We were getting dressed this morning when we heard the sad news that Ray Bradbury had died.
When I first met Jay I was already an avid reader, but had read almost no science fiction. Jay had won a scholarship to Oxford when just 17 and would soon be going up to read French and German. I was a little in awe of his understanding of literature and when he said that I had to read Ray Bradbury, I did as I as told. Jay gave me Dandelion Wine. I have it beside me as I write. On the front page he has written ‘So much, and less than ways I love you.’ Under the title it says ‘Ray Bradbury’s story of a haunting and almost fantastic childhood that will make the very marrow in your bones turn cold.’ Jay had crossed out the word cold. It was one of the first of many changes that he wrought in my life.
If there were a category of amazing fiction Ray Bradbury would be at the top of that list. His writing has inspired me and many of the children to whom I have read his stories. This spring as we sat through the final stages of the drought and longed for rain I remembered his short story ‘The Day It Rained Forever’. I cannot count the number of times I have stressed the importance of caution in labelling people; tell a child he is lazy and you can bet he will be, or that she is naughty and she will find ways to show just how naughty she can be. Telling that same child that he, or she, is wonderful and amazing has wonderful and amazing consequences. I have read The Referent to every class I have ever taught.
We had a holiday in Spain once, staying in a small house in the middle of a wide and dusty plain. It was an oasis of green surrounded by a high lush fence of bamboo beyond which we saw little. Several days into our holiday, in the darkness of night, sitting out to enjoy the wide heaven’s offering of stars, we heard the unmistakeable roar of dragons embroiled in distant battle; deep growls of fury tore across the calm, shrieks of dismay and protest followed in their wake before they disappeared into the far blackness. The children were frightened, but we read them the story of men tilting at dragons from another world and then next day we discovered the railway line far across the plain. Safe in the knowledge that the dragons were tied to their rails we all slept sweetly thereafter, waving the occasional nonchalant hand as they hurtled by beyond our vision.
And today I heard him speaking about how he met his wife. He described how he had met her in a library; she had helped him find a book and they had shared a supper and he found her wonderful. She gave up her riches to marry him, a penniless writer then, and huge happiness was their reward. He encouraged others to follow in his wake.
Jay smiled at me across the room. We were little more than children when we got married. We had nothing. Then we had a little, but now we have everything.
Thank you, Ray Bradbury, for being a brilliant and inspiring writer. Long may there be people whose lives are enriched by your fiction. We have been lucky.