|Ray circa early 1950s|
|Illustration for "The Veldt" by Leo and Diane Dillon|
Ray's impact on American popular culture is overwhelming and I won't attempt to gauge it here. Those of you that love programs like The Twilight Zone and writers like Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson know well what Ray has given, and given so well and so often. He mentored some of the biggest names in speculative fiction to emerge post WWII. He was best friends with Ray Harryhausen and it boggles the mind to consider the imaginative thrust those two gentlemen have had on generations of writers, readers, filmmakers, and fans.
When Ray got around, in the early 1950s, to writing his masterpieces, he was already revered among science fiction fans. A run down of what he would go on to produce is staggering. The titles alone speak for themselves, conjuring up indelible images of eternal childhood and far space, of Mars and dark ravines and carnival lights under midnight skies, of Halloween pumpkin spice and dinosaurs and fog horns and Moby Dick.
The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country, The Halloween Tree, I Sing the Body Electric. . .
For me personally, the book was The October Country. I discovered it young, led to it by E.C. Comics and Ray's scattered stories thoughout anthologies. I read it compulsively, over and over. "The Jar," "The Crowd," "Skeleton," "The Dwarf," "The Wind," "The Lake," "The Small Assassin," "Homecoming," "Touched With Fire." It was as though that book had been written especially for me. It was Ray's secret stories told to me over many nights and I always asked for more, more, more. When I grew older I pushed the book upon my friends and told them they must read these stories and they did read them and they loved the stories as I loved the stories. We still talk about them today, remembering our first readings of them, our envy over Ray's amazing talent and knowing that we could write a million stories over a hundred years and we'll still never write anything as good as "A Sound of Thunder" or "The Fog Horn" or "The Emissary." But we will try because Ray could inspire like no other writer could. He was full of boyish energy and enthusiasm, living proof that strong will and an uncompromising allegiance to oneself can conquer all.
I'm sure that there will be a lot of interest in the near future in Ray's work because of his death but it should go well beyond that. Ray is timeless and so are his books. He left so much behind and we should all be very thankful for that. Check out his episodes on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Or his long running cable show Ray Bradbury Theater. It seems impossible that anyone reading this hasn't already read Ray's work and probably a lot of it. Though he only contributing one episode to the show, suffice to say that without Ray Bradbury there would be no Twilight Zone at all. I don't think Rod Serling would disagree with that were the statement put to him. And though there has been written of animosity between the two men I don't believe anything other than Ray and Rod had the utmost respect for one another.
P.S.- Here are some Ray Bradbury related links:
Tor.com's tribute to Bradbury inspired illustration
Author Neil Gaiman's moving tribute
Bradbury resource site