Monday, May 23, 2011

A Chronicler of Boys

NOTE: I'm using Ray Bradbury as one of my anchor writers as I plot my own course into the writing wilderness. Analyzing a bit tonight, trying to get inside his head so I can get inside my own.
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of . . .


And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
And as much as people like to say Ray Bradbury was a chronicler of science fiction and fantasy, it’s closer to the truth that he was a chronicler of youth. A chronicler of boys, because boys – whether they are Tom Skelton in “The Halloween Tree” or Jim nightshade in “Something Wicked this Way Comes” or the grown-up boys panting in the thin air in “The Martian Chronicles” – are what Bradbury knows best.

These three opening paragraphs to “The Halloween Tree” is a boy’s chronicle.

So, too, is the opening to “Something Wicked this Way Comes”:
First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine; there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June’s best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.

But you take October, now. School’s been on a month and you’re riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you’ll dump on old man Prickett’s porch, or the hairy-ape costume you’ll wear to the YMCA last night of the month. And if it’s around October twentieth and everything’s smoky-smelling and the sky’s orange and ash grey at twilight, it seems Hallowe’en will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.
It’s more than boys and Halloween that make these boys chronicles. Therein lies the desire for what will be, the nostalgia for what was and what may never be again, but most of all, the desire to live now and make now last forever and make the pain we feel now dim because of the better now that’s likely just around the corner, flapping along with the bedsheets.

Only to boys could a boring, staid town – a small town, always a small town; boys cannot prosper in the city – be the fresh, cat-footed, whispering dump of a place where the extraordinary has to happen to shove the ordinary back into the corners.

The now about to come calls like the ravine in The Halloween Tree: “There was a long tunnel down there under the earth in which poisoned waters dripped and the echoes never ceased calling Come Come Come and if you do you’ll stay forever, forever, drip, forever, rustle, run, rush, whisper, and never go, never go go go . . .”

Boyhood. The tunnel of adulthood that whispers, that now about to come, that now about to be. Boyhood is about being above all else, being strong, being in charge, being in control, being all that right now, right now.

And fearing nothing. Not even fear itself. Because fear always stops the now that is to come from coming.

Fear did not stop the astronauts on Mars from running in the thin atmosphere to the old front porches they knew could not be theirs. But the now that was to come did not cease to call, and there, they chose to stay forever, though the town faded from their memories leaving them only in the cold grave, the now that came.

And Jim Nightshade. And Will Halloway. One born on All Hallows Eve. The other on All Hallows Day. Each chasing the other, each reaching for the now that is just around the corner, the now that is to come. And Mr. Halloway, the taciturn janitor of the town library. He fell into that ravine where the poisoned waters dripped and in the run rustle rush whisper never went, never went, went, went. Until the boys, those wonderful Bradbury boys, reminded him, racing to the railroad turnstile like kites, of the now about to come. Then his heart was light and his burdens were easy.

“When I was a child,” Paul wrote in First Corinthians chapter 13, verse 11, “I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” The now about to be is not childish. It is putting away the dark glass. It is seeing clearly. It is loyalty and loving and charity all wrapped into a package that wants to run in the twilight and smell the air filled with good wood-smoke and to crunch the dead leaves underfoot. Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are not children. Because
[O]ne strange wild dark long year, Hallowe’en came early.

One year Hallowe’en came on October 24, three hours after midnight.

At that time, James Nightshade of 97 Oak Street was thirteen years, eleven months, twenty-three days old. Next door, William Halloway was thirteen years, eleven months, and twenty-four days old. Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands.

And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more . . .
Those who see the now about to be are the ones who grew up overnight. They may be young in years, but not young in seeing the world for what it is. They do not fall into the carnival traps, the snares that life sets, those who anticipate the now about to come.

And that is what Bradbury chronicles. Boys on the cusp of the nows about to be.

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