Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), RIP

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Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Photo of Ray Bradbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Reblogged from my literary blog at http://michaelpotts.livejournal.com%5D
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.

On “Guilty Pleasures”

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Estonian heavy metal group Remote Silence perf...

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I enjoy listening to classical music and jazz, especially bebop. I also enjoy listening to heavy metal music, something that I count among my “guilty pleasures.” I cannot explain the attraction, although the groups I like the most (Anthrax, Zao) tend to write more intellectual lyrics than are found in other heavy metal bands. Another guilty pleasure may relate to this interest–I love horror fiction and horror movies. Black Sabbath became successful when they tried to reach horror fans with their music, and other groups followed. From Rob Zombie to black and death metal, horror themes are found in heavy metal music. Now some people would say I should be ashamed of this guilty pleasure, and perhaps they have a point. Richard Weaver, the author of the fine book¬†Ideas Have Consequences, thought jazz to be decadent, and he would have rolled over in his grave if he had lived long enough to have heard heavy metal music.

As for horror fiction, I prefer books of higher literary quality–not only the classic works such as Frankenstein and Dracula, but also works of fine contemporary horror writers such as Ramsey Campbell and, yes, Stephen King. Dean Koontz is not as strong, though his writing has improved over the years. I love his Frankenstein series. Now and then I don’t mind reading a trashy horror novel–or seeing a trashy horror movie. With a red face I admit I like both the movies Reanimator and Bride of Reanimator. H. P. Lovecraft would have fainted if he saw how his work was adapted, but there is a campiness to these movies that eases the shock of their graphic imagery.

Another guilty pleasure is that I collect animal skulls–so far I have several dog, cat, and deer skulls, a cow skull, a horse skull, a goose skull, and perhaps more if my old brain could remember them. I do not know the source of that interest entirely–as a child I was afraid of skulls and skeletons when they appeared in horror movies or shows. I remember watching, in the late 1960s as a child, an episode of the horror soap opera Dark Shadows. Someone was sitting down and glanced up to look at a bookcase. Several skulls floated in the air. I screamed, got in trouble, and eventually was…. punished….. for insisting on continuing to watch the show. While an interest in skulls could be explained by my fear-fascination with death, such a pleasure becomes less guilty due to my fascination with form in nature. So many patterns repeat in nature, not only in different living organisms, but inanimate ones, too. That’s the excuse I give myself to feel better about this interest.

Last but not least is ghost investigations. I have no idea whether or not ghosts exist.  I do believe (and have experienced) things that are difficult to explain via conventional science. But I enjoy being in the dark, feeling like a child in the woods listening to ghost stories. It is not that I do not take this activity seriously, but I find it to be lots of fun despite the work involved.

Everyone probably has at least one guilty pleasure, something he enjoys that seems incongruent which his known character and interests. Someone who likes fine wines may have a cheap white Zinfandel now and then. A person who enjoys fine dining may enjoy the occasional splurge as a cheap, greasy fast food restaurant. I’m not convinced that these guilty pleasures are worth feeling guilty about. They reveal human beings to be interesting and complex creatures who can tie together disparate, even contradictory, interests together in their minds. If quirks and guilty pleasures do not harm a person and make this short life a little more interesting, then more power to them.