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 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?