Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Don't Stay for Nothing

There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

--Guy Montag, Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury stayed as long as he could.

He went from writing crappy short stories for the pulp science fiction magazines to writing Fahrenheit 451 which stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as books that scream out against the tyranny of stupidity.

I can call some of his first stories crappy and he probably would not disagree with me. I’ve read them. I think I’ve read them all; Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, one I’ll always remember as “that special freak, the man with the child inside who remembers all,” as he once described himself.

Bradbury poured himself into his writing. If he had a fear, a notion, an anxiety, a solution, a rant, he wrote it down.

He told us things. Like this:

And this:

A magician’s toy shop indeed.

I remember watching this one as a kid. What a creepy tale – mankind finding what he wanted on a distant planet, mankind bringing with him the ghosts of the past even as he yearned to touch the future. That is the essence of Bradbury for me. Always running but never escaping.

And that rooster calling. That rooster, the first sign of a Mars the astronauts did not expect. The birds chirping and flitting in the trees. The little details sucked out of the mind of a man and poured onto the page, flowing from the mind of a man who never left behind the childlike attributes of childhood and brought the past of Waukegan, Illinois, into the future. It is the tyranny of the small town writ large and then destroyed as tyranny.

I don’t hear a rooster calling without thinking of this story and of those doomed astronauts, wandering the backwaters of their minds as they went to their deaths.

Website I09 has a nice tribute to him here.

Where was Mr. Bradbury’s mind wandering in the hours before his death, I wonder.

He wrote every day. Even after a stroke, he wrote every day. He wrote, he said years ago, to get the bad stuff out so the good stuff could come along. That’s something I tell my English students all the time. Want to be a better writer? Write every blessed day.

I don’t follow my own advice. But I should. I should follow the advice he gives in the introduction of The Illustrated Man (thanks, I09):
My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 A.M.

So as not to be dead.
Mr. Bradbury reached immortality a bit before the rest of us. I hope he finds heaven to his liking. If not, I’m sure he’ll write himself a new one.

UPDATE: A fitting, snarky tribute from Slate, which rarely disappoints unless it's one of their feminist writers dumping on the authors of The Berenstain Bears.

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