science fiction and the imagination’s ability to populate, transport and occupy the mind with other worlds and possibilities, Bradbury is a true believer.

Though he only wrote three excellently crafted, Christmas-themed stories (“The Gift,” “The Wish,” and “Dear Santa”), the last, “Dear Santa,” is my favorite. Written in his last days, Bradbury’s increasingly spare process uncorks the emotive power of a 12-year-old’s choked-back feelings regarding Santa Claus and the suspension of disbelief. In other words, the youngster in this story (like Bradbury himself) would prefer to perpetually remain a 12-year-old—like all of us, especially at Christmas.

The strangely disquieting, yet magical, tale of a young adolescent waiting in line to see a department store Santa, and his intent on discerning the truth behind the red-suited man with the white beard is brief (two pages), but powerful. The boy’s scrutiny is answered in the sleight-of-hand plot structure and enigmatic exchange between the two as the heightened cognizance of both characters with respect to each other’s intent becomes clearer. The story is an extraordinary example of Bradbury’s incredible ability to depict what it means to be human.

We need more stories like this—especially now, during this post-pandemic, holiday season—to embolden us all to dare to be human.

I hope everyone has a Ray Bradbury Christmas this year!

Michael Seeger is a poet and educator living in Cathedral City. Prior to his life as a middle school English instructor, he worked as a technical writer for a baseball card company and served as a Marine infantry officer during Desert Storm. Email him at [email protected].

Michael Seeger

Michael Seeger

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: My favorite of Ray Bradbury’s lesser-known short stories: ‘Dear Santa’

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