Ray Bradbury has passed away

Sad news. I was never a big science fiction fan but I always loved Bradbury’s work, and even more than that I love his raw gusto for the act of writing. He described this in his short book, Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a must read for any person who has ever tried to put words on a page, and has both struggled with it and loved it at the same time. Bradbury was a firm believer in just a few things, but among them were doing what you loved and writing every single day. He wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA library on typewriters he rented for ten cents every half hour.

My favorite Bradbury story involved his writing of the screenplay for a film adaptation of Moby Dick, to be directed by John Huston and star Gregory Peck. Bradbury struggled with the writing; indeed, he struggled with just getting through Moby Dick. Until finally the dam broke:

It was seven o’clock in the morning.’

“I awoke and stared at the ceiling as if it were about to plunge down on me, an immense whiteness of flesh, a madness of unblinking eye, a flounder of tail. I was in a terrible state of excitement. I imagine it was like those moments we hear about before an earthquake, when the dogs and cats fight to leave the house, or the unseen and unheard tremors shake the floor and beams, and you find yourself held ready for something to arrive but you’re damned if you know what.’

“I am Herman Melville.”

“Believing that, I sat at the typewriter, and in the next seven hours wrote and rewrote the last third of the screenplay plus portions of the middle. I did not eat until late afternoon, when I had a sandwich sent up, and which I devoured while typing.’

“I was fearful of answering the telephone, dreading the loss of focus if I did so. I had never typed so long, so hard, and so fast in all the years before that day nor in all the years since. If I wasn’t Herman Melville, I was, oh, God, his Ouija Board, and he was moving my planchette. Or his literary force, compressed all these months, was spouting out of my finger tips as if I had twisted the faucets.’

“I mumbled and muttered and mourned through the morning, and all through noon, and leaning into my usual naptime. But there was no tiredness, only the fierce, steady, joyful, and triumphant banging away at my machine with the pages littering the floor–Ahab crying destruction over my right shoulder, Melville bawling construction over the left.’

“At last the metaphors were falling together, meeting up, touching and fusing. The tiny ones with the small ones, the smaller with the larger, the larger with the immense. . .What nailed it fast was the hammering of the Spanish gold ounce to the mast…The gold coin represents all that the seaman want, each and every one…The men do not know it, but the sound of the maul striking the coin’s fastening nail is their sea coffin lid being hammered flat shut.”

He’ll be missed.

  • Joseph Lellinger

    I love a lot of Bradbury’s works. I was especially into his writing when I was younger and really into science fiction. His interview with the Paris Review is great. He told how after finally bringing himself to read “Moby Dick” he felt that Shakespeare was the author and Melville was his Ouija board.

  • ric
  • aucklandnz

    Ray Bradbury has inspired me to post here
    Ray was magic. Ray was a craftsman. Ray, like JRR Tolkien, understand that the most important part of writing isn’t plot, it isn’t character, it is writing. The words are the magic and Ray was a sorceror.
    The Sound of Summer Running is one of my very, very favourite stories.
    I loved Golden Apples of the Sun
    All his MArs work

    There was a wonderfully sad tone running through almost all his work… in many it was if the wonder of these scientific marvels had been sucked dry.

    He’ll be missed. In today’s world where hacks like George R R Martin, the Hunger Games author, and Stephanie Meyer make fortunes by writing stories by throwing together words in some sort of tumble-dried mess, his loss is a tragedy 🙁

  • 451 captured imaginations, then freed them.  That is what great works do.