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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Thank you, Ray Bradbury, again

Gratitude. That's what I feel when I read Margaret Atwood's piece in the Guardian on Ray Bradbury. It's sort of provoking, too, to read the thoughts of a writer of your mature age on a writer of your youth, which Bradbury most definitely was for me. You pay attention, looking to see whether the things that remain with you from those days of voracious reading are the same things that remain for her. In this case they're not. Atwood focuses on the dark elements of Bradbury's oeuvre, the doubles, the lurking evil. What remain for me are the elements of sheer, unadulterated beauty, like the echoing plains of Mars, lonely and eerie, elegant and forgotten, somehow blue and green. And endless.

This is the second time I have written to say "thank you" to Bradbury. The first time, when I was a youth, I wrote a letter and Bradbury replied, saying (I remember it accurately) that my letter was "one of the best of its kind" he had received. It came with a signed photo and the photo was not unlike the one used with this post. It was a smiling, friendly face. I was ecstatic when I got the letter. I don't know where his letter of reply is now, nor where the photo is. They are lost along with so many things, and so many memories. After all, I will be 50 this year and I "inhaled" (Atwood's word) Bradbury when I was about 14.

I should also thank my brother, of course, who introduced me to science fiction. I came late to reading, while he was a very early starter. He is also two years my senior. Before the age of 12 I was more interested in sport, and I also played the violin, which I stopped doing at around this time. I was also a compulsive drawer. But my brother gave me books by Philip Jose Farmer, whose tales of the labyrinthine ziggurat-world of the Amerindians entranced me. There were others, too. So many others. And these books provide a sort of bedrock for my morality, some sort of substrate laid down at a time when you are starting to make up your mind about what sort of person you are going to be. They are an element of your psyche that is laid down deep. Atwood talks about this in her piece. Many others who have written about Bradbury talk in a similar way about their early obsession with this smiling man.

The other two writers I read eagerly, whose books I actively sought out, during those years were Gavin Maxwell and Gerald Durrell. Maxwell wrote books about otters because he had an interest in the natural world. Durrell was also a naturalist, and wrote books about his adventures in foreign countries collecting animals for a menagerie. Then, a bit later, there was Tolkien. Oh, the aching happy-sadness when I finally finished reading The Hobbit, and wished that I could start again, not knowing what would transpire! I wanted to repeat the experience one more time, as if I had never had it. It was a selfish desire, but a natural one.

I dabbled with the counter-culture first through music, as I neared physical maturity. But it would be the counter-culture that would entice me as I transferred my attention to the larger world around the age of 18. The visual arts served as another mode of access to this world. Art and music first, then literature. Atwood says that Bradbury read Edgar Allen Poe when he was eight years old. My introduction to this American author would come a lot later in life. Initially, in my case, it was French symbolist poetry. After I began to study for an arts degree majoring in modern languages at university it was Henry Miller who accompanied me on my moral journey into the unknown world that lay beyond the confines of family and high school. First Bradbury, Maxwell and Durrell. Then Farmer, McCaffrey, Adams and Tolkein. And then Miller, Rimbaud, Montale and Garcia Marquez. And finally Nabokov. Oh, the joys! Oh, the memories!

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