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Brad Schreiber

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Ray Bradbury and the Lyricism of the Strange

Posted: 06/20/2012 5:57 pm

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but that is completely wrong. Adaptation is the sincerest form of flattery.

One of the great joys of my career was getting to know Ray Bradbury, who recently passed away at 91. The first time I met him was at a conference I attended with my mother, Mona. Ray was delighted to know we were mother-and-son writers. I told him of my desire to adapt for radio his short story, "The One Who Waits." By his nature, he was ebullient, unceasingly imaginative and optimistic. Upon my suggestion, I saw the light pulsate in his eyes.

And so he approved my eventual NPR radio adaptation of that story from The Machineries of Joy. On its face, it should have been a creepy, repugnant tale. All the Martians that have previously lived are now extinct, encapsulated in a voice of a Soul Well on the planet's surface. When American astronauts land, the Well takes over their psyches, one by one, until, via murder and a mass, ritual suicide, they are joined with the spirits housed in the Well, which speaks as one voice, one consciousness.

It is his lyricism of the strange, the ability to craft very human figures in the most disturbing and outlandish of scenarios, that helped make Ray one of the greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy. What kid with an overactive mind wouldn't respond to a story like "The Veldt," in which children create TV images with their minds in a technologically advanced home? Eventually, they serve up their parents to ferocious lions that the little hellions have created in a televised alternate universe. The metaphors are multiple, from the failure to educate kids to our obsession with TV to society's worship of youth to parental dissociation from actively raising children and on and on, if you cared to dig into the rich, thick heart of his stunning ideas.

I love that, even after his stroke, he dictated his writing over the phone to his daughter, who typed up his manuscripts and faxed them to him for editing. His commitment to the writing was all-consuming, as it should be for the working creative artist. I remember seeing him not long after the film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes was released. I complimented him specifically on the rustling, windblown leaves that increased the menacing atmosphere of the movie.

Again, his eyes caught fire. "You know," he said, "I loved that too. And I was at a screening before it was released and one of the executives complained, 'I'm tired of asking you to take out those leaves.' And I said back to him, 'Then don't ask. Leave the goddamn leaves alone.'"

You don't imitate someone like Ray Bradbury. And you don't edit him. At best, you adapt him and you hew as closely as possible to his lyricism of the strange.

 

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