Ray Bradbury 1920-2012 – RIR*
*May he “Rest In Relevance”.
A reflection by Jay B Gaskill
Wednesday, June 6, 2012.
We’ve lost a great one. Ray Bradbury died last night.
The American literary giant, Ray Bradbury, often created compelling, poetic parables that will live on much as the suppressed, memorized books did in Fahrenheit 451 . He was an enchanting storyteller whose work was an integral part of my own formation.
His Book Fahrenheit 451 is itself an extended parable about the oppression of ideas and ideals, the preservation of literature through its virtual incarnation in the memory of readers.
There is a particular chapter that I will not forget. The book remains a classic, in spite of the fact that Bradbury’s Mars doesn’t exist, except as a compelling myth. In Ray Bradbury’s vision of Mars, earth colonists (their lives evoke small town 1950’s LA) are beginning to live near the ruins of the mysterious, extinct original Martians.
In the chapter, “The Martian”, one lonely and empathetic surviving representative of the original inhabitants survives near a small town of colonists. The creature has the ability to appear as whatever person someone wants. The lost Martian appears to a bereft family by morphing into their long missing child. The Martian is taken in and loved – no questions asked. But eventually the child/Martian wanders away where it falls under the spell of other people seeking someone who has been lost. At the end of the story, we learn that the lonely Martian has been doing this for many other people – driven by loneliness and exile, it seemingly can’t help it.
At the very end, the Martian is surrounded by a crowd, each one of whom has lost someone dear, only to have him or her “return”, then disappear. A name is called, and the Martian briefly becomes the missing loved one. Different names are shouted out in a chorus and the creature falls to the ground, dying as it tries to morph into each of their conflicting expectations in turn.
The Martian’s fatal flaw is that it wants to become the person someone is longing for because it cannot be true to itself without alienating the same person.
This is a tragic story that reveals the essential futility of the reinvented persona, obsessed with pleasing other at the expense of integrity.
As a teenager, I was lucky to grow up in a place in South-Eastern Idaho where circumstances happily conspired to create a scientist-infused rural culture. My childhood in Idaho benefited from an unusually large number of newly arrived nuclear scientist and engineers; they were working on the nascent “Atoms for Peace” project that eventually created the reactor designs for the world’s first electric power-generating fission reactors. In those years, I dreamed of being an astronaut. My recreational reading was saturated with science fiction – Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, A. E. Van Vogt, James Blish, and other writers, all of whom were steeped in the vision of space travel as the inevitable Next Step for our species. In this milieu, I could see no irreconcilable conflict between the sciences and religion. Ray Bradbury’s vision space travel moved me. His was a deeply poetic call to all humans at all times and all places. His sensibility was authentically and quintessentially American. His writings transcended genre. He will never be forgotten.
Copyright 2012 by Jay B Gaskill
A partial Bradbury bibliography
(1947) Dark Carnival
(1951) The Illustrated Man
(1953) The Golden Apples of the Sun
(1955) The October Country
(1959) A Medicine for Melancholy
(1959) The Day It Rained Forever
(1962) The Small Assassin
(1962) R is for Rocket
(1964) The Machineries of Joy
(1965) The Autumn People
(1965) The Vintage Bradbury
(1966) Tomorrow Midnight
(1966) S is for Space
(1966) Twice 22
(1969) I Sing The Body Electric
(1975) Ray Bradbury
(1976) Long After Midnight
(1979) The Fog Horn & Other Stories
(1980) One Timeless Spring
(1980) The Stories of Ray Bradbury
(1983) Dinosaur Tales
(1984) A Memory of Murder
(1988) The Toynbee Convector
(1991) The Parrot Who Met Papa
(1996) Quicker Than The Eye
(1997) Driving Blind
(2001) The Playground
(2002) One More for the Road
(2003) Is That You, Herb?
(2004) The Cat’s Pajamas: Stories
(2007) The Dragon Who Ate His Tail
(2007) Summer Morning, Summer Night