Second Star to the Right

One of my chief heroes left this world this week.

Ray Bradbury died Tuesday at age 91. In his passing so also are we bereft of one of the finest writers of any genre.

His was a talent seldom seen before, and even more rarely after. Though universally labeled science-fiction, Bradbury’s works were seldom that easy to pin down.

He is regarded as the writer who brought science-fiction into the realm of literary fiction. By the same token, he detested being called a sci-fi writer, saying his work was fantasy. “Fantasy is something that can’t happen; science-fiction is something that can,” he once said.

He wrote of the joy, wonder and fears of boyhood in such classics as Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Best known for his prophetic Fahrenheit 451, the edition I had contained a single page right at the beginning of the story with only this line on it:

It was a pleasure to burn.

Oh, how that man could write! Here’s another favorite:

“The October Country…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coalbins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

And I agree with Bradbury when he said he’s no sci-fi writer. Prose like that puts him in league with Hemingway and Faulkner.

His stories were not about rockets and ray guns and Martians, really, though those things were in them. Bradbury wrote about our humanity, not our technology.

When I was in college, I submitted an essay to my humanities instructor, and he returned it with a grade of A-.

I of course confronted him, since there wasn’t a single mark on the pages to indicate what might have deserved a ‘minus.’

“Your paragraphs are too short,” he said. “That’s bad writing. No body writes in such short paragraphs like that, no writer worth his salt does that.”

I grunted. “I have two words for you, sir,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Ray Bradbury,” I said.

He stared at me for a moment then took out his pen and put another line across the minus, turning it into an A+.

Handing it back to me, he said, “Well, I guess you just can’t argue with Bradbury, can you?”

I devoured many of them when I was young: The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Death Is A Lonely Business and more short stories than you can imagine.

“There was a smell of time in the air tonight. He smiled and turned the fancy in his mind. There was a thought. What did time smell like? Like dust and clocks and people. And if you wondered what time sounded like it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids, and rain. And, going further, what did time look like? Time look like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theater, 100 billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing. That was how time smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight—Tomas shoved a hand into the wind outside the truck—tonight you could almost taste time.” (The Martian Chronicles)

Bradbury was one of the shapers of my writing; he was an icon not only to generations of readers and writers, but a model and a sage.

Dandelion Wine is one of the consummate books about boyhood, small towns and community. It’s semi-autobiographical locale of Green Town, modeled after Bradbury’s own Waukegan, Illinois hometown is as much our own as his.

Last night, I counted 14 pages of Google News results for the search “Ray Bradbury,” all within the last two days. And I suddenly realized how much that mid-Western, small-town, brilliant man touched so many lives, so many writers and so many readers.

No less my own. Much of who I am as a writer today, I owe to Bradbury.

I think I know where he is now. I think he is in those far and away places he dreamed of.

I borrow from Peter Pan now, and think that I know where Ray Bradbury went when his spirit left this world last Tuesday.

Second star to the right; and straight on ‘til morning.

1 comment to Second Star to the Right

  • Tom @ Buzzard Bluff

    “Bradbury wrote about our humanity, not our technology.”

    As do all of the best writers—no matter their vehicle.

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