Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Ray Bradbury passed away when I was deep in my New Zealand travels, gathering my things for my long journey back home, with a stop off at Comic-Con on the way. I didn't comment on his passing, but like almost every one of you reading this the man and his work meant a lot to me.
When his books or short stories came up in English class I always perked up. He was the fun school-assigned reading. I had the great honor to meet him at DragonCon in 98 and then once more at Comic-Con in the early aughts. He was always very personable, one of us geeks made good.
At Comic-Con this year another great author read a piece on Mr. Bradbury's passing by Frank Darabont. Joe Hill had the honors and I'm sure he did a spectacular job, but I was likely stuck firmly in Hall H at the time and couldn't have heard it myself even I was aware it was going to happen.
So, for those of us who couldn't be in that one room, here's Darabont's incredibly moving commentary on the death of one of America's literary icons who also happened to be his friend, courtesy of Frank himself. Be prepared to tear up.
TO RAY, WITH LOVE
by Frank Darabont
I was once asked during an interview to name my five all-time favorite books. That is not a task to be taken lightly. Naming favorite books is like speaking the names of angels.
I named my top five, and two of them were written by Ray Bradbury. He was the only author who appeared twice on that very short roster, which will come as no surprise to my fellow Bradbury fans.
"Fan" is actually too small a word. It's a meager tag that suggests disposable entertainment and passing fancy. Ray's work, however, dwells in the realm of timeless storytelling art. A thousand years from now, when only the authors who mattered are remembered, Bradbury will be spoken of in the same breath as Shakespeare, Homer, Dickens, Wells, and Twain; he’ll be considered as definitive a voice of his era as those storytellers are of theirs.
So what are we, those of us who have cherished Ray's voice, if not his fans? I would say we are his children. Ray has been a father to us…guiding and inspiring us, encouraging us at our best and chiding us at our worst, and often sounding a wounded cry from his tender heart—always worn unapologetically on his sleeve—at the follies of man.
What always shone most brightly in his work was simply this: he loved humankind in spite of our failings because he believed at his core that we had it in us to be a better and nobler species. He was an optimist and a seeker whose work was never less than deeply felt, deeply human, and deeply poetic.
I always thought of him as a poet…the premiere poet of the Rocket Age. And I don’t mean rockets with solid-fuel boosters and O-rings, I mean rockets with tail-fins that look like art deco sculptures. The rockets piloted by Bradbury never carried cargoes of cold scientific hardware, they carried warmer and messier cargoes of philosophy and human truth. He never cared HOW we got to Mars, he cared only about how the experience changed us.
Ray, on a personal note, thank you for making the harsh logic of science ride in the back of the bus. Riding up front with you are whimsy, satire, emotion, childlike wonder, and a profound streak of humanism…all of which make for an alchemy of storytelling artistry that is uniquely yours and is defined by its gentle though insistent probing of the human soul.
Ray has inspired me enormously in life. Not just his work, but the man himself. Though I've known Ray personally for only the last ten years, becoming his friend this past decade was not my first encounter with the man. I vividly recall Ray coming to speak at Hollywood High School back in 1976 when I was 15 years-old. For me—a kid who spent more time hiding The Martian Chronicles, or Fahrenheit 451, or The Golden Apples of the Sunin his algebra textbook than actually studying algebra—Ray's appearance was an event not to be missed.
I showed up with hundreds of other kids in the school auditorium and heard Ray speak of his life as a writer, of working with John Huston on Moby Dick, of growing up in a small town in Illinois, of his profound childhood desire to become a magician…he spoke of many things, but Ray had a greater agenda that day than to reminisce. What he had really come to tell us was that dreams are the finest things we have, that they are to be cherished and nurtured and pursued, and, most importantly, that no dream is too fanciful or too great that it can't be made real by the power of belief and passion and hard work. He made that message loud and clear.
These are the things young people need to hear the most, but are far too seldom told. I've always been amazed by Ray’s generosity in donating his time to come and provoke and inspire a bunch of high school kids. I have thought of him ever since as Benjamin Driscoll, his own character from The Martian Chronicles, who wanders Mars planting seeds in the hope that someday they may sprout and grow into marvelous living things. Well, here I am almost forty years later, a seed that sprouted, and I credit Ray as an important influence in helping me achieve many of the things I have in life. In a very real sense, Ray Bradbury devoted himself to teaching me, and millions like me, how to dream and to believe in those dreams. He was a teacher, a guide, and spiritual father to us. We owe him so very much.
My sadness at his passing is tempered by the joy I feel at having gotten to know the man in the last decade of his remarkable life. What a privilege that has been. Among the memories I treasure are the evenings spent in his company at his favorite restaurant, the Pacific Dining Car in Santa Monica. I’ll never forget the simple pleasure of watching him enjoy his favorite meal while holding forth to a table full of enraptured listeners on whatever passionate subject seized his fancy. He would become a kid again himself, still the lad from Waukegan who loved performing magic tricks, the years falling off of him as the dinner conversation flowed. I wish I could hit the “replay” button on those evenings.
Though it pains us to say goodbye to Ray, let’s not use this occasion to mourn him, but rather to thank him and celebrate him. He was a colossus in his field who touched countless lives, deepened our hearts, and widened the doors of our perceptions. He performed the rarest of all magic tricks, one that only the greatest of artists can perform, which is to make the rest of us disparate, divisive souls feel as if we’re all part of the same human family.
The world is a better place for his having been here, and that’s as fine a life’s legacy as one can achieve.
Thanks for sending that along, Frank.
I'm going to leave you guys with my key memory of Ray... When I hear his name, this is what jumps to my mind. Call it nostalgia, but this introduction to his TV show is wedged deep in there.