Ray Bradbury: Requiescat In Pace (Live Forever!)

Ray Bradbury died yesterday in Los Angeles at age 91. And I think that means the checkered flag has at last been swung for the end of my childhood.

I grew up reading Bradbury’s novels and short stories. Because of an indulgent mother, I owned more books than almost all my friends, except perhaps Bob Gibson who had a big literate family and Steve Buyske who was sort of Draco Malfoy and Ron & Hermione to me through High School. All my chums, though, had sets of the thin Bradbury paperbacks from Bantam (the red rooster!).

I don’t remember our talking about these stories and collections that often — The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451 — but DC/Marvel comic books and Ray Bradbury were imaginative fiction to us, the only fiction as often as not (except for Steve, an early Tolkien admirer of no little seriousness).

Below the jump, some online tributes to the master and two personal stories to illustrate what Bradbury has meant to me —

Some links to articles elsewhere for those unfamiliar with this writer: first a Bradbury essay of sorts and then some admiring eulogies with a token obituary:

The New Yorker: A last autobiographical note

a 2003 Interview: “I write fantasy; I imagine the impossible.”

Elrick: ‘Remembering Ray’

Orson Scott Card: ‘Thoughts on Ray Bradbury’

David Flynn: ‘Ray Bradbury’s Temple’

CNN: Sci-Fi Legend Ray Bradbury on God

New York Post: Ray Bradbury and Free Speech

MindingThe Campus.com: Bradbury Saw PC Nightmare Coming

Washington Post: ‘Live Forever’

But, alas, you have to go to Wikipedia to find out he wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick! And not to his bio there but to the film’s page…

The story as Bradbury told it is that he was a young teen at an Illinois country fair when he realized he was born to write. A side-show player with the glorious name ‘Mr. Electro’ touched the boy on the nose with a wand charged with juice and proclaimed to the stunned teen, “Live forever!” Bradbury began writing the next day and wrote every day thereafter.

My personal note? My experience of this electrifying immortal?

Looking back, as I said, Ray Bradbury was the writer I read more than any other when I was a boy and adolescent and whom I remember the most fondly. Especially the short story collection, The October Country. Maybe “fondly” isn’t the right word.

I was hit by a car when I was 12 years old. I was out on my bike and collecting from subscribers on my newspaper delivery route. It was The Newark Star-Ledger. Foolishly, I was riding at leisure to cross a road, right in the center of the road on the dark side of a blind curve. The street? Intervale Road.

The driver was moving at a good clip in his white station wagon and didn’t see me on my bicycle — the impact with this great white whale’s back end as he swerved hard, hitting me something like a baseball bat, sent me close to 40 feet in the air. Luckily I landed on my head (my dad’s words). The hit shattered the bones in my left ankle, the point of impact with the car, and the landing knocked me out cold.

I woke up maybe 90 seconds later to see a ring of adult faces looking down at me, all very concerned. I nearly died of fright right then.

I had been reading Bradbury’s October Country in which there is a story, ‘The Crowd.’  It is the tale of a reporter who discovers, while looking through archives of newspaper coverage about traffic accidents from years ago, that the same people appear around the body at these road scenes even today. They inevitably move the body, which, as often as not, kills the person with neck and spine injuries. A deadly Greek chorus.

The reporter, of course, is almost immediately hit by a car and the story closes as ‘The Crowd’ gathers around him.

Waking up to ‘The Crowd’ myself after being thrown by a car, you can imagine my terror. This story picture Bradbury had meant, I’m sure, as an allegorical assault on “the madness of crowds” in popular culture and liberal democracy. There was a poke in the eye to the Press, as well, I think, for its role in perpetuating this madness by never exposing it.

As a real group of folks appeared as a Crowd wanting to move me out of the road, though, this 12 year old didn’t know what to think. I certainly wasn’t thinking “Allegory! You’re all allegorical!” I know whatever skull and ankle injuries I had sustained were not my immediate concern when I regained consciousness. My fear that they would move me and my recall of that story which was the substance of that fear remain my chief memories of the event.

Bradbury could touch a heart! And he was something of a Prophet, as a few of his eulogists have noted.

I recently read Fahrenheit 451 with a group of 12 year old students and tried to share my excitement for this writer with them. I realized too late that they were the children that didn’t appear in that dystopian nightmare, the ones who had grown up with parents watching ‘The Family’ on their teevee walls and listening to their iPods and neglecting story for huge sporting events and rock-and-roll worship spectaculars twice a week.

These young readers didn’t burn books or turn in their neighbors to the Firemen as folks do in Fahrenheit but I saw in their blank expressions that Bradbury had been describing the present rather than the future — and that the present is much worse now than it was then.

A moment that was in several ways more frightening than my own experience inside a Bradbury story as a 12 year old.

If you have a Ray Bradbury story, how you experienced it, please share it here. And, if you have a copy of an old Bradbury ‘Bantam,’ think about taking it down from the shelf today and read a paragraph or two as something of a ‘thank you’ for the great gift this man was.

Live forever, Ray Bradbury. Memory Eternal.


  1. Annette Lukacs says

    As a Middle School teacher, I was fortune enough to attend a Gifted Talented conference about 9 years ago when Mr. Bradbury was the keynote speaker. I had read all of his books when I was a young girl (of course, they all belonged to my older brother!), and absolutely loved them, sort of the same love I have today as an adult for Harry Potter. He held everyone of us completely spell-bound for a good hour and a half. He recollected about his first published story, inspired by the old roller coaster on the pier at Pacific Ocean Park near Redondo Beach, California (where I happened to be born) about a sea serpent who falls in love with it. He was just plain fascinating, touching and witty. I will never forget hearing him speak. I know that I got my love for “surreal” literature from him at an early age . How bad I wanted to be Will in Something Wicked This Way Comes, or travel with the illustrated man!
    I came across something I had written down when I was 11 or 12 that he wrote, I think from Something Wicked. A grown man goes to a tree where years previous he had written a note to his future self : “I remember you” was all the note said.
    Mr. Bradbury, I remember you.

  2. Yes. Fahrenheit 451 has been realized. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t have reason to think of that haunting novel and how well Mr. Bradbury saw the future. The political side as well as the technological side in a fusion of oblivion and plasma screen TVs – wall sized!

    May light perpetual shine upon him and may he be granted eternal rest.

Speak Your Mind