Author Ray Bradbury is best known for his novels Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. But today when I learned Ray Bradbury died at 91, I thought immediately of his short stories, which I can honestly say changed my worldview from a very young age and heavily influenced me as a writer and a human being. And then I thought about how he has totally lived before and will probably live again, according to the little boy in him.
Credit Image: Alan Light
Many writers get their start by imitating someone they admire. Middle-school Me imitated Bradbury. I wrote stories about worlds colliding and odd occurrences and little things nobody else caught that could end the world as we know it. I have referred writers to "The Veldt" and "The Playground" and "All Summer in a Day" and "The Illustrated Woman" and "I Sing the Body Electric!" I loved his introduction to The Stories of Ray Bradbury, which is entitled "Drunk, and in Charge of a Bicycle." He describes how he feels about writing:
This is the kind of life I've had. Drunk, and in charge of a bicycle, as an Irish police report once put it. Drunk with life, that is, and not knowing where off to next. But you're on your way before dawn. And the trip? Exactly one half terror, exactly one half exhileration.
I don't know exactly how many stories and novels Bradbury published, but the man was prolific. He wrote everything, it seems, everything he could write, and I admired both his talent and his tenacity. And his magic.
Also in his introduction to The Stories of Ray Bradbury, Bradbury wrote of his childhood encounter at a carnival with Mr. Electrico.
Finally, he gave me some special news.
"We've met before, he said. "You were my best friend in France in 1918, and you died in my arms in the battle of the Ardennes forest that year. And here you are, born again, in a new body, with a new name. Welcome back!"
I staggered away from that encounter with Mr. Electrico wonderfully uplifted by two gifts: the gift of having lived once before (and of being told about it) ... and the gift of somehow trying to live forever.
Kind of gives you chills, doesn't it? Because Bradbury wanted to live forever, he wrote. And he wrote the most amazing stuff. If you've only been exposed to Bradbury by having Fahrenheit 451 forced down your throat in tenth grade, I beg you to read his short stories. From "The Veldt," a story about a family that lives in a house that does everything for them:
And he marched about the house turning off the voice clocks, the stoves, the heaters, the shoe shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers and swabbers and massagers, and every other machine he could put his hand to.
The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed.
And from "The Last Night of the World," a story in which everyone just knew it was the last night, and a man and his wife sit around calmly discussing it:
"Why not some other night in the last century, or five centuries ago, or ten?"
"Maybe because it was never October 19, 1969, ever before in history, and now it is and that's it; because this date means more than any other date ever meant; because it's a year when things are as they are all over the world and that's why it's the end."
"There are bombers on their schedules both ways across the ocean tonight that'll never see land."
"That's part of the reason why."
"Well," he said, getting up, "what shall it be? Wash the dishes?"
Bradbury made me think, and think hard about human nature and the state of the universe and God and evolution and everything that goes into being part of this world. He made me want to be a writer, so that I, too, could live forever and maybe, just maybe pass along an observation of my own about the human condition that would impact some other little girl somewhere down the line.
Again from the introduction:
It all started that autumn day in 1932 when Mr. Electrico gave me the two gifts. I don't know if I believe in previous lives. I'm not sure I can live forever. But that young boy believed in both and I have let him have his head.
Don't rest in peace, Ray Bradbury. YOU LIVE ON.
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