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The House of Usher Has Fallen

R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury

When I was growing up, I loved reading science fiction. I collected Star Trek novels, Star Wars novels, the Shannara series, the Prydain Chronicles and Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury was different than the rest. His short stories and longer works like Fahrenheit 451 were so varied in style and topic that I kept reading them over and over. In fact, I still have my original beat-up Bantam paperbacks printed on the cheap pulp paper frequently used twenty years ago. Now, I read them to my kids. One of their favorites is the Fog Horn; the story of a lonely sea monster spurned by a lighthouse.

Many of the other sci-fy / fantasy books that I read had some agenda in the contents; population control was a biggie in the Star Trek books. Ray Bradbury's stories were no exception and I sometimes roll my eyes at his moralizing about the Catholic Church. Even so, his themes were typically more complex than most other writers. I appreciated that he actually thought about religion and Catholicism specifically, and even though he seemed to regularly misunderstand Catholic theology (the priests on Mars trying to convert the Martians being a prime example), he at least seemed to sense that there was something important about it even if he personally didn't put much stock in it.

The other thing that I appreciate about his writing is his nostalgia. One of my favorite stories is Farewell Summer, the story of a trolley driver on the day before the trolley is replaced by buses. Ray Bradbury had an appreciation for the past and wrote about it in vivid words that reminded me of Norman Rockwell paintings. Another favorite is The Time Machine, about some kids who find a sort of time machine in a run down house in their town.

Ray Bradbury had the gift of painting with words. All of the places he described, no matter how short the story or what the local - from the jungles of Venus to the marshes where knights jousted at iron dragons, seemed like he had actually been there. In fact, a good portion of each story was usually spent describing the scene - something that more recent fiction tend to skimp on. For example, Melissa Wiley wrote several Little House on the Prairie sequels and our kids were so disappointed when  the series was cut short because the publisher thought the books were too long and wanted to replace them with the equivalent of "I can read" chapter books.

If you haven't ever read Ray Bradbury, I recommend Fahrenheit 451 and some of the short story books such as R is for Rocket and S is for Space. The first is considered his classic novel and is typically grouped with Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. The second and third are collections of short stories that are collections of different types of stories, unlike The Martian Chronicles which all deal with one basic plot line.

It is fitting that Ray Bradbury died yesterday during a rare astronomical event - the transit of Venus across the sun. While Venus hasn't turned out to be as amazing as in The Long Rain, the universe is just as wondrous as anything he wrote. Hopefully, this writer who believed that his writing was "God given" will find a home in Heaven.

Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.

 

Do you have a favorite Ray Bradbury story?

UPDATE:

More thoughts on Ray Bradbury's death:

{ 16 comments… add one }

  • Dennis Neylon June 6, 2012, 12:06 pm

    My own introduction to Bradbury was “Illustrated Man” one summer in high school. I always enjoyed his short stories, and found Farenheit 451 to be frightening as a lover of books.

  • Frank Miller June 6, 2012, 12:55 pm

    I agree. I loved sci fi books as a kid and it is what made me enjoy reading for pleasure as well as edification that I enjoy to the present day. Unique views of religion in sci fi are typically not well done or even consistent with our current affection for them. Favorite book: Golden Apples of the Sun.

  • RichardC June 6, 2012, 1:41 pm

    Ray Bradbury never learned how to drive a car. I like that about him for some reason. My favorite books were R is for Rocket and S is for Space. I can’t remember what my favorite story is called. These people are drifting in space, in their space suits. Their rocket has blown up. The talk to each other over their radios as they wait to die. One of them is being pulled toward the earth, to be burned up by the earth’s atmosphere. The end of the story switches suddenly to an Iowa or Kansas farm field, at night. A son points to the sky and says to his mother, “Look a falling star.” And his mother says to him, “Make a wish.” That is what I recall. R.I.P., Ray Bradbury.

  • David A June 6, 2012, 2:14 pm

    May Bradbury’s work inspire us to burn with a love of books.

  • Kim June 6, 2012, 3:01 pm

    ‘Dandelion Wine’. His stories touched my heart and and mind.

  • Robbie June 6, 2012, 6:34 pm

    I agree Kim, ‘Dandelion Wine’ and Farenheit 451. His stories made me think, meditate and feel.

  • Brett June 6, 2012, 8:18 pm

    RichardC, the story is Kaleidoscope. My personal favorite is the Veldt – a parable about the alienation that overuse of technology creates in homes and families. Both stories are in The Illustrated Man.

  • Aaron June 6, 2012, 9:55 pm

    I haven’t read anything by Bradbury, but I may have to now. I’m certainly willing to listen to the opinion of anyone who loves Prydain.

    Have you ever read A Canticle for Leibowitz? Very interesting work featuring the post-apocalyptic rebuilding of society from the POV of a monastic order…much as monks safeguarded ancient knowledge in real life after the fall of Rome. Definitely some odd stuff in the books (esp. regarding the immaculate conception), but at its best the books bring up some awesome ideas.

    • Ian June 7, 2012, 6:41 am

      The Canticle of Leibowitz was a very good book even though I never quite understood the ending.

  • Karen Edmisten June 6, 2012, 10:24 pm

    Dandelion Wine and Fahrenheit 451 are my favorites. Dandelion Wine is especially beloved.

  • mary June 7, 2012, 10:40 am

    Hi Ian, I just read your piece on Ray Bradbury and wondered if you could help me. In The Fog, Bradbury used a character named McDunn which is my maiden name. This name is unique to my family and I am trying to track down how he came to use it in his story. So far I’ve had no luck, any ideas? BTW, I did enjoy your piece in New Advent, I’m a fan of Bradbury as well.

    • Ian June 7, 2012, 12:10 pm

      Hello Mary, thank you for the compliment. I don’t know any of the background for his stories.

  • liù June 7, 2012, 1:19 pm

    Just a few days ago I was telling someone about The Long Rain. When younger I read and reread his short stories and books, and more recently picked up his newer ones. They will forever be in my mind. I pray, too for his home in heaven.

    Here is a link (to an Italian G. K. Chesterton blog) which has a poem written by Bradbury about his heavenly wish:

    http://uomovivo.blogspot.it/2012/06/bradbury-chestertoniano.html

  • craig June 7, 2012, 5:36 pm

    “Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned” is the Bradbury story that has the most sympathetic and certainly the most beautiful incorporation of Catholicism–it is worth checking out. In other stories where Bradbury attempts to have Christian themes or plot elements, he misfires badly (i.e., “The Man,” “The Fire Balloons.”)

    Also…in response to the comment about “Canticle for Leibowitz”…I think “Canticle” actually does a poor job of incorporating Catholic realities into it, but it is interesting for sure. “Lord of the World” and “Fourth Mansions” are two excellent s.f. novels that do a good job incorporating Catholic spirituality.

  • TeaPot562 June 7, 2012, 7:13 pm

    Somewhere in one of Bradbury’s stories is the use of the phrase “Helter Skelter”, which became part of the background of the 1969 Tate-La Bianca murders. Charles Manson was notionally trying to start a war between whites and African Americans and somehow thought that having one of his fanatics write that phrase on a bathroom mirror in one of the murder scenes would trigger such a war. I wonder if Bradbury reflected at all on the connection.
    TeaPot562

  • Havanna June 8, 2012, 6:12 am

    Dandelin is majestic.

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