When I was a boy I devoured science fiction, and I still read quite a bit half a century later. Ray Bradbury, who died at 91 on June 5th, was not one of my favorite writers when I was young. A bit too complex and little if any of the space opera that I enjoyed so much. However, even then I knew that what I was reading in “Dandelion Wine” or “The Martian Chronicles” was writing of a very high order indeed. In my teen years I came across “Something Wicked This Way Comes“, and this passage has always stayed with me:
Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles & smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he’s covering up. He’s had his fun & he’s guilty. And all men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors & smells. Times come when troughs, not tables, suit appetites. Hear a man too loudly praising others & look to wonder if he didn’t just get up from the sty. On the other hand, that unhappy, pale, put-upon man walking by, who looks all guilt & sin, why, often that’s your good man with a capital G, Will. For being good is a fearful occupation; men strain at it & sometimes break in two. I’ve known a few. You work twice as hard to be a farmer as to be his hog. I suppose it’s thinking about trying to be good makes the crack run up the wall one night. A man with high standards, too, the least hair falls on him sometimes wilts his spine. He can’t let himself alone, won’t let himself off the hook if he falls just a breath from grace.
Bradbury was a native of Waukegan, Illinois, his family eventually moving to Los Angeles. A child of the Depression, Bradbury lacked the funds to go to college and instead educated himself in libraries as he pursued a career as a writer. For ten years he visited libraries three days a week. He wrote every day, a trait he recommended to all writers. (It certainly is a handy habit for a blogger!) He endured endless rejections and kept pecking away on rented typewriters until he became not only a financially successful writer, but, much more importantly, a good one.
Although Bradbury is known as a science fiction writer, Bradbury rejected the label, holding that almost all his fiction was better described as fantasy, and I tend to agree with him. In any case, he is the last survivor of the Golden Age of Science Fiction to pass beyond our mortal sphere, and that thought leaves me sad.
In a field dominated by liberals, Bradbury was a fairly outspoken conservative. He gave the execrable Michael Moore hell when he named one of his idiot bait films Fahrenheit 9/11. Go here to read some of his unvarnished opinions on some of our recent presidents.
His masterpiece is widely regarded as Fahrenheit 451, a cautionary tale of a future totalitarian regime with a friendly face that bans books. For a book lover like Bradbury there could be no greater crime:
The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’
The book, which came out in 1953, has several prophetic passages:
We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.
It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.
People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.
Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.
We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing.
Married for 56 years to his beloved wife Marguerite, Bradbury had the type of happy life with her and their four daughters that great artists often do not enjoy. I hope he has a happy after-life. Mr. Bradbury did not follow any particular religion, but he did believe in God. He once described his writing career as “at play in the fields of the Lord.” May God deal gently with his ink-stained soul.