Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday of this week. He was ninety one years old.
What to say?
Some writers inspire you, but a few, a very select band, their words become so much a part of the warp and weft of your life that you can’t imagine it without them.
For me, Ray Bradbury was a writer like that, and now that he’s gone the world seems a drabber place, a place with a little less magic.
Simply put, I loved Ray Bradbury.
It wasn’t blind, unconditional love. I could see that in recent years his work wasn’t of the same standard as in the halcyon days when I first came to it, or perhaps it was that the world and my understanding of it had changed.
And yet, I can still remember how his writing once made me feel, the exuberance of the language and the breadth of Bradbury’s imagination, so that every single thing in the world could be infused with a sense of wonder when seen through his eyes.
Bradbury wrote often about children, and I think at heart he was a child, seeing the world as if for the first time and marvelling at the freshness of it, and that was the quality, more than any other, that he gave to the rest of us.
He gave us back our innocence.
Oh, he wasn’t naive. He knew that there were terrible things hiding in the long grass. He knew about the monsters in the bedroom closet, the ones that come out after dark and get you when all others are sleeping. He knew that civilisation was always teetering on a knife edge, and he taught us those things.
But back of it all there was hope for a better world, hope and a prayer that things could be put right if only we could get back in touch with the emotions we felt as a child, laugh freely and without constraint; live in the moment, free of guile and calculation, empty of deceit.
An idealisation of childhood perhaps, but one worth believing in all the same.
I can’t remember the first story I read by Ray Bradbury, though it might have been ‘The Veldt’, but I do remember reading Dandelion Wine, his novel of an idyllic Green Town summer, one that seemed like some Platonic form of the summers I myself lived through as a child, a time when long, hot days stretched ahead and summer, like childhood itself, would never end, but with more of magic and more of terror.
One section of that novel in particular has always stayed with me as a master class in creating mood and tension. Three elderly ladies go out for the evening, even though the town has become the ‘hunting ground’ of a killer known as ‘the Lonely One’. They refuse to be intimidated by this creature. Coming home, one of them must cross the ravine and traverse the last few streets on her own, jumping at every shadow, frightened by every sound. Expectation is cranked up until we can barely stand it any more, until finally Lavinia reaches the safety of her house, locks the door behind her and stands there trembling in the dark, secure at last, which is when Bradbury delivers the killer line this has all been leading up to – ‘Behind her in the living room, someone cleared his throat.’
Strictly speaking it isn’t representative of Bradbury’s work, doesn’t encapsulate those qualities I’ve been talking about here.
All my life I’ve wanted to write something that simple and effective, something that would engage others as Bradbury had once moved me.
Some writers live and die, their words just dust on the wind, footprints in the shifting sand.
And some writers will never die as long as we know how to dream, as long as we can reach out for something greater than ourselves.
Ray Bradbury will never die.