Thursday, June 7, 2012

I Owe My Imagination to Ray Bradbury

I never met Ray Bradbury.  But that’s okay because I would have totally geeked out if I had.  He knew he was a great author, and he didn’t need to hear that from me.  I’m sure that’s all I would be saying to him over and over if I were graced with his presence.

Instead of being bitter about never having the opportunity to shake his hand, I will savor the fact that my image of him will never be tarnished.  You see, I look upon Bradbury as I do so few (Nolan, Springsteen, and Plato share that short list).  These individuals are the equivalent of Olympic Gods to me.  I hold them in such high esteem, that I would be crushed if I found them to be mere mortals.  What if I met Bradbury when he was having a bad day, and he was unintentionally a dick to me?  That’s a disappointment I needn’t worry about any more.

Why am I doting over a man I never met who passed away at the too-young age of 91?  Ray Bradbury infused poetic description into fanciful stories.  He used this power to implant into my mind the most amazing sights, smells, sensations, and sounds.  And he did it all through magical incantations of perfectly formulated spells utilizing the twenty-six letters of the alphabet:
And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bed-sheets around corners. 
                                                                        (Something Wicked This Way Comes)
So many authors today will tell you how the kid dressed up as a ghost looks.  Bradbury implied with just the right description to allow your imagination authority to create the rest.  He didn’t write the story for himself—he made it your story, as well.  That’s the mark of a master craftsman.

That did for my imagination what a physical trainer does for muscles.  After reading a Bradbury story the mind will be rippling with creative biceps.  And if you love Halloween, like I do, then you receive an added treat.  Halloween is the one holiday that relies on the imagination.  Be it costume construction, yard decorations, or horror stories, the month of October flourishes with creativity.  And Bradbury will forever be the patron saint for those darkest nights.

One of the most amazing traits I will ever associate with Bradbury is his desire to treat his reader (those who are young and those who are young at heart) with respect.  While Disney and Sesame Street pacified stories, Bradbury never shied away from a good, twisted ending.  Even if that ending implied something sinister.  At the end of The Halloween Tree, the boys sacrifice a year of their lives to save their friend, Pipkin.  Be it elderly fathers, death, or the nature of fear, Bradbury didn’t hold back.  As a young reader I was grateful to know that stories, like real life can have an unhappy ending. 

I hope this passage from “The Emissary” found in The October Country will entice you to read the beautiful story and savor the wickedly satisfying twist at the climax of the short story:
The odor coming from Dog was different.
It was a smell of strange earth.  It was a smell of night within night, the smell of digging down deep in shadow through earth that had lain cheek by jowl with things that were long hidden and decayed.  A stinking and rancid soil fell away in clods of dissolution from Dog’s muzzle and paws.  He had dug deep.  He had dug very deep indeed.  That was it, wasn’t it?  Wasn’t it?  Wasn’t it!

Right now words don’t feel as poetic.  In fact, I’m finding it difficult to find the right ones to properly honor him at the close of this reflection.  So I will just say what needs to be said.

Goodbye, Ray Bradbury.  And thanks.

Keep rising from the graves of ignorance, my Zombies…

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