Just like my last post, this is a slightly belated response to sad news. I don’t seem to be able to write about these things immediately; I need a couple of days to process, sort it all out in my head, wrap words around it.
That was definitely the case this time. I had no idea how to react to the death of Ray Bradbury. How would a bird feel, I wondered, if you told him the sky was dead?
That was how large Bradbury loomed in my life, especially in my childhood; his imagination was the house whose crawlspaces and corridors I freely roamed as a child, never giving a thought to the builder, to the man who’d drawn the plans and raised the beams.
Even now, as an adult — or at least, as close to an adult as I’m ever likely to become — and after years of studying the art and science of carefully arranging words and dreams on a printed page, it’s still hard for me to grasp that so many perfect, iconic stories came simply from one man sitting at his rented typewriter. That these stories didn’t just simply exist, that they hadn’t just always existed.
I learned so much from these stories, about writing and about life. “The Veldt” taught me the subtleties of horror; “The Fog Horn” and “All Summer in a Day” taught me a melancholy beyond my years. My love for perfect endings was kindled by stories like “A Sound of Thunder”, and by “The October Game”, which has the best last line of any horror story ever.
He taught me that genre is just a game for other people to play, a game for booksellers and librarians, and that a writer shouldn’t try to keep his words in such neat little boxes. He freely mixed science fiction and fantasy and magical realism all from the same palette, and painted in colors no one had seen before, with a vibrancy never matched since.
He taught me, probably more than anyone else, to pay attention to the sound of my words, that measure and meter have as much place in prose as in poetry.
Bradbury is gone, but his long endless golden childhood where it is always summer, but sometimes Halloween, will go on forever, and we can always visit him there, run laughing down endless tree-lined Martian streets until we fall down breathless, sipping dandelion wine with him on his front porch in the last of the evening light.
I’ve spent the past few days reading the words other people have written about Bradbury’s passing, and I’d like to share a few of them with you:
Some authors I read and loved as a boy disappointed me as I aged. Bradbury never did. His horror stories remained as chilling, his dark fantasies as darkly fantastic, his science fiction (he never cared about the science, only about the people, which was why the stories worked so well) as much of an exploration of the sense of wonder, as they had when I was a child [ . . . ]
A Ray Bradbury story meant something on its own – it told you nothing about what the story would be about, but it told you about atmosphere, about language, about some sort of magic escaping into the world.
– A man who won’t forget Ray Bradbury, by Neil Gaiman
For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age.
His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values.
There is no doubt that Ray will continue to inspire many more generations with his writing, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called “A Sound of Thunder.” The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.
The Martian Chronicles is not a child’s book, but it is an excellent book to give to a child—or to give to the right child, which I flatter myself that I was—because it is a book that is full of awakening. Which means, simply, that when you read it, you can feel parts of your brain clicking on, becoming sensitized to the fact that something is happening here, in this book, with these words, even if you can’t actually communicate to anyone outside of your own head just what that something is. I certainly couldn’t have, in the sixth grade—I simply didn’t have the words. As I recall, I didn’t much try: I just sat there staring down at the final line of the book, with the Martians staring back at me, simply trying to process what I had just read.
– On the Passing of Ray Bradbury: “Meeting the Wizard”, by John Scalzi
Ray Bradbury was about all of life. The light and the dark of life; the tragic, the ironic; the cruelty of it, the beauty of it. Sometimes he merged those into one work: Fahrenheit 451 was a paean to the beauty and significance of books, of literature; it was also an observation of the dark side of human nature, the fascist lurking deep down inside us…
His prose had a liquidity, like blood running hot through a man’s veins. And blood pulses with life.
So we’ve lost him, he’s died—but if ever there was a writer who is still here with us afterward, it is Ray Bradbury.
– Me and you and Ray Bradbury, by John Shirleyprevious post: Horror, Real Life, and Happy Endings: The Shootings in Seattle | next post: Horror Reading: Michael Montoure and Luna Lindsey, June 29th at Wayward Coffeehouse in Seattle!