Ray Bradbury

June 9, 2012

Although I was saddened by Bradbury’s death (though at age 91, it was hardly a premature one), I loved reading everyone’s blog posts and essays about him.  As a happy 10 year old voraciously reading “The Complete Stories of Ray Bradbury,” I did not know others who, like me, were enthralled.  My mother hadn’t read any of Bradbury’s works, and I read “The Fog Horn” to her while we both held back tears.  I sometimes spent a weekend trying to decide which story was my favorite;  having come to a conclusion, I’d then change my mind and start again.

Ray Bradbury was labeled a “science fiction writer,” most likely because of “The Martian Chronicles,” and because I loved Ray Bradbury I decided I must be a fan of science fiction.  This was an erroneous conclusion.  I discovered in college, having been given a “great” sci-fi book by a guy I was dating, that much of the realm of science fiction bored me.  It was a combination of physics (here is how the spaceship works) and anthropology (here is what the aliens ate).  And the characters were only there to serve the purpose of action heroes and narrators.  Yawn.

There were so many things I loved about Bradbury’s stories.  There were the stories that featured an unexpected twist (the kind of stories that inspired folks like Twilight Zone writers and later Steven Spielberg).  It’s not that a twist in a story is unusual (see O. Henry or Saki), but Bradbury built a fictional universe in which bizarre yet rational things could happen.  By this I mean that the characters acted the way humans do, but because of the alternate realities in the story those actions led to unusual consequences.

I loved the range of things he wrote about.  “Dandelion Wine,” which I read after devouring all of the short stories, was full of fancy, but of a completely realistic kind — the kind of joy I still feel when I buy new sneakers, for instance.  One reason “The Martian Chronicles” resonated with people was the way in which he combined aliens with the nostalgia people had for the American past (even among people who didn’t grow up in a small town in the Midwest).

Finally, the characters he created were utterly human.  I have read “All Summer in a Day” to my 4th and 5th grade students.  They do not live on Venus.  They have, however, experienced the ways in which children can be cruel to each other.  The story moves them and we usually have a terrific conversation about the importance of being kind to each other (even if you don’t like someone).  Every story Bradbury wrote is made up of people who act the way we understand, even if the setting and the consequences are foreign to us.

I have tried, over the years, to write short stories, and I always get stuck because they’re not as good as his.  Finding out this week that Ray Bradbury changed people’s lives all over the world made me feel like that happy 10 year old all over again.  Thank you to everyone who wrote and posted about him;  he lives forever in his writing.  And I am inspired to write again.