R is for Ray

>> Wednesday, June 06, 2012

One of the things I never imagined as a child--I don't think you can imagine this as a child--is that it's all but inevitable that you will outlive your heroes. It will just happen. You will get old and they will get old, and if nothing awful and unexpected happens and they are older than you are, they will get to death's door before you do, and even if you read of their passing with the sense that it was expected and inevitable, it will still be a terrible thing that you had to witness their passing.

There was probably a point in my life when I had read everything Ray Bradbury had ever written, or something close to it. He was a prolific writer when he was young, but I was a voracious reader when I was young. We both slowed down. I don't know why he wrote a little less every year as he grew older, I can only say that one of the other things that happens as you get older, besides watching your heroes pass out of the world, is you find yourself with less time and less. When you're young, you have all those endless summer afternoons and all those rainy days, you have enough time to get bored, even; you get older, and there's professional and personal commitments. And not just that, I think: there's also the backlog you accrue for yourself; when you're young you haven't heard of anything at all, and everything you stumble across is something to be explored and exploited then and there, while as an adult, you've heard of all these things and filed the ones you didn't get to instantly away to be done eventually, music you meant to listen to and books you meant to read and movies you meant to watch; as a kid, you never even heard of Nabokov (or maybe, depending on your age, the name was just a random reference in that radio song), but as a grown-up with some kind of education, you've made a point of remembering you were going to read Pale Fire one of these days and why haven't you?

I checked out every Bradbury the school library had, everything the public library had, there were a few scattered ones on family members' bookshelves or in boxes from a grandparents' attic, there were even a few bought. Books named for Blake poems (not that I knew who Blake was), for Shakespeare (him, I at least knew of--Bruce Wayne used his head to get into the Batcave), books named for primers, for Whitman. Bradbury loved his poetry, his poems. There were plenty of movie versions, too, including a TV miniseries version of The Martian Chronicles that I think I got to watch maybe an hour of before having to go to bed; though even a little kid could tell they weren't as good as the real thing. Not necessarily because they took liberties with the stories, but because of that poems and poetry thing I mentioned: Bradbury's short stories sang, he was a man whose strength was less the macabre twists (though those were memorable--aliens invading via mushroom, a Martian city devouring its visitors, televised lions turning on their viewers' parents and dragging them into the walls, the fully-automatic house slowly dying alone after its inhabitants were turned to shadows by atomic war) than the ways he turned a phrase.

(It's something, perhaps, that although I do not love genre fiction any less than I did when I was young, my favorite Bradbury book today isn't, strictly speaking, fantasy or horror or science fiction, though it has something of all these.)

There was, actually, one good Bradbury adaptation. Bradbury wrote the screenplay and the dialogue has his cadences; here's a scene about getting old, because it seems apt, as sung by Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce:

Ray Bradbury was 91. I assume he knew how to swim; I know he remembered the smell of grass and the way it feels underfoot when you run over it. So it wasn't a terrible surprise in the way all things come along to an end. I am forty and perhaps now I am old. He was ninety-one and that is a long run, nearly a century and he had something to show for it. If my sentences run on sometimes and I get a little purple, that's probably his ink seeped indelibly into my brain from when I was devouring all those dinosaurs and rocketships and robots of his as a child, drinking all those summer days and autumn nights he remembered or just as often prophesied. If I'd ever met him, I would have been obliged to thank him; in many respects, I suppose I'm his child after a fashion.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury.

(Photograph of Ray Bradbury at the Miami Book Fair International, 1990, by MDCarchives [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons)


Jeri 2.0 Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 7:07:00 PM EDT  

I haven't picked up a Bradbury book in years, but loved him when I was younger. I remember one time telling someone that he was one author whose descriptions just seemed to be on my wavelength. I could feel and hear the leaves crunching under my shoes, or feel the cold, slimy skin of the wet frog scrabbling to escape my grasp if that's what Bradbury wanted me to experience. I'll have to re-read some of his work.

vince Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 7:14:00 PM EDT  

Dandelion Wine remains my favorite of all his books. I think I'll reread it again this weekend.

Nick from the O.C.,  Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 1:05:00 AM EDT  

My mom knew him; they met at the UCLA bookstore. They were (distant) friends for more than 50 years.

The world will be a more drab, less wonderful, place without him in it.

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