Ray Bradbury

A Graveyard for Lunatics

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A Graveyard for Lunatics Summary

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A Graveyard for Lunatics is a 1990 mystery novel published by speculative fiction author, Ray Bradbury. Set in 1954, it is a fictionalized autobiography loosely based on the author’s time working in Hollywood as a writer in a movie studio. Bradbury draws from his formative experiences with the different absurdities of Hollywood culture while creating the science fiction films It Came from Outer Space, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and King of Kings.

The novel is set entirely in two starkly different spaces, the movie studio of Maximus Pictures and the cemetery that adjoins its backyard. Bradbury juxtaposes the two to highlight themes of mortality, existentialism, and aspiration, and how they come to influence and either subordinate to or dominate the human will. The unnamed narrator works with Roy Holdstrom, a childhood friend and stop-motion animator, and Fritz Wong, a director with an individualist spirit. A third character, Clarence, possibly represents Bradbury’s childhood self, as he lingers for long hours outside of various studios in Hollywood waiting to catch sights and collect the autographs of movie stars.

His claim to fame being having sold a hundred copies of a story through a publisher called Weird Stories, the narrator is brought to Hollywood by Maximus Pictures to help write the script for a monster film. He joins his friend from his hometown, Roy, who has been hired in the art department to make models that help animate clay figurines representing the grotesque Beast that is pivotal to the plot. With the ramping up going smoothly, the narrator’s job is complicated when he receives an anonymous invite to go to the cemetery next to the studio. There, he finds the decomposed corpse of the film studio’s former head, J.C. Arbuthnot, whose funeral was the subject of much media attention at the time.

The body goes missing, and the narrator visits Roy’s house, who teams up with him to track it down. While solving this mystery, they work on creating the Beast for the film. Soon enough, Roy also gets a mysterious invitation, but it tells him to attend the Brown Derby, claiming that the Beast will show itself there. When they go, a terrifying apparition of the Beast appears in plain sight, vanishing moments later. Roy goes back to the studio and models the Beast on what he and the narrator saw. In response, the director Manny Lieber rejects it as a trash idea and throws out the clay model, firing both of them.

Hearing about the firings, another director, Fritz Wong, takes an interest in the narrator and hires him to help write an epic about Caesar and Christ. Roy is apparently found dead of a suicide hanging, but the veracity of his death is never certain since his body was cremated before a public confirmation. At the novel’s end, as his sense of reality is collapsing, the narrator begins to suspect that the Beast controls the studio from an office in the graveyard.

Graveyard for Lunatics is a classic Bradbury story of the intimate relationship between stories and human lives and how the two spheres constantly overlap and influence each other. Bradbury uses the plot structure of a young man’s emergence into the adult world as a frame for discussing this liminal phase between childhood and fantasy, adulthood and reality. More autobiographical than his other works, which concern extraterrestrial planets and dystopian societies of the distant future, the novel is an homage to Bradbury’s literary legacy, which was tied from the beginning to literature and its impossible dreams.