Ray Bradbury passed away yesterday, June 6th, 2012. This is our meager tribute to him and to the unique and almost indescribable works he left to the world. I don’t intend to tell you the names of the books he wrote or the years he lived or the people he knew. I want to speak with you, not just to, and I wish for us both, for all of us, to slip together into that warm pool that the Ray Bradbury-shaped place in our memories is filled with. We’ve loved and cried and reveled there and those of us who’ve been there find it hard to forget the feeling. And we find it harder still to wrap our minds around the idea that the pool, while indelible on our psyche, will never again grow larger.
Upon passing, a person is not judged merely on the number of years they have lived. They are remembered and eulogized for their accomplishments during that time, their relationships with others, the love they gave or the love they garnered; Their body of work, so to speak. Similarly , a writer is not judged by the number of words or books they produced in their career, but by those works’ effects on the people who read them and, sometimes, the changes on the world they brought about. But Ray Bradbury is, I submit, different. Both he and his works fit either scenario above. He was a human who marked us deeply, and his creations were deeply human themselves. At the root of it, Ray Bradbury always wrote about us, all us Earthlings, no matter which planet we might be on at the time. And he worked hard to help us see ourselves in his words and to find something to take away. Something personal and ours forever.
The Welcomed Illusion
Those who loved Ray the man, and they are legion, also had special and personal relationships with his creations. They will speak with great feelings of endearment towards the Martian people they met in The Martian Chronicles. They will speak of the pang in their heart that still aches for Guy Montag and his betrayal by Millie in Fahrenheit 451. And they will speak in animated words, eyes un-focused and looking into some magic place in their mind, of the power of Ray Bradubury’s words to cause color and feeling and wholly formed notions to appear by merely reading them. Ray would risk a literary faux pas allowing a sentence to run longer than might be considered proper, but he’d rather take criticism than allow you, the reader, to be cut off in mid-reverie.
Ray was a master illusionist, the kind who controls your very imagination with his prose like a painter with a brush which holds all the colors all at once. Ray painted with your emotions and you loved how it felt, so much so that you gladly gave yourself in to him and allowed it. You let your self be drawn in with just a slight twinge from your lizard brain as it asks “Will we be able to come back out?!?” Or, if that’ description is too florid and overdone — and oh! do not think for one second that it’s not the memory of Ray bringing this out in me — I’ve heard him described as an alchemist. And that’s just as true. He would mix your dreams and emotions in a crucible, adding hues and colors, notions and hints, and then he’d fire it with his own mind and sustain it as he melded it into something new and beautiful (and maybe even horrifically beautiful sometimes).
“They were buried in a flood of sound. It was like standing in the spillway of a dam and pulling the gate-lever. Instinctively, the old men raised their hands, wincing as if the sound were pure blazing sunlight that burnt their eyes.” – Touched With Fire
Or the essence of beauty itself.
“I was only twelve. But I know how much I loved her. It was that love that comes before all significance of body and morals. It was that love that is no more bad than wind and sea and sand lying side by side forever. It was made of all the warm long days together at the beach, and the humming quiet days of droning education at the school. All the long autumn days of the years past when I had carried her books home from school.” – The Lake
Or perhaps just beautifully simple, and yet so familiar.
“The went back down though the attic and soon were in separate rooms and beds after many fevers and chills of talk and now lay quietly separate listening to hearts and clocks beat too quickly toward dawn.” – Something Wicked This Way Comes
Rebecca suggested I write this having, I guess, sussed out how deeply I feel about Bradbury from some comments I’d made. That is certainly the case and, indeed, I freely admit that the hardest part about writing this was holding the tears at bay. So I took the notion to our back channel and, trust me, Mad Art Lab is filled to bursting with Bradbury fans. We commiserated together and shared a few thoughts. I asked if I could share a few here.
Anne had a strong memory of discovering Bradbury as a kid.
“My elementary school (a tiny Montessori school with mixed grade classrooms located in an old house) had a giant tome of collected Bradbury short stories, and I made it most of the way through during my time there. The Veldt was one of the first I read, and it made a strong impression.”
Steve spoke of how much he loved what is now one of Bradbury’s signature moments, the canal scene in The Million Year Picnic.
They reached the canal. It was long and straight and cool and wet and
reflective in the night.
“I’ve always wanted to see a Martian,” said Michael. “Where are they,
Dad? You promised.”
“There they are,” said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and
pointed straight down.
The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver.
The Martians were there – in the canal – reflected in the water.
Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad.
The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from
the rippling water…
Excerpt from The Million Year Picnic
Melissa related a story from an assistant to Ray how, as Ray’s eyesight worsened, they would sit and read The Martian Chronicles back to him – a sweet and heartbreaking story.
Me, I wrote a long long piece about my personal Come To Ray moment(s) before realizing I’d gotten off track. But I will share a small part of it:
And my mind was blown. No one wrote like this. I wasn’t yet exposed to any degree to writers like Poe or Shelley so, as far as I was concerned, Ray Bradbury had invented a new way of writing. It was prose, it was lyrical, it was dark yet deeply powerful and evocative. He wrote phrases that painted entire pictures on your mind. To this day when talking about where would be an ideal place to live, my answer is always ‘an October Country’.
Ray was, much to my disappointment, merely human and could not live forever. But, as a friend replied when I made such a remark, “If anyone could have, it was him.” That said, let’s make no mistake that, just as we continue to lionize and find fascination in the works of Jules Verne, nearly 150 years on, future generations will look upon the writing of Ray Bradbury and feel the same awe and amazement that we have.
We will miss you so much Ray. So much… Thank you for what you left behind for us and for those in the future who will find you anew. And in their hearts, the pool will grow, heated by the glow of your words and the hope and love for humanity that lived in your heart and mind.
Credits: Illustration by Maki Naro
Beautiful post. Thank you for writing it.
Ditto…and my comment from Skepchick:
One of the biggest thrills of my life was when I got to meet him after a talk he gave at the University of MA, Amherst. Isaac Asimov had passed away only a few years ago, so it felt even more urgent when the Visiting Speaker’s org at my school actually had an opportunity to meet the man. He was a bit hard of hearing, so mostly it seemed like I was shouting at him (somewhat mortifying). He told fantastic anecdotes about his friend, Ray Harryhausen, and using the pay typewriters at UCLA. A giant has passed.
I actually got to see Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen together at Comic Con in 2007, which was fantastic. You can watch the panel here:
They each had assistants (I think they may have been their respective biographers) to repeat the questions to them because they couldn’t hear well. Bradbury was in a wheelchair, and the gate to the wheelchair lift got stuck when the lift got to the top, which delayed the start of the panel.
Bradbury took a questions about one of his stories (I don’t remember which one), specifically about what happened to a dog in one of the stories, and what should have happened to it. Watch the video to that point if you have the time, because his response was really cool.