June 6, 2012

Tribute to Ray Bradbury



Most of you know that Ray Bradbury passed away yesterday and I just needed to take a moment to remember him. But instead of listing all of his accomplishments and many stories, I want to write about how he managed to affect me--the reader me and the writer me. First you should know that most of the stories that effected me in a permanent way growing up and as a fledgeling writer were short ones. I discovered Mr. Bradbury's stories about the same time that I discovered Stephen King's and I have to say that both of these writers had short stories that have resonated with me ever since I first laid eyes on them.

But for the purposes of this post I'm going to focus on Mr. Bradbury. I will never, and I do mean NEVER forget the first story of his that I read. It was about a little girl who lived on Venus where it rained incessantly and the sun only came out every seven years.I don't want to go all spoilery here in case you go and read it, but it has a heartrending plot line that left me shell shocked. It's called All Summer In A Day and it affected me so deeply that over the years I have thought of it on and off pretty consistently. And the prose! SIGH. It's a thing of awful beauty this story--a hauntingly bad situation that's utterly believable and contemporary--even now--maybe especially now. Here is an excerpt:
The children pressed to each other like so many roses, so many weeds, intermixed, peering out for a look at the hidden sun.
It rained.
It had been raining for seven years; thousand upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain, with the drum and gush of water, with the sweet crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they were tidal waves come over the islands. A thousand forests had been crushed under the rain and grown up a thousand times to be crushed again. And this was the way life was forever on the planet Venus, and this was the schoolroom of the children of the rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives.
“It’s stopping, it’s stopping!”

The little girl in this story--Margot-- will take a piece of your heart and never let it go. This story shined a spotlight on the complex nature of humanity in a way I could understand when I was younger. It showed me how careless and cruel humans could be and how quickly that cruelty could escalate without there being intent on anyone's part for that to happen. He mastered creating antogonists that were wholly human--and sitting in my own classroom as I read. I KNEW these kids and shamefully, from time to time, was ONE OF THEM.  I finished reading this story with a sick stomach and tears in my eyes. In a way this story follows many of the same themes that fascinated me in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, but Ray manages to accomplish it in way fewer words. It puts a spotlight on how easily man can let his baser emotions get the best of him, even if he views himself as a basically good person. Given the right situation people can and do behave very badly indeed.

I say all of that so that I can now say this: Ray Bradbury was the best kind of writer. He managed to entertain me while also making me think. His prose was astounding, his story telling masterful. He is one of the best teachers of craft any writer can hope for. He will definitely live on in his work and in the hearts of those who read it.

Are there any Ray Bradbury stories that resonated with you? If so, I'd love to hear them. And if you've never taken the time to read him...what are you waiting for?

7 comments:

  1. I've never read a Bradbury story. I really ought to. I just was never in a classroom where we read him; I guess. The way you describe this summer story, though, makes me want to read it ASAP. Thanks for this post, what a wonderful memorium to Ray.

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  2. You should definitely read it! I can't remember how old I was or what classroom I was in, but man that story shook me up back then. Reread it today and I still really like it.

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  3. I was in 4th grade, Mrs. Taylor's class, when I first read, or was read “All Summer in a Day”. It was also my first experience with Ray Bradbury's writing, though I didn't know who he was then. I remember leaving class that day so sad, pondering the story, wishing that I was in that story … because if I was, I would have gone in to “rescue” the little girl. That feeling and those thoughts stuck with me for days. I wanted so badly to rewrite the story and put me in there to save her. There is no doubt in my mind now, that moment shaped who I am, shaped me to be the man who is always running to the rescue of women, the Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome, as I have dubbed it. And, so it was throughout high school, girls were hurt by their boyfriends and I was always the shoulder to cry on. In '82 "All Summer in a Day" came out in a short television program. All those feelings I had in 4th grade came rushing back, due to an after school special.

    Then, roughly in '83, my mom got us HBO. I was in heaven with this new novelty of technology. Well it was new to my family. I immersed myself in so many shows, but one … one changed my life. I was already a writer by that time, well, in a sense. I had recurring dreams that haunted me so terribly that I’d have to write them down. Once on paper they would go away for a few nights until another began. It was a horrible omen. (they were not always nightmares, most were just dreams but it was a real drag to relive the same dream over and over each night.) I had so many notebooks full of these “scribbled genius” notes, and I hadn't a foggy notion what to do with them.

    At some point, late in '85, I caught the beginning of a new HBO series. You see an image of a man outside a door, he opens it and we see his penny loafers walking into an office. The office is decked out with posters, hand drawn pictures, and such. There is only a small walking path between piles of books and desks with nick nacks and stuffed aliens scattered all around and in the middle of it all is his old fashioned typewriter, which he sits down at. His walk into the office is dramatized by ominous music, and then he says something like, “people always ask me where I get my ideas. I say it's all right here. All this is my Martian landscape, my magicians toy box … I’ll never starve here, all I have to do is look around, find what I need and begin.” This was the opening to the Ray Bradbury Theater, a whole new world of creepy, strange and exiting short stories on the television screen.

    That's when I knew what my omen was all about; I knew what I was supposed to do with it. That's when I knew I was a writer.

    “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

    Ray Bradbury


    Wonderful post, and wonderful tribute to an amazing man, Amy. Thank you so much for doing so. I hope you don't mind if I borrow the idea and do the same on my blog. He's a man well worth a million tributes, I must say.

    P.S. I was given Zen in the Art of Writing by ray Bradbury as a gift back in 2006 by a good writer friend. I haven't read it yet … I realize that's a crime to Mr. Bradbury's memory and I won't let another day pass with out rectifying that injustice. I'm beginning it tonight! From the back jacket: “Zest. Gusto. Curiosity. These are the qualities every writer must have, as well as a spirit of adventure... Here are practical tips on the art of writing from a master of the craft-everything from finding original ideas to developing your own voice and style...”

    P.P.S. I just found the opening to the Ray Bradbury Theater I spoke of earlier. You gotta see this. I guarantee you, if you are a writer, this opening will affect you in a way you just can't fathom. This may be the ultimate cure to writer's block.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIxWOsvYInI

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    1. ;) Every writing space I have ever had is fashioned from this intro scene. I don't throw out my kid's old toys or trinkets I find. They all build up and become my office space.

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    2. I remember this show, though I only got to watch it a handful of times because my family had basic cable for the longest time. Glad my post inspired you to do a similar one. I shall come visit your blog and check it out:) And your office sounds like the best kind--completely personalized.

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    3. Ah, I see that the above is your blog post:)

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  4. yes, I believe what I wrote for you best outlines what I feel for the man and his influence on me. I do appreciate you visiting my blog, however. it means a lot to me to have you stop in.

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