Just got word that we lost another giant to time yesterday. Ray Bradbury has entered the Great Hall of Fame in the sky.
Bradbury was a great, a master of the art. Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror: he did it all, and did it all well.
Growing up, I must admit, he was not a terrific influence to me. Don't get me wrong, he was still an influence. But I was raised with a father who--while he read voraciously--refused to read fantasy or horror. He just couldn't comprehend the attraction people might find in those genres. He loved science fiction and had a full shelf of Robert Heinlein in his study. Heinlein, therefore, was a much bigger part of my young life. Secretly, though, I always harbored a little favoritism for Bradbury outside of my father's sphere of influence. We nearly shared a birthday, after all. That's a "bonding point" to a young child, after all. Plus, one of my favorite literary quotations came from Bradbury:
"You must write every single day of your life... You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads... may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world."
I had this quotation prominently displayed in my daily planner and carried it where I could see it nearly every day...at least until my planner disappeared a few months ago. I must confess that this is exactly how I feel about libraries, old bookstores, and books in general. That was another bonding point for me.
Three of his works stand out as influences in my life. Of course, they're probably also the three for which he is best known, but there you have it.
Martian Chronicles, I believe, may have been the first Bradbury book I ever read. I vaguely remember being confused beyond belief by the story the first time I read it. I didn't fully understand it, but I liked it...if I had known the word back then I suppose I might have said it was "quirky." I also remember being excited by the news that it was made into a mini-series (Yes, I'm that old) and then being "somewhat" let down by the actual television production. I believe that may also have been my first exposure to the idea that the book is always better than the movie.
Something Wicked came to me in Junior High. Sci-fi wasn't popular at my school, and horror even less so. A sci-fi author writing a horror story? Unthinkable. I can still remember the grief I took for being seen with this book in my hands. I also remember it being knocked out of my hands more than once by someone thinking they were being funny. "Hey, lookit what I did to four-eyes' stupid baby book!"
Wow. Where did THAT come from?
Anyway, I clearly remember the news that this book was being made into a movie. I was excited, but tried to remain cautious. I was still too close to The Martian Chronicles incident to be overly optimistic about the movie's chances. To this day, I remember having SEEN Something Wicked but I cannot tell you anything about it. And that should speak volumes.
In thinking back, I think I may have read Fahrenheit 451 before Junior High and thus before Something Wicked, but I know I didn't understand it. I read it again in Junior High and appreciated it more. Then it fell off my radar until my college years. When I read it again, it came alive for me. The images, the characters, the ideas? Exploded into life for me. I now own several copies, including an absolutely beautiful copy of the 50th Anniversary edition. It is one of my all-time favorite works.
Needless to say I have never seen the movie version. In fact, IMDB suggests there's more than one movie version; I didn't even know that. Neither do I care at this point. Why try for a third strike?
I'm not sure that Bradbury was ever a great household name. He certainly wasn't in my home. I have always felt that--as far as Science Fiction went--he worked in Heinlein's shadow, that Heinlein had the action and the flamboyant characters while Bradbury had the art and the darker edge. That was my perception, at least, colored as it was by my childhood and by those around me. How he was actually perceived? I suppose I will never know the truth; those in the hobby and the fans of the genre will praise him to the roof. I feel a bit ashamed; I should know him better than I do, both as an English major and as a fan of the genres for which he was best known. But I find as I type this morning that I really don't know him as well as I should, or as well as I thought I did when I started this piece. I must change that.
He certainly had some mainstream following; he had a range similar to Asimov, spanning multiple genres (although likely not as broad or as prolific as Asimov was in this way). My guess is that most out there in the world will know the name but know very little about him. Will he have a spot on the evening news tonight? National programs, probably. Not my local station. And that says a lot about our modern culture. He ain't Lindsay Lohan, after all.
Which is a good thing.
He was -- IS -- a master. Godspeed, Mr. Bradbury.