Like many of you, I didn't formally meet Ray Bradbury until late middle school. However I had several brushes with him in the form of television, comic books and films in the years prior. The fateful meeting was of course during English class, with the introduction to what many consider to be his seminal work, Fahrenheit 451.
I've always enjoyed reading, but have found it difficult to read something recommended by educators, even if it is something I truly want to read. It is this compulsion to avoid reading as "school work" that made Where the Red Fern Grows a chore and When Legends Die a battle. However, when I laid my hands on Fahrenheit 451, something within me was struck from the very first line: "It was pleasure to burn". I feared for Montag as he hid his precious books from his fellow firemen. I was heartbroken for Faber, living in a world devoid of life and I fell head over heels in love with Clarisse McClellan. To say I was touched by this story about the burning of books would've been an understatement. I lived in that world. I felt what the characters felt and when I turned the last page and there was no more left to read, I felt changed. I viewed the world differently.
In college I dipped into his short stories (The Illustrated Man), but it wasn't until my post college years that I felt the duel voice of the childhood friend and happy old relative call for me to visit Greentown. It was the reading of Bradbury's Greentown books (Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine) that convinced me that Bradbury and I were kindred spirits. In those stories he painted childhood not as it was, but as it was remembered. He found the magic in a new pair of sneakers, and the heartache in the years between an old woman and a young man. These were the kinds of things that had populated my brain since childhood. Growing up in a small, Western Colorado town, (Not so different from Greentown, Illinois) it felt like he wrote those stories just for me. Bradbury was the kind of creative being I wanted to be. He was generous with his time while still being filled with imagination and joy. Bradbury managed to bridge the chasm between childhood and adulthood better than anyone, proving you could still love dinosaurs, magic, comic books and Halloween and still be a husband and a father.
I have adored many other authors over the years, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, but I have never felt as close to their work as I do to the work of Ray Bradbury. His writing both terrifies and inspires. He shows darkness but not without light, and I have to imagine that somewhere wind blows a dirge over a long forgotten carnival calliope in the memory of a man who brought the magic of the written word to so many.
Below are three videos that feature Bradbury at three different points in his life. They serve as excellent companion pieces and introductions to the writer himself. If you're a fan, you'll certainly enjoy these and if you're not familiar with the writing of Bradbury, watch these, then go read some of his stories for Pete's sake! You're missing out!