The first time I found Bradbury was through Something Wicked This Way Comes, the book that devoured me so utterly that I had a moment of panic when I looked up and realized it was July instead of October. The lyricism of the writing, the horror of the situations, and the strength of the strange friendship between two such different boys captivated me, and I knew I had to read everything this man had written.
The first time I found Bradbury was in the Golden Book of Children’s Literature, my tome with green script on the side, with embellished old fairy tales and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Kipling and Aesop. The story was “Switch on the Night,” and there was a character called Dark in that one too, but not at all like Something Wicked’s nightmare carnival man. Dark the girl embodied night–crickets and stars, porch-lights and croaking or chirping frogs, the soft wings of owls and the texture of black tree branches against midnight sky.
Both of these stories are true–the first time I read Bradbury knowingly, and my actual first encounter. It turns out I have been discovering and rediscovering Bradbury for most of my life. The horror of the carnival stories, murderers, and people trapped within their own private fears; the sweet nostalgia for the mythical small-town America; the exhilarated rush of space and machine, and the prickling alien-ness that they hold; and always, the great human yearning toward understanding of self, of other, of loved one. I read and reread and stopped by his row on the bookstore shelf just so I could rest my hand against the block of books for a moment.
I took Bradbury with me to college. He was my Honors project. I combined literature and sociology in a way I hoped he’d be proud of, following his keen interest in people rather than the classifications he always eluded. Not quite sci-fi writer, too complex for moralist, too nostalgic for a doomsday prophet, too optimistic for pure horror. Dandelion Wine and From the Dust Returned, Fahrenheit 451 and The Golden Apples of the Sun, Martians and Greentown, Illinois.
One of the things I love about Bradbury is the stories he told about himself. He swore he remembered every instant of his life, including birth. He said a carny named Mr. Electrico had recognized him, age 12, as the reincarnation of his best friend, who had died in his arms in the first World War. He said Mr. Electrico had knighted him with lightning and commanded him to live forever, and he said it all with such conviction that I believed him.
Last Wednesday, Andrew called me up at lunchtime to tell me Ray Bradbury had died. Of course I started crying. I feel like I lost my grandfather. He formed my writing self, the play of it, the love of people and where people go wrong, the yen toward short and strange. My first thought was, What do I do if Bradbury is dead? What does the world mean if Mr. Electrico misspoke about that boy, all those years ago? How do I make sense of the world anymore when he isn’t here?
Bradbury made me feel like the mythos that you formed around yourself as a child was okay to carry into adulthood. More than okay, it was something to fuel you, feed you. He created himself like a story. Sometimes my friends tell me I see the world in different or strange ways; there’s a trio of us in which I am indisputably the loopy one, not because I think I actually am so silly as all that, but because I suppose there is a fancifulness and a sense of play that is more alive in me because Bradbury lived it so well.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury. Live forever.