Saturday, June 09, 2012

Something Somber This Way Comes

The news of Ray Bradbury's death wasn't surprising, but it was saddening. Like many, I grew up with Bradbury's imaginative tales. My first exposure to his work came with the haunting Alfred Hitchcock episode "The Jar," but I didn't know it was Bradbury at the time. At those pre-adolescent days, I paid all too little attention to television writers (an oversight I would compensate for later in my life, of course).

The first Bradbury story I actually read was "All Summer In a Day," a tale of dreams and lost opportunities and childhood cruelties. It haunted me; Margot never deserved what happened to her in that tale, and there was nothing that her classmates could do to make up for what they had denied her. Margot's loss stayed with me even more vividly than the death of the young boy in Frost's "Out, Out," which I read the same year. The boy's death was senseless--the girl's loss was heartless, and heartless is always worse than senseless because of it deliberate nature.

The Bradbury story that haunted me, though, was "There Will Come Soft Rains." It's a vivid story, filled with images that will not go away--images every bit as vivid as he outlines of playing children burned into the walls of a house by the nuclear flash. It was the plainness of the narrative that made it even more disquieting.

That plain yet poetic narrative style propelled me into The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451... Bradbury's voice was distinctive, evocative, cautionary, and disturbing as the story demanded.

I discovered his comics adaptations when Lancer collected them in a pair of EC trade paperback reprints; the stories and the images worked together so well that it was as if Bradbury had written them with visual accompaniment in mind. That's when I learned that Bradbury loved comic books and comic strips as much as I did; it never occurred to me that an author of his stature would share my passion for comics, but it made him seem all the more human and all the more appealing.

Years later, I saw Moby Dick and was enthralled by Bradbury's script. He brought Melville's story to life for me, making me appreciate it for the first time. I now appreciate Melville's Moby Dick, but I absolutely love Bradbury's interpretation of Melville's Moby Dick.

Bradbury wrote all too little in the past thirty years, but every time a new piece by Bradbury appeared, whether fiction or non-fiction, I sought it out. I felt obligated to do so; I owed it to him as repayment for all that he had done to brighten my life.

Bradbury was 91; his health had suffered, and there was no surprise in his death. But there was so much loss. He found the poetry in everyday prose, he evoked the fantasy in science fiction, he conveyed the wonderment in horror. He filled my life with prosaic imagery that will stay with me forever. While I can enjoy all that he has written over his vast career, I am left with an empty feeling when I realize that there will be nothing more from this man.

No comments: