09 October 2012

Heaven for Everyone

October and November are times to honor the blessed dead, and the first Blessed One I'd like to honor is Ray Bradbury.

The first sci fi book I ever read was War of the Worlds, and the second was the Martian Chronicles. Reading these books marked a turning point in my life, and fundamentally helped to create who I am. I wrote my senior paper on Bradbury, and he came up often in college papers, too. Regretfully, I haven't read a lot of his more contemporary writings, but I've read a whole lot of his sci fi short stories.

He's one of my favorite people ever, and one of my favorite writers (the others including Neil Gaiman and Frank Herbert). Bradbury's writing is beautiful, tragic, inspiring, amazing. He crafted worlds and stories and places and things that are unforgettable. Even the most alien of his subjects is familiar. He had a gift of looking into people's hearts and writing what was to be found there.

When he died this past spring, I cried. I had had a terrible day at work. I was probably sick. I was anxious. I was depressed. It was one of those days when everything that could go wrong, went wrong. So after a terrible morning behind the bar, I sat down at my desk and read the headline.

And I cried.

And I was so angry because I was so busy and so behind that day, I couldn't properly mourn him. The tears came but I had to fight them back because how could I say "I can't go to the bank today. My favorite writer died." or "I can't go to this meeting because this author who was very old passed away."

I cried on my way home from work, and sometimes I still get teary-eyed when I think about Ray Bradbury and his passing. I have not yet properly mourned this man who was like an uncle to me - far away and distant, yes, but still influential. Still familiar.

Last October I read a lot of horror and scary literature, which included re-reading a lot of Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The October Country, and other short stories). Nothing captures October so well as Something Wicked This Way Comes. Just open your eyes. You'll find them, the October People. They're there. Doing their October thing. They come out every year.

I found a cheap copy of The Halloween Tree, so I put away a book club read and started reading this Bradbury Classic.

Where has The Halloween Tree been all my life? Truthfully, I've been too busy reading everything else by him to find time for this one, but since it's probably the only book I'll be reading all month (despite having both Rosemary's Baby and the Stepford Wives waiting on my bookshelf) nothing could be more appropriate.

Bradbury tells the story of Halloween perfectly, with all of its myth and magic. No words of mine can do him justice, so here he goes in one particularly memorable section:

A dark creature struck the sun one dreadful blow.
The sun died. It's fires went out.
The boys ran blind in darkness.
Yeah, thought Tom, running, sure, I mean, I think, every night, the sun dies. Going to sleep, I wonder, will it come back? Tomorrow morning, will it still be dead?
The boys ran. On new pillars dead-ahead, the sun appeared again, burning out an eclipse.
Swell! thought Tom. That's it! Sunrise!
But just as quickly, the sun was murdered again. On each pillar they raced by, the sun died in autumn and was buried in cold winter. 
Middle of December, thought Tom, I often think: the sun'll never come back! Winter will go on forever! This time the sun is really dead!
But as the boys slowed at the end of the long corridor, the sun was reborn. Spring arrived with golden horns. Light filled the corridor with pure fire.
The strange God stood burning on every wall, his face a grand fire of triumph, wrapped in golden ribbons.
"Why, heck, I know who that is," panted Henry-Hank. "Saw him in a movie once with terrible Egyptian mummies!"
"Osiris!" said Tom.
"Yessss....." hissed Moundshroud's voice from the deep tombs. "Lesson Number One about Halloween. Osiris, Son of the Earth and Sky, killed each night by his brother Darkness. Osiris slain by Autumn, murdered by his own night blood.
"So it goes in every country, boys. Each has its death festival, having to do with seasons. Skulls and bones, boys, skeletons and ghosts. In Egypt, lads, see the Death of Osiris, King of the Dead. Gaze long."

So we drink a toast to you, Uncle Ray. Thank you for the books and the words and the worlds and the memories and dreams. Thank you, unendingly, for the inspiration. I always wanted to write you a letter, and I never did. I'll always regret that. Twenty years I had the chance and I never took it. So, this season, I drink to you. I write for you. I read for you.

You are among my honored dead.