Ray Bradbury has died. Everybody has to I suppose. I understand that’s the theory. There are some people I wish were exempt from this theory, and I exert probably rather meaningless effort into keeping them alive in my head in the infantile hope that maybe this means they will remain alive in real life. There’s probably a rather damning definition of egotism in there somewhere.
In this case, however egotistical and deluded that makes me, I really wish it had worked in the case of Ray Bradbury.
I remember lying awake at night as a child and thinking how odd it was that one day I would know what it feels like to die, to just stop. I did a lot of lying awake as a child. I couldn’t breathe lying down, and on top of that I was afraid of being buried alive and waking up in a coffin. Again; saved by books, although to be fair if I hadn’t read Poe it’s possible I would have had more mainstream terrors, like slugs, or girls, or whatever it is that real boys fear.
In 1962, Mr. Bradbury wrote “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He wrote a lot of books actually, some of them; “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” are more famous, possibly rightly so, I don’t know.
I know that this book is mine.
I read “Something Wicked…” as a child, and I had that rare feeling that you get with some books where you have to keep stopping because otherwise you will explode, the delirious feeling that you have to yell out loud with the sheer joy and excitement at being recognized across a vast distance by someone you have never met.
He wrote this:
“The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by deathwatch beetles, and thrive the centuries. They were the men with the leather-ribbon whips who sweated up the Pyramids seasoning it with other people’s salt and other people’s cracked hearts. They coursed Europe on the White Horses of the Plague. They whispered to Caesar that he was mortal, then sold daggers at half-price in the grand March sale. Some must have been lazing clowns, foot props for emperors, princes, and epileptic popes. Then out on the road, Gypsies in time, their populations grew as the world grew, spread, and there was more delicious variety of pain to thrive on. The train put wheels under them and here they run down the log road out of the Gothic and baroque; look at their wagons and coaches, the carving like medieval shrines, all of it stuff once drawn by horses, mules, or, maybe, men.”
This also may have had some influence on me:
“When rivers flooded, when fire fell from the sky, what a fine place the library was, the many rooms, the books. With luck, no one found you. How could they!–when you were off to Tanganyika in ’98, Cairo in 1812, Florence in 1492!?”
He wrote in wrenchingly elegant style about the passing of time, the nature of life, the importance of paying attention, love (both having it and not having it) and most poignantly of loss. He told me that it isn’t fair that we get old, and it often isn’t fair that we are young first and that nevertheless there is always a fierce joy to being that is almost certainly lacking from the opposite. He also, (it has to be pointed out because I find it hard to shut up), managed to cram all of these concepts into a howling, lurching, gleefully frightening story of evil carnivals, eternal darkness, death, destruction and and the cast iron fact that no matter how young and small you are, no matter how old and weak; there is always hope, and you can always fight.
These are great and wonderful things to tell a seven year old boy who can’t breathe and is afraid of being buried alive. This greatness is not to be underestimated.
He also wrote this:
” If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it.”
This; this continues to help on the nights when I’m still afraid of being buried alive, and also on the nights when I’m far more afraid of waking up and finding that people I love have gone.
Natalie Fisher, whom if I had my way would live forever and two extra days (just in case one of them was rainy and she didn’t want to wear a hat), said I should write blog posts on books that changed my life. I just did that, and I wish I hadn’t had to.