Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Photo of Ray Bradbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Reblogged from my literary blog at
Ray Bradbury died today, and even with his long, productive life this is a great loss to the literary world. He was a bridge builder between genres: horror fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction–a writing jack-of-all-trades, and skilled at them all. He began as a writer influenced by H. P. Lovecraft’s writings, and August Derleth helped him begin his writing career. It would be impossible to cover the breadth or depth of his writings, so I will mention some that I found especially meaningful. DANDELION WINE is a masterpiece, a coming of age story as beautifully written as any I have read. The only work to which I would compare it is James Agee‘s A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. How a writer can bring out the sense of nostalgia without falling into the trap of sentimentality is difficult to understand, but somehow Mr. Bradbury pulled it off. By sitting on the edge of sentimentality without falling over, Bradbury created a poignancy so palpable that is is painful and joyous at the same time. DANDELION WINE is a book for all those people who wish to relive vicariously a happy childhood or experience vicariously the happy childhood they lacked. I think of it as Bradbury’s masterpiece.

The story from THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, “Mars is Heaven,” creates a childhood happiness that is illusion. From a story of an astronaut who finds himself in an idyllic version of his childhood home with his relatives returned, the plot shifts at the end to the crush of understanding that this heaven, at least, is a trap. The Martians have programmed the images into the astronaut’s mind–when he realizes that, the realization that the young man in his bedroom is not his brother is one mixed with the chill of fear and the heart-brokenness of disappointment. What is Bradbury suggesting? Is Heaven an illusion? Is an attempt to re-live what is past a pipe dream? Whatever Bradbury is suggesting, this story will leave the reader pondering for a long time.

THE OCTOBER COUNTRY is classic horror sometimes hidden by the beauty of Bradbury’s language. Its high literary quality can be used as a model today. Those contemporary writers of the “New Horror,” with its combination of literary fiction and horror elements, would be well-served to study Bradbury’s early horror stories.

All of Bradbury’s writing is strongly driven by well-developed characters in recognizable settings, even in his science fiction and fantasy stories. The combination of the familiar and the strange makes for an intriguing reading experience.

Ray Bradbury’s own struggles with world view surely affected his writings and their deep longing for meaning in a universe that often seems to lack meaning. Mr. Bradbury eventually joined the Unitarian Church, quite a switch from his traditional Protestant background. Like Ingmar Bergman or Woody Allen, his writings are fueled in part by his doubts about faith. That internal struggle reflects the struggle of his characters, and is one of the strengths of his writing that will help Ray Bradbury’s work to live long after his earthly passing. REQUIESCAT IN PACE.