Not long ago, Maurice Sendak passed away, and now the news comes in that Ray Bradbury has also passed.
Admittedly, I haven’t read a lot of Bradbury’s work. But last year, I read his novel, Dandelion Wine, and its poetic and fantastical descriptions of small town life bowled me over. The characters and various stories spoke of what must have been Bradbury’s love of small towns. He grew up in Waukegan, Illinois—and the book takes place in Green Town, Illinois.
In one early passage, 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding is walking in the woods with his brother and father, and a great, mysterious Thing finally catches up to him, causing him to open and see the world with new eyes:
The grass whispered under his body. He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and far away below, his toes creaking in his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were suns and starry spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened.
I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!
There’s a kaleidoscopic array of stories that make up this book: a happiness machine, a human “time machine” who tells tales of past adventures, a serial killer, a mechanical fortune-telling witch, a grandmother who cooks tremendous feasts in a gloriously messy kitchen without recipes, and lots of sitting on porch swings. These are just some of the stories that form the collection in this book. I thought the book was a journey of nostalgia for some things gone by, as well as the joys of childhood, summer, and small towns. The machines seem to hold appeal at first, but they eventually fall short—such as the happiness machine backfiring. Happiness, the inventor turns out discovering, is found by interacting with family, friends, and nature.
I’m reminded of Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” where the house does everything for the family, even cooking them meals and whisking them upstairs to the bedrooms in a swoosh of air so they don’t have to actually walk up the stairs. But the house has taken over the attention of the kids, instead of the parents having a close relationship with them.
There are tons more of Bradbury’s stories out there, filled with magic, fantasy, science fiction, and—I’m guessing here based on the little of his work that I’ve read—the hope that technology/machines don’t take replace good, old-fashioned human interaction that takes place face to face. (Though I believe online interaction expands the pool of people we can interact with.)
In CNN.com’s article yesterday about Bradbury’s death, there’s a quote from him that I liked:
In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back. Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I’ve worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior.