Originally published as the first narrative in a collection entitled The Illustrated Man, “The Veldt” was also one of three stories from the book adapted for a film version in 1969 and eventually published in play form, although neither of these is considered a critically important version of the original work. While usually thought of exclusively as a science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury is also a haunting essayist and an astonishingly lyrical poet. In his creative work as well as in his interviews, he makes no bones about the fact that, despite his fascination with other worlds and other times, he is at heart a technophobe, loving intensely this Earth in all its magnificence and worried— already in the early fifties—by the effects of increasing mechanization on the planet. One preeminent Bradbury scholar, George Edgar Slusser, has commented that “to Bradbury, science is the forbidden fruit, destroyer of Eden” (“Biography”). Thus, in “The Veldt” we see that Bradbury mixes elements of science fiction with a strong—nay, a terribly frightening— warning about humankind’s destruction of Earth’s creatures and resources.
Set in some unidentified future time, the story takes place over approximately 12 hours in a house apparently not unlike the one described so clearly in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” arguably Bradbury’s most famous story. “The Veldt” focuses on the home’s “nursery,” a space with thought-controlled holographic plasma walls, capable of creating visual illusions and their accompanying appropriate sounds and scents, which has been hijacked by the owners’ 10-year-old twins, named, interestingly enough, Peter and Wendy. Pervading the story is a growing sense of dread as we learn that now only the children are capable of controlling the walls of the nursery, which they have locked into the hot oppressiveness of the African veldt, complete with all its flora and fauna, including a pride of lions, which takes the story to its grisly but inevitable end.
There are those who interpret “The Veldt” as dealing with human beings who use technology to perpetrate evil or as indicating that our increasing dependence on machines instead of on each other creates barriers between family members, but underlying both the science fiction and the human relationship aspects of the story is Bradbury’s environmental message: Nature cannot—will not—be controlled. The twins have learned that lesson, but the parents, and most of the rest of the “civilized” world, apparently do not have a clue.
“Biography—Bradbury, Ray (Douglas) (1920– ).” In Contemporary Authors. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2004.
Bradbury, Ray. “The Veldt.” In The Illustrated Man. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1987. “Introduction.” In Ray Bradbury, Modern Critical Views Series, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 2000.
McNelly, Willis E. “Two Views: Ray Bradbury—Past, Present, and Future.” In Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers, edited by Thomas D. Clareson, 167–175.
Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1983.