Brow Beat

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Ray Bradbury in 1975
Science fiction author Ray Bradbury in 1975.

Photo by Alan Light from Wikimedia Commons.

Ray Bradbury, the prolific and celebrated author best known for Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles died this morning at age 91 in Los Angeles, io9 has reported.* Bradbury, whose popular books and stories have been adapted dozens of times for television and film, helped shape the way Americans think about space, technology, and the future like few other writers. “To the extent that there is a mythology of our age,” Nathaniel Rich wrote in Slate two years ago, “Bradbury is one of its creators.”

Born in Waukegan, Ill., in 1920, Bradbury started writing in childhood and never stopped. As he wrote himself in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, “the creative beast in me grew when Buck Rogers appeared, in 1928, and I think I went a trifle mad that autumn. It’s the only way to describe the intensity with which I devoured those stories.”

As Bryan Curtis argued in Slate in 2005, Bradbury’s genius did not begin and end with his most famous books. It can also be found—perhaps best found—in his pulpiest stories (Curtis singles out “A Sound of Thunder”), with their “distinctive combination of boyish wonder and preoccupation with the violence of the adult world.”

Slate will have more about Bradbury later today. In the meantime, Brow Beat recommends the fascinating half-hour documentary about Bradbury above—and these two passages that appear close together near the end of his most famous book:

And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for all the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think, what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands. He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.

* * *

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

* This post originally left out the ‘4’ in Fahrenheit 451.