The Wonder of Ray Bradbury
By Bobbi Olson
It started with “Dandelion Wine.” I was 12, and I had never read science fiction. The Illinois town, so much like my own, the way Ray Bradbury described nightfall, it was so perfectly right. You could feel the heat of a summer day shifting into a cool breeze, see the lights begin to wink on as night fell. The transformation of that flat landscape into a dreamland of mystery and adventure struck me deeply.
1969 became my Bradbury summer. After “Dandelion Wine,” I checked out “The Illustrated Man.” Each story unwrapped a truth, a reality made sharper, clearer, as if back then Bradbury knew how to Photoshop his words to make them acid-washed and hyper-real, whatever he needed to serve ideas that were as alien to a young girl as they were astonishingly familiar. I then read “Golden Apples of the Sun,” “R Is for Rocket,” every Bradbury book in my school’s small library.
Then came “The Martian Chronicles.” That summer I stayed with an aunt and uncle in Illinois. Their old house was large enough to have a room downstairs that had been a parlor. No one used it, so I staked a place on the sofa and disappeared for days. My cousins walked in and out of the house. From the corner of my eye I could watch my aunt’s progress as she polished a brass light fixtures in the dining room, but I was as much a part of that sofa, for three glorious months, as an antimacassar.
I learned things no adult would or could explain to me. About loneliness, racism, dreams, fears, cruelty, heartbreak.
Then came “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” It was then that I realized not just what a good story is, but what great writing is. It was my literary epiphany. It was with this novel that I realized how Bradbury could create an entire world in a sentence. Not even a particularly long sentence. But with each word, carefully balanced, meticulously chosen, life was born. It was like the way Picasso could create pathos, beauty and form with three pen strokes.
Of all the worlds, the planets, the galaxies, the carnivals, all the exotic places Bradbury would take me to that summer, this thrilling world of literary creativity was what held me most in awe.
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