I just heard that my childhood hero, Ray Bradbury passed some twenty-four hours ago. By my calculations, this unimpeded spirit buoyed on the wings of his boyish, eternal sense of wonder passed the outer limits of the Solar System some seventeen hours ago en route to Proxima Centauri, outward bound, following his limitless curiosity.
I could joyously recount my many experiences being entertained by his unequaled flights of imagination that became reality for me before the advent of space exploration and the scientific discoveries that have so changed our culture and the world. Well-coached in the fantasies of this prophet, the future held no shock for me with all the technological changes that have come to pass since my first reading of “The Martian Chronicles.”
Bradbury’s incredible and sometimes less than hospitable fantasies were always buffered by his compassion and optimism. Many of his settings took place in my own, familiar, Midwestern landscape among the people I grew up with. The humor and humanity of his characters resonated and allowed me a familiar footing from which to venture forth into the unknown—within and without.
I suppose epitaphs will say that ninety-one is not a sad or tragic age at which to leave this planet, especially not for one who has lived a life filled with such an accomplished list of stories that will continue to bring pleasure to so many. I say that, to one who has remained so young for so long, any time of death is premature.
The best way to celebrate a writer is perhaps to share a sample of a favorite story or passage. I must confess to often having fantasies of meetings and conversations between certain of my most admired characters or artists. Here is Ray Bradbury’s account of exactly one of my fantasies--one that actually took place! This is the description written for Holiday Magazine of the tour he and Charles Laughton took of Disneyland. His recounting of this historic occasion is full of all the marvelous humor and hyperbole we expect from a great fiction writer.
“Finally a good friend jollied me into my first grand tour of the Magic Kingdom. I went with one of the great children of our time: Charles Laughton. It is a good memory, the memory of the day Captain Bligh dragged me writhing through the gates of Disneyland. He plowed a furrow in the mobs; he surged ahead, one great all-enveloping presence from whom all fell aside. I followed in the wake of Moses as he bade the waters part, and part they did. The crowds dropped their jaws and, buffeted by the passage of his immense body through the shocked air, spun about and stared after us.
We made straight for the nearest boat—wouldn’t Captain Bligh?—the Jungle Ride. Charlie sat near the prow, pointing here to crocodiles, there to bull elephants, farther on to feasting lions. He laughed at the wild palaver of our riverboat steersman’s jokes, ducked when pistols were fired dead-on at charging hippopotamuses, and basked face up in the rain, eyes shut, as we sailed under the Schweitzer Falls.
We blasted off in another boat, this one of the future, the Rocket to the Moon. Lord, how Bligh loved that. And at dusk we circuited the Mississippi in the Mark Twain, with the jazz band thumping like a great dark heart, and the steamboat blowing its forlorn dragon-voice whistle, and the slow banks passing, and all of us topside, hands sticky with spun candy, coats snowed with popcorn salt, smiles hammer-tacked to our faces by one explosion of delight and surprise after another. Then, weary children, Charlie the greatest child and most weary of all, we drove home on the freeway.”
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