Author Ray Bradbury has died in Los Angeles at the age of 91.
Bradbury is often referred to as a science fiction author, though he wrote much more broadly than that, including works of fantasy, mystery, and horror.
His titles include some of the best-known in the history of speculative fiction, including:
- The Martian Chronicles
- Fahrenheit 451
- Something Wicked This Way Comes
- Dandelion Wine
- I Sing the Body Electric
- The Illustrated Man
He worked in both short story and novel form. Many of his stories ended up in film or television form, including episodes of the Twilight Zone and his own Ray Bradbury Theater anthology series.
He is credited by some for having helped bring speculative fiction new literary respect due to his evocative, lyrical writing style that brings out the emotion of a situation rather than just focusing on technology or common fantasy tropes.
One of the things that stands out in Bradbury's fiction is the way he juxtaposes the normal and the fantastic. This happens across genres in his works.
For example, in The Martian Chronicles there is a story ("The Earth Men") in which a group of Human astronauts--anxious to make first contact with Martians--show up on the doorstep of a Martian house and are agast when the annoyed Martian housewife who comes to the door is singularly unimpressed with them and disgruntled at having to take time out from her busy day to deal with them.
In a later story ("There Will Come Soft Rains"), an automated house goes about its own busy, daily routine of making toast and coffee, laying out clothes, doing household chores, and getting everything ready for the family that dwells in it to go about their own days--only the family isn't there because a nuclear war has occurred.
The same things happens in fantasy, as when--in Something Wicked This Way Comes--a carnival comes to a small town. There's always been something creepy about carnivals, and this one is creepier than most as it draws two 13-year old Midwestern boys into its orbit.
There is often that juxtaposing of the ordinary and the extraordinary, creating a sense in his writings that our ordinary lives are--or can be--interwoven with elements of wonder and mystery, that there are brighter lights and darker shadows than we are commonly aware.
His work often explores the interrelationship between good and evil--two prominent themes in Something Wicked This Way Comes.
That makes it natural to wonder what Bradbury's own faith was.
He doesn't seem to have talked about this much, and when he did, he gave answers that didn't always fit together neatly.
For example, in this YouTube video from a recent Comic-Con, he describes himself as a Zen Buddhist, but in such a way that I'm not at all sure how serious he was.
Then there's this quotation attributed to him:
That's the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn't mix. Or at least we didn't think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn't move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.
We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.
And there is this:
Bradbury, who turns 90 this month, says he will sometimes open one of his books late at night and cry out thanks to God.
"I sit there and cry because I haven't done any of this," he told Sam Weller, his biographer and friend. "It's a God-given thing, and I'm so grateful, so, so grateful. The best description of my career as a writer is, 'At play in the fields of the Lord.' "
Bradbury's stories are filled with references to God and faith, but he's rarely talked at length about his religious beliefs, until now.
'Joy is the grace we say to God'
He describes himself as a "delicatessen religionist." He's inspired by Eastern and Western religions.
The center of his faith, though, is love. Everything -- the reason he decided to write his first short story at 12; his 56-year marriage to his muse and late wife, Maggie; his friendships with everyone from Walt Disney to Alfred Hitchcock -- is based on love.
Bradbury is in love with love.
Once, when he saw Walt Disney, architect of the Magic Kingdom, Christmas shopping in Los Angeles, Bradbury approached him and said: "Mr. Disney, my name is Ray Bradbury and I love you."
Bradbury's favorite book in the Bible is the Gospel of John, which is filled with references to love.
"At the center of religion is love," Bradbury says from his home, which is painted dandelion yellow in honor of his favorite book, "Dandelion Wine."
"I love you and I forgive you. I am like you and you are like me. I love all people. I love the world. I love creating. ... Everything in our life should be based on love."
So Bradbury may not have had a solid religious identity, but--unlike some science fiction writers (I look at you, Isaac Asimov)--he was clearly open to and moved by religious concepts.
His stories, which convey strong emotion--whether wonder, awe, longing, mystery, the experience of beauty, fright, or whatever it may be in a particular case--also touch on themes that are part of the life of faith, and of life in general.
I was tempted to mark Bradbury's passing by titling this post in a way that plays on "There Will Come Soft Rains" (the story about the automated house whose family is missing)--perhaps by quoting from Job 7:10 (“He will not return again to his house, Nor will his place know him anymore"). However, I decided to go a different way.
Let us hope--and pray--that in his final encounter with the Lord, Bradbury was able to experience it with the same awe and wonder that his stories can evoke, that he would feel "Something Wondrous This Way Comes."
What is your favorite memory from a Bradbury story?