Thursday, June 7, 2012
Summer Sets: Ray Bradbury
I just found out that author Ray Bradbury died yesterday. 91 years old! It makes me very sad. Like many people, I was brought more deeply into the world of reading by the work of Ray Bradbury. He was accessible, and yet artistic and deep in his way. He was creative and distinctive, and his writing made you feel a little more alive. Powerful stuff.
Ray seemed so young. Always. That was his beauty, I think. And it was the beauty he put into his writing, most of the time. Even the scary stuff.
It’s interesting how much attention his so called “sci-fi” writing brought him, when I don’t think he would have considered himself a sci-fi writer at all. He used science fantasy imagery to tell moral and psychological tales, but that’s pretty much the extent of the “science” in his fiction. He wrote for the sci-fi pulps and was attracted to the imagery, but he was always very different than the other writers of that genre. Not that there’s anything wrong with science fiction.. I think it’s great stuff. I guess my point is only that it isn’t very accurate to call Ray Bradbury a “sci-fi” writer. He was not in any way limited to a single genre.
I’ve read a lot of Bradbury’s work. I have a whole shelf of novels and short story collections downstairs. Maybe a little more than a shelf. I don’t know. I’ve given some of it away. He started producing more novels in the latter part of his life, and they were pretty good. But they weren’t as read as his early works, even though they are just as good and maybe even better in some ways. There are even a few children’s books based on some of his stories. One of them glows in the dark. You can actually read it in the dark. Cool stuff.
Call me “trite,” but my favorite Ray Bradbury novel was Dandelion Wine, which I believe is a masterpiece. It’s not the Great American Novel, I think that title goes to The Grapes of Wrath, but it’s one of the great American novels, methinks. It’s a celebration of summer, a gathering of vignettes in the life of a young boy that are all held together by nostalgia and the notion that the (somewhat) innocent wonder of childhood can keep our eyes open to the profound nature of everyday life.
My favorite Bradbury short story is actually one that had none of the “rocket” or “sci-fi” trappings in it. It’s about the tragedy of racism. In fact, he wrote several stories, in the 1940s and 1950s, that dealt with racism in very interesting ways. But this one I like is called “The Great Black and White game.” He wrote it very early in his career, and it was later put in his short story anthology called “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” which is where I came across it. I read this in my late teens/early twenties, and it had a big impact on my idea of what makes a great story – all of the things it said without saying it. Powerful stuff.
I found an online publication of the story in an old magazine that has been scanned. It’s here if you want to read it:
THE GREAT BLACK AND WHITE GAME
It has the character “Douglas,” who is the main character in Dandelion Wine. In case you didn’t know, Ray’s middle name was Douglas. This seems to have been his way of putting himself, at least in part, into his writings. No one knows for sure how autobiographical a lot of things are, but when you're writing about feelings instead of facts, then it doesn't matter a lot anyway.
I wonder how many things he’s written that they will publish now that he’s gone. “Posthumous works,” they call them. Sounds creepy. And it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not. There are reasons that some things aren’t published. They simply weren’t good enough. They belong in a file somewhere. Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes is a prime example of one that should have been kept quiet. But money talks.
Anyhow. Ray is gone and it makes me sad.
Summer will never be the same.
Peace to you.
© LW Publishing 2011