Friday, June 8, 2012

Thinking of Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away this week. I talked a little bit about him on my other blog but I find myself continually thinking of him through this week.

It's funny. I can remember the gateway to many of my favorite authors, but I don't remember Bradbury. With Tolkien it was The Hobbit cartoon. With Heinlein it was the comic serialization of one of his novels in Boys Life magazine that lead me to seeking out the novel it was based on. Clifford Simak it was because I was interested in monsters and one of his novels was The Werewolf Principle. Not what I was expecting, but I was hooked. With the Doc Savage novels someone gave me as a gift the hardback edition of The Sargasso Ogre, I guess because I liked superheroes. My first Shadow was a beat up paperback I found at an antique store.

Bradbury, like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, is a mystery though. I don't know where I first stumbled upon his stories or which one that made me a fan for life. I think my Dad's parents had a hardback edition of The Illustrated Man so maybe that was it. Or, it could have been an anthology of short-stories that would feature one of a dozen that seemed ubiquitous, that you never knew where it would pop up like "The Veldt", "The October Game", or "The Million Year Picnic".

Regardless, I sought out his books from used book stores, bought his new books when they came out. Didn't matter if they were his martian tales, his dark fantasy or terror stories, his stories about Ireland or even if it was non-fiction. Reading Bradbury and the way he put words together made you want to sit down and write too. It was like seeing into creation and wanting to be a part of it.

I remember an episode of the television series "Fame" where the students were going to put on a production of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but because it was deemed racist, it got pulled and banned. So, the assignment changed to Fahrenheit 451. I don't know if Bradbury's book ever was banned itself, but it's become almost the symbol of "Banned Book Month". Interestingly, Twain's classic was on banned lists twice for polar opposite reasons. The first time was because the fact that a white boy would actually be friends with and help an escaped slave and makes the conscientious decision that if helping his friend, an escaped slave, would send him to Hell, well, then he guessed he was going to Hell. But, he'd stand by his friend. Nowadays, it's because of the audacity of Twain to present a slave as someone who would be uneducated, superstitious, and talk in bad English. But, I digress. A television show about performing arts high school students seems like an odd place to find a reference to Bradbury, but there it is. Just as there's a shopping mall that was inspired by an essay. Or an earpiece that played music in Fahrenheit 451 would inspire a man to invent the Walkman, the precursor to today's mobile music devices.

The ending to Orson Scott Card's short story "The Eumenides of the Fourth Floor Lavatory" is extremely reminiscent of Bradbury's "The October Game" where what happens immediately next is up to the imagination. It's hard to imagine Stephen King's works without Bradbury paving the way, showing magic, horror, fantasy, and heroism lurking in picturesque small town America and what really drives the story, what's really important are the relationships of the people. Bradbury was better at writing endings though.

One of my favorite Bradbury short-stories takes place in the larger universe of his Martian stories, though it takes place on Earth. It's a future with imminently practical people with no imagination. Earth is overcrowded so a corporation has taken to buying up graveyards, exhuming the graves and cremating all the remains. However, this is something up with which one dead body will not put, so he gets up and wages a war of sabotage and destruction in revenge. He thinks it's  perfect, because in this world of no imagination, who would even consider that a dead person would be walking around. Yet, it's that very fact that gets him found out as insanity has been cured, and no one living would commit these crimes or even have a reason to. Ergo, it must be a dead man as reasons two workers. After all, as the great detective once said, "Once you eliminate the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable..."

It's been a while since I've read any of his short-stories. While I'm at the old house this weekend, I think I'll pull down one of those old paperback anthologies from the bookshelf.

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