Tuesday, June 12, 2012—Ray Bradbury died last week at the age of 91.
May he rest in peace.
Bradbury was one of the giants of science fiction, a titan, a landmark, a legend, and an inspiration to readers and authors alike.
- Orson Scott Card, another giant from a later generation, writes that Bradbury was a poet and a musician whose language had to be spoken, at least to one's self, to be fully appreciated.
- Jazz Shaw over at Hot Air writes of Bradbury the Visionary,
- And John Fund describes Bradbury as a great conservative, while Breitbart's Big Government calls him a Tea Party patriot.
So let us be deeply thankful for a great artist and a good man, one and the same.
But my memories of Ray Bradbury are not made of sunlight broken in Waterford crystal.
Put simply, Bradbury scared the spit out of me. He scared the marrow right out of my bones. Even the first story of The Martian Chronicles scared me. And while the poetry and music of which Orson Scott Card writes may be the finish coat on the work, it is not the base coat nor the image. I know this because I watched the TV movie adaptation of The Illustrated Man (not knowing who wrote the book it came from) and it scared me almost as badly as Bradbury's own words did.
I've read Steven King. Steven King writes campfire stories for adults. I've read most of Lovecraft; Lovecraft has a wonderful, wild, eldrich inventiveness that hints at outer darkness. I read Richard Matheson's Hell House, said to be the most frightening ghost story in the English language, and enjoyed a mixture of fear and revulsion. (Matheson used sexual degredation in the background and setting, and worse things are seen in daylight today on the streets of Berkeley.) But they do not belong on the shelf with Bradbury. The closest thing I found to Bradbury Terror was a short story by Robert Bloch, Hungry House, and another short by Orson Scott Card called Eumenidies in the Fourth Floor Lavatory. And in the same volume was Lovecraft's classic The Music of Eric Zann, about a man compelled to look into the outer darkness, and cursed to see.
What then was the nerve-shredding terror that Bradbury wrote?
It was part malevolence, but not malevolence alone. I just saw Ridley Scott's Prometheus, in IMAX, with the sound too loud and the bass way too loud. Ridley Scott's malevolent and half-mindless horrors are good for adrenaline rushes, but Bradbury was not in them.
In Bloch's Hungry House the horror is driven by a psychotic narcissism, with all the power of a mind, but none of the awareness of the others whom it touches and destroys. And there might be the key: a soul or a society with all its power and awareness bent to accomplishing evil, with no awareness of the real nature of what it is doing. This is the purest kind of moral corruption I have seen, or care to see. It is what C. S. Lewis hinted at in Perelandra with the Un-Man.
Is this what Neitzsche meant when he wrote "When you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you"? It must take a very good man, or a very wicked one, to hold that gaze or long. And since Badbury was, by all accounts, a good man, it seems he must have been a very good one indeed.
Today we must look into the abyss of the political Left. We see good people seduced by choruses weaving lies into pretty, solid-looking tapestries. We see minds and hearts and wills bent toward evil that wears the cloak and mantle of good. Like Erich Zann, we must gaze long and deep into the abyss, but unlike Zann, we must act, and not lose our humanity either by what we see or by what we do.
Let us pray for the goodness and courage to act both wisely and well.