Thursday, June 7, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

The first Ray Bradbury novel I read would have been during my grade 8 English class, when I found Fahrenheit 451 on the free reading shelf. Many of the books on that shelf were less-than-exemplary and looked to be rejects from the library, but was this a cut above? Oh my goodness, yes! My mother and sister had each read some Bradbury, but they gave me the impression he was a horror author (my sister vividly recalled "the Small Assassin" and for my mother it was "Skeleton"). Fahrenheit 451 was different and not simply because it was science fiction - it was as much about the pleasure of reading as anything and encouraged me to think about what I was reading. Everything else on the free reading shelf I can recall left no lasting impression on me or how I read today, but I still recall the mind's eye images from my first reading of Fahrenheit 451.

More followed. Thanks to the school & public libraries I read Something Wicked This Way Comes, the Martian Chronicles, R is for Rocket, S is for Space... this was around the time I became an old-time radio buff too and found Bradbury adaptations on X Minus One and even Suspense, not to mention the occasional episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents being rerun on Nick at Nite, or the afternoon I found the film version of Fahrenheit 451 playing on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Somehow, I thought less about Bradbury when I began college. My mind drifted off to other pursuits, other authors (Sax Rohmer & John Buchan, primarily).

When I visited the San Diego comic-con in 2009 I made it a point to see Ray Bradbury's panel, not because I suspected it would be particularly noteworthy, but because given his age, I sensed I might not have another chance to see him live and how many opportunities is one given to see one of their favourite authors?

That panel reawakened my love of Bradbury's work like never before; to hear him speak. To hear him speak. If you've never heard him speak, do so, now:

Bradbury's incredible optimism, love of life, breathless passion for being of the moment, I hadn't counted on it; as J.M. DeMatteis put it on his blog, "He’s a preacher, a rhapsodist, an interfaith—no, interdimensional—minister." I heard him and I was convicted; he told the story of his first visit to the movie theater and the story of what he was doing the night Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. His life was, outside of being an acclaimed writer, an ordinary one, but he knew the secret of making the ordinary extraordinary (check his short story "the Last, the Very Last" for a vivid example).

Returning from San Diego, I began building myself a Ray Bradbury library, grabbing the Illustrated Man, the October Country, a Medicine for Melancholy and more. Revisiting familiar and otherwise with a new perspective gave me so much joy; just last week I discovered the existence of the Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: a Critical Edition and, brimming with quiet excitement, began making plans to buy a copy; but here I am today, mourning his death.

He probably wouldn't want to be mourned. He lived a happy life, so in love with living one would think Death itself would only grudgingly interrupt him. He was told as a child he'd live forever and certainly as an author, part of him will carry on. I only hope he helped inspire others in how they live their lives and express themselves creatively through whatever means they choose.

There, at the water's edge, lay a sand castle, only half built. Just like Tally and I used to build them. She half and I half.

I looked at it. I knelt beside the sand castle and saw the small prints of feet coming in from the lake and going back out to the lake again and not returning.

Then--I knew.

"I'll help you finish it," I said.

I did. I built the rest of it up very slowly, then I arose and turned away and walked off, so as not to watch it crumble in the waves, as all things crumble.

- "the Lake"

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