Last night I started reading Sam Weller's The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. Not too surprisingly, Well's first chapter looks into Bradbury's family history, searching for possible influences on his writing career.
Bradbury comes from a long line of print shop owners, as well as a journalist or two. His grandfather, who lived nearby, held a substantial private library so it's no real surprise that Bradbury developed a love of reading, writing and words. But the ancestor that's the most interesting is Mary Bradbury, a woman accused of witch craft during the Salem Witch Trials. This odd, familial connection to ideas of the fantastic and government trampling upon personal freedoms relates so well to Bradbury's writing career. Fahrenheit 451 was as much a reaction to the 20th century witch hunt known as the McCarthy hearings, and read in the right way it's almost a reaction to the one Mary went through centuries before. Bradbury himself said, "From her...I suppose I get my concern and dedicated interest in freedom from fear and a detestation for though-investigation or thought control of any sort" (Weller, 18).
This interests me in part because my own genetic history is a bit of a blank slate. I was adopted at two months old, and have never met either of my birth parents. In fact, I have no knowlwedge of them at all. My adopted mother (aka mom) is a librarian, and I spent many a summer day as a little kid in libraries when she couldn't find a baby sitter to watch me. Since there's not much to do in a library but read I quickly learned to get fun out of books. That influence is obvious. My adopted family has a very thin relation to Nathaniel Hawthorne, but I can't really claim that (although I would love to).
But I wonder what, if any, little genetic twists and curves my DNA possesses that gave me a love for the word and the page. Did one of my parents become a writer of some sort? If I strung my DNA back through time, perhaps I'd find some tenuous connection of my own to writers like Hawthorne, Poe, or Lovecraft. I certainly don't get my love of darker fiction from anyone in my family, so perhaps it's in the genes.
Or maybe not. Who knows.