Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Early this morning my wife called and told me the news. She said she wanted to cry. All day people have been sending me messages with their thoughts on the loss of Ray Bradbury. 

Illustration for "The Veldt" by Leo & Diane Dillon
for a 1976 LP recording of "The Veldt"
read by Leonard Nimoy
The first Bradbury story I remember reading was "The Veldt," a perfect fusion of science fiction and horror, of fantasy and reality. Bradbury's work was what Theodore Sturgeon termed "wisdom fiction." It not only made you think but, more importantly, it made you feel, and it made you see the world in a different way. Bradbury's world was one filled with color: the burnt orange of the autumn sky, the red clay of Mars, the kaleidoscopic lights of the Ferris wheel. He took us into fun-house mirrors and onto the surface of Mars, into ancient Egyptian tombs and among the dandelions in fields of eternal summer in Green Town, Illinois. Bradbury's stories became memory for his constant readers.  

The early Ray Bradbury is my Bradbury. In those early days Bradbury wrote deliciously dark fantasy and crime stories like "The Small Assassin," "The Crowd," "The Halloween Game," "The Handler," and "The Black Ferris," which still rank among my favorites from any writer.

Years ago I discovered EC Comics reprints at a local comic shop and fell in love with that inimitable line of comics from publisher William M. Gaines. I was overjoyed to discover adaptations of Ray Bradbury's stories within those pages. I mailed off to publisher Russ Cochran and paid my money to amass a complete collection of the Bradbury adaptations. I hunted down copies of The Autumn People and Tomorrow Midnight, the paperback EC reprints from Ballantine Books with evocative Frank Frazetta covers.

I haunted bookstores and libraries always searching for more Bradbury. I picked up scores of paperback anthologies because there was a Bradbury story within. From those books I found other writers whose works I have come to cherish. Sturgeon. Leiber. Kuttner. Fredric Brown. John Collier. Ellison.  

There were two books among the required reading in my school days that I considered a treat, books I would choose if given the choice. The first was William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The other was Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury's 1953 nightmare of books burned and freedoms lost. 

Bradbury's impact on popular culture is overwhelming and I won't attempt to gauge it here. Those who love programs like The Twilight Zone and writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman know well what Bradbury's work has given. He mentored some of the biggest names in speculative fiction during the post-WWII years, including Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. He was best friends with stop-motion animation wizard Ray Harryhausen.

Bradbury wrote most of his masterworks in the fifties and early sixties. The titles alone are enough to conjure distinct images in the reader's mind. 

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, the book was The October Country, a 1955 collection of macabre tales partially culled from Bradbury's rare first book from Arkham House, Dark Carnival. I discovered the book when young, led to it by EC Comics and Ray's scattered stories in horror anthologies. I read it compulsively, over and again. "The Jar," "The Crowd," "Skeleton," "The Dwarf," "The Wind," "The Lake," "The Small Assassin," "Homecoming," "Touched With Fire." I pushed the book on friends who also fell in love with the stories. We still talk about them today, remembering our first readings of them, our envy of Bradbury's talent and our wish to not know the stories so we may read them anew. 

I'm sure that there will be a lot of interest in the near future in Bradbury's stories because of his death but it will go well beyond that because Bradbury wrote works that will endure. Check out his episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Or his television series The Ray Bradbury Theater. Though he only contributed one episode to The Twilight Zone, it seems safe to say that without Ray Bradbury there would be no Twilight Zone as we know it. 

If it's been a while since you've read his works, do yourself a favor and go back to it. I sincerely hope that we haven't seen the last book of new Bradbury stories. Ray was a magician and I imagine that he left a few tricks behind that have yet to be revealed. 

Click here to visit Ray's official site.


Here are some Ray Bradbury related links:'s tribute to Bradbury inspired illustration
Author Neil Gaiman's moving tribute
Bradbury resource site

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to a great writer. He will be missed.