Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Hero Passes By

This is an unusual aside for FB, but here it is nevertheless.
When I was 12 a story I read hit me right between the eyes and nothing was ever going to be the same again.
It was called The Scythe and it was by Mr.Ray Bradbury, who has sadly passed away at the grand old age of 91.
Years earlier I had been astonished at the sight of Captain Ahab lashed to the giant whale in Moby Dick and had never noticed when Ray's name came up as writer of the screenplay.
It took a number of years in those pre-internet days to put the two names together . . .
To say that I am in part a product of Ray's writing would be an understatement.
For a large part of my teenage years I lived and breathed him.
I was a creature borne of mists and ghosts, of open graves and winged creatures shadowing the moon at Halloween. I was an invader; a defender; an innocent and a cold intelligence millenia old. I was Montag; I was Douglas; I was a dinosaur killer; a watcher of terrible unfoldings; a post-nuclear shadow of sorrow enfolded in dank fog. I was all these and more, for in Mr.Bradbury I found a soul mate.
He wrote like the distillation of all my hopes and dreams and fears. Succinct and never rambling, I could count on Ray (in the passing of a couple of pages) to open up my mind and send a shiver of wonder down my back.
It is a puzzle why, as a nation, Britain has never really seemed to be taken with Mr.Bradbury. The man was an American literary giant alongside Hemingway and Steinbeck.
Was it because he was tagged at an early stage in his career as a 'SF' writer? It was a shadow that dogged him all his life. And yet how many stories like these did he write? Precious few. He was by his own admission a fantasist. He dug over the grave earth of moonless nights, and found beauty. He took us to different worlds, both physical and inner.
To myself, aged 12, reading The Scyth on the number 114 bus, he brought together all the elements of all the authors I had been reading (Poe, Romer, Moorcock, LeGuin, Lovecraft) and in a few pages distilled them into a heady brew of wonder, terror and revelation. I loved him for that.
His short stories especially are a pleasure to read and the pleasure is instantaneous and then in a handful of pages they are done and a small seed of wonder has been planted in the reader. They really are incredible works. His novels read like a blanket of maps, pieced and stitched together with great care, to be draped lovingly over your bed when it is just you and the night and your bedside lamp.
And that, sadly, is that. I doubt we'll ever see his like again.
R.I.P. Ray.
I shall leave this now and go and pick up my battered copies of Farenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine and The October Country and The Silver Locusts and go and sit on my porch in Green Town and remember a man who enriched my life.

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