I haven’t been following the news this week, so it was only last night that I found out that one of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury, died on Tuesday, age 91. My love affair with Bradbury began in high school with “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451” and continued on through the years with endless collections of his short stories.
I have lived in many different locales in my life, each time surrounded by different stacks of books, each time with at least one Bradbury in the pile. My current one includes “The October Country,” published in 1955 and billed as “A land of mists and shadows and strange shapes, of twilight terrors and midnight madness ...”
In one story, “The Scythe,” a struggling farmer discovers that he is the Grim Reaper, trapped in his mission of destruction:
Sobbing wildly, he rose above the grain and hewed to left and right over and over and over! He sliced out huge scars in green wheat and ripe wheat, with no selection and no care, cursing, swearing, the blade swinging up in the sun and falling with a singing whistle!
Bombs shattered London, Moscow, and Tokyo. The kilns of Belchen and Buchenwald took fire.
The blade sang, crimson wet.
Mushrooms vomited out blind suns at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The grain wept in a green rain, falling.
Korea, Indo-China, Egypt, India trembled; Asia stirred, Africa woke in the night…
And the blade went on rising, crashing, severing, with the fury and the rage of a man who has lost and lost so much that he no longer cares what he does to the world.
Most of the obits and tributes characterized Bradbury as one of the greatest science fiction writers, ever. They are wrong, way wrong. He was one of the greatest writers, ever, period.
In his 1996 foreword, to “October Country,” Bradbury describes his “Theatre of Morning Voices” that came to him in his early twenties and continued (at age 75) to speak to him “in the echochamber between my ears.” “May I Die Before My Voices,” reads the title to his foreword. His concluding paragraph says it all:
My voices are still speaking, and I am still listening and taking their wild advice. If some morning in the future I wake and there is silence, I’ll know my life is over. With luck, on my last day, the voices will still be busy and I will still be happy.
A man who dared listen to his voices, who stayed true to himself. That, to me, is a real hero. At age 90, he told Time Magazine: "All I can do is teach people to fall in love. My advice to them is, do what you love and love what you do. … If I can teach them that, I've done a great job."
The scythe swung. A stalk fell. A great writer died happy.
No Question of the Week this week. Please feel free to leave your own tribute to Ray Bradbury. Comments below ...