Posted on 2012 June 6


A witch confronts a boy in a dark corner of the stacks of a library. She pushes him down and begins to sew shut his eyes. The boy, realizing she means to kill him, yet struck by the absurdity of his situation, bursts out laughing. The stitches unravel and the boy’s eyes are freed. The witch — repelled by the power of his mirth — runs away, cursing.

Another boy, early in summer, puts on his first pair of tennis shoes and feels the joy of freedom they bring, as if now he can run like a deer.

An evil carnival owner becomes trapped on his own merry-go-round, which whirls and whirls, making him older and older, until he flakes away like ancient paper.

A sorceress, riding in the basket of a hot-air balloon so she can attack her human prey from above, is startled when a kid shoots an arrow into the balloon, sending it skittering away toward a crash in the woods, the sorceress’s angry shouts and oaths fading in the distance.

A young man falls in love with an old woman. They meet several times for tea. He decides to ask for her hand in marriage.  Instead, she writes him a letter, telling him that, by the time he receives it, she shall be dead. The letter reads, “A dish of lime-vanilla ice.”

These scenes, from a few of Ray Bradbury’s many books, suggest that it must have been a strange and wonderful world inside his head. For out of it sprang an almost endless stream of elaborate tales, scenes and faraway fantasies that entranced so many of us, especially in our youth. Bradbury claimed it was the child inside him that informed the writer he became. He was my favorite writer during my teens, and though many others have since joined my private pantheon of authors, he still stands among the top ranks.

His dreams were ours to read and ponder and enjoy; his inventive storytelling inspired and chilled and fascinated us. To this day, I will suddenly recall scenes from his books that I haven’t read in decades. They form a vocabulary of wonder and creativity for many of us who write. Like Poe’s, Bradbury’s words imprinted themselves on our minds, forever influencing our thoughts. His warnings against dystopic futures — where firemen put banned books to the torch or thoughtless humans destroy alien cultures — have affected our thinking about politics and technology.

He hated flying and disliked driving — he resisted ebooks almost to the end — yet he championed human invention and our quests into the solar system and beyond. Ray Bradbury shot for the moon; now that he has left us at age 91, he falls among the stars.