"When I was 15 years old, Hitler burned books in the streets of Berlin. And it terrified me, because I was a librarian and he was touching my life."
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury, one of our country's most renowned writers of fiction, has passed from the scene. The author of such classics as Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes died peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He was ninety-one-years-old.
Bradbury began publishing short stories in the 1930's. Much of what he wrote over the years was labeled as "science fiction," "fantasy," or "horror," which somehow translated into a bias that his work was less than "real" literature. But people who have pleasured themselves by reading the stories and novels of Ray Bradbury know that he was the real deal - an author's author.
I had a college professor many years ago who described Bradbury's prose as "luscious." That instructor, John Mayfield, taught an elective course at the West Plains Campus of Southwest Missouri State University entitled "Science Fiction Literature." One of the required texts in that class was The Martian Chronicles, a collection of stories that Bradbury wrote concerning his imagined American exploration of Mars. And while "luscious" might seem a bit over-the-top, the words that Mr. Bradbury used and the manner in which he used them never failed to leave me with the feeling of being satisfied to the core. His writing fed the soul with its beauty and eloquence.
(It was in that science fiction literature class where I also had my first exposure to Kurt Vonnegut - The Sirens of Titan, Robert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land, and Theodore Sturgeon - More Than Human. Mr. Heinlein was somewhat pedantic, but the other two, like Ray Bradbury, produced some outstanding American literature. For a joyous present to yourself, read Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon and then pass it along to a Bible-thumper. You'll be glad you did!)
The answers to the most vexing questions in life can all be found in great literature if one has the patience to seek and the willingness to learn. Ray Bradbury gave a chilling account of censorship and book-burning in his masterwork, Fahrenheit 451. Now, nearly seventy years after he shined a beacon on the evils of censorship, we are again faced with the specter of others trying to dictate what the rest of us should and should not be reading. Every time a book is pulled from a library shelf because some moral midget or political zealot has judged it unfit to read, we are all diminished. And when books are burned, humanity grows colder.
Ray Bradbury was much more than just a science fiction writer. He used his pen to illuminate societal issues and lead us through the darkness. His works are literature of a very high order. Bradbury is gone, but his body of work will continue to enlighten and inspire lovers of great writing for generations.