"It was a pleasure to burn."
I was sad to hear that the great American writer Ray Bradbury died recently aged 91. He was born in 1920, the same year as my father and Scotland's great "makar" Edwin Morgan. Now Bradbury and Morgan are both gone, and Bradbury was a great "makar" in every sense of the word himself, bringing the sensibilities of country life in America to the science fiction stage. I first discovered him in short story collections I read at school and his stories were better than anything else between the covers of the books that were handed out. Strange stories like "The Foghorn" or "The Pedestrian" which were disquietening, and had chilling, sad endings, or no real endings at all, it seemed. Back in those days we had "Library" periods where you got to sit in the library and pick a book off the shelf and read it. I picked "The Illustrated Man" and "The Halloween Tree", and "S is for Space" and "R is for Rocket".
Stephen King's love letter to the horror genre "Danse Macabre" includes recommended reading, and Bradbury is, of course, among them, particularly the short story colections "The Small Assassin" and "The October Country" both of which bring together the best of Bradbury's creepy fiction. For a reader of horror, they are indispensable, and stories like "The Jar" and "The Scythe" have to be read, and savoured, and reread. In a chapter devoted to landmark horror novels (like Ramsey Campbell's "The Doll Who Ate His Mother, James Herbert's "The Fog", Anne River Siddons' "The House Next Door" and Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" among others), King dissects "Something Wicked This Way Comes", another essential Bradbury read, and one of my favourite sections is the "hot gorilla paw" conversation in the library. Read that book, if you can, and watch the movie - not a bad effort, and hunt out "The Martian Chronicles" then the TV series or "Fahrenheit 451" and the film. Not many writers can truly be described as a master of science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, probably only Fritz Leiber comes to mind, but Bradbury was a polymath, someone who could write anything, from poems to operas, and screenplays. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston's version of "Moby Dick" and what a hoot that experience must have been and he turned it into a novel years later. He also wrote the screenplay for a animated version of his own "The Halloween Tree", which I inflicted on my children, and they loved it, and only a few years ago, all of the Hunters went to see a stage version of "Something Wicked" which was a jolting, creepy experience.
Tributes have been made, including one from President Obama, praising his story telling skills. For those lucky enough to read him at a certain age, he lit the touchpaper of our imaginations. Tonight I'm heading off to the Download music festival and had wondered what book to take with me. Now I know it will be a Bradbury one, plucked off the bookshelf to be read and returned, even more battered than before.