Ray Bradbury would have been 92 today. Bradbury was a great storyteller and a grand master of fantasy who originally wanted to be a magician. He fulfilled that goal with the magic he created in his novels and stories.
The author of over 500 publications, including the classic “Fahrenheit 451,” as well as “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man” and my favorite, “Something Wicked this Way Comes,” Ray Bradbury created “suburban magic”, a mixture of the steadfastly real and the marvelously possible. His themes of love and loss, of innocence and experience, included tales of witches and time travel and dark carnivals.
Many of Ray’s loyal readers discovered his work at the most impressionable time of their lives, at 12 or 13. What you read at that time — when you are just beginning to figure out the world and your place in it — stays with you in a deep way and changes who you are both as a reader and as a person. I, for one, would have never dared to tell my own stories had I not found Bradbury’s books one summer day, packed away in a carton in the basement, left behind by my father, who took off and never looked back.
Maybe I needed someone to step in and tell me the stories a father might have told his daughter, ones that taught me the difference between good and evil and revealed the importance of friendship, and freedom, and literature. For me Ray was that literary father. His stories were fantastic, true enough, but they were also concerned with morality, honesty, loyalty and love. As a writer, he taught me that anything was possible and that I could choose any subject, as long as it was grounded in truth. Love, after all, is the same on every planet, and loyalty is timeless.
Someone once told me a writer isn’t the person you meet, it’s the person you read. In other words, what matters most is the creation, and don’t expect the writer to live up to his or her work. I‘d always believed it was best not to meet the writer of the books one adored. But while working in Los Angeles I met a librarian who knew I was a huge fan of Bradbury’s. She slipped me his phone number. Call him, she advised. He loves writers.
I had to gear up my courage. What if he wasn’t the literary father I’d always considered him to be? What if he dismissed me? What if the man I phoned wasn’t anything like the author I idolized?
After a few days I did call. We had a dream conversation about writing and books. It was as though we had been having this conversation all of my life, and finally I was able to thank him. I came to understand that with Ray, you got what you read. All that was wonderful in the books and stories was wonderful in the man as well. He was as rare an individual as he was a storyteller, and he was proud and grateful that he was a spiritual father to so many.
He was looking forward to “Shadow Show,” the anthology published this summer in which 26 writers, including Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers and Neil Gaiman, came together to honor the mentor who had taught us all so much about fiction and life. After I sent in my story, “Conjure,” in which a young girl’s fate is changed by reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Ray sent a video email, thanking me, saying he was deeply in love with my story. Ray, we were deeply in love with you. The world was altered by your presence, and literature was forever changed.
Somewhere in the past or in the future, in a small Midwestern town or on a carnival midway, in wherever heaven turns out to be, whether it’s a kingdom in the clouds or the reading room of a library, I hope you get this message from all of us who loved you. Happy birthday, dear Ray. For your readers, you will live forever.