I was going to blog about nostalgia this week, the fond memories I have of certain horror films and how time has preserved my feelings about them, about the memories I have of staying up late with friends to watch them, discuss them, all of that. But then something sad happened.
As I’m sure any of you who come here know already, Ray Bradbury died yesterday.
There’s a lot of looking forward in Bradbury’s work of course, what with books like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles and all that, but there’s something very nostalgic about Bradbury’s work too. He’ll often look back at a golden age of America that may never have really happened, look back at childhood, and I wouldn’t be writing anything new talking about this. I mean, consider the blurb to Dandelion Wine:
“The summer of ’28 was a vintage season for a growing boy. A summer of green apple trees, mowed lawns, and new sneakers. Of half-burnt firecrackers, of gathering dandelions, of Grandma’s belly-busting dinner. It was a summer of sorrows and marvels and gold-fuzzed bees. A magical, timeless summer…”
How evocative is that? You don’t need to be American, or a boy, to feel that. But what I want to do here is spend a moment or two getting nostalgic about my own experience of Bradbury.
I discovered Bradbury when I was 16 years old. I was browsing the library of my college for something different, something not on the reading list for A Level English, and I was drawn to an interesting cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in those years I was drawn to a lot of books by the illustration on the front (that’s the point, right?) and I discovered people like Ray Bradbury and Angela Carter and Stephen King that way. In fact, there’s a whole other blog I could write about the covers that introduced me to new writers. This one showed the outline of a man and within the shape was a blue sky, mountains, and a waterfall, a striking contrast to the bleak background behind him and a promise of bright things inside. It was the cover for The Illustrated Man. I loved it. The first story, ‘The Veld’, had such an impact that I refer to it today when teaching short stories to my own A Level students – funny how things come full circle.
After The Illustrated Man, I moved to The October Country. I’m so glad I did as I found ‘The Jar’ amongst others, still one of my favourite stories not only of Bradbury’s but of all the short stories I have ever read. I love the way that those who look at the jar see different things within it – it’s a great comment on the reading process, how everyone’s experience varies. I’ve referred to this story in one of my own, ‘All Change’, which is a nostalgic look at genre fiction so of course Bradbury’s mentioned. He crops up a lot, actually, now that I think about it. Fahrenheit 451 popped up in ‘Pins and Needles, for example, and I’m hoping to use a quote from ‘The Man Upstairs’ to open my collection Probably Monsters if I’m allowed, not only because it’s appropriate but because, like so many other writers, I have been greatly influenced by Ray Bradbury’s work. I’ve experienced a range of emotions through his stories, and I’ve learnt a lot, and I’ve been inspired. I’ve been moved by ‘The Smile’ from The Day it Rained Forever, excited by the adventures of James Nightshade and William Halloway in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and there’s a chapter in Dandelion Wine I’ve read more than any other because it’s bloody perfect. It’s about William Forrester and Helen Loomis and…well, you’ll know already probably. If you don’t, go and read it, or if you’ve forgotten, read it again – I often do. It’s wonderful.
Anyway, that was how I met Ray Bradbury. In my college library, browsing for something different. I’ve never been one for writing fan mail, but I wish I could have told him how much his stories mean to me. I loved them first time around and I return to them again and again. Partly because the stories deserve it, and partly because I get nostalgic for the effect they had on me all those years ago. In that respect, my experience of Bradbury is not really one to simply look back on because it’s still happening. I read and reread his work all the time and will no doubt continue to do so. Ray Bradbury is timeless. Magical.
May he rest in peace.