aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,
aefenglommung
aefenglommung

The Future of the Past

Ray Bradbury, who died this week at the age of 91, is one of the greatest of American writers. Many tributes are pouring forth from people who have been moved by his stories and the style in which he told them. I, too, have been deeply moved at times by Bradbury's work.

One of the things that I most notice about Bradbury stories, though, is something I am sure he did not intend: the juxtaposition of an imagined future which in many cases is still in the future with the stories' narrative present which is now firmly fixed in the past. Bradbury himself -- and the ordinary people of many of his stories -- are from my parents' generation. The America he grew up in and from which his characters often come is an America I have never lived in but recognize from my parents' own stories. They are often timeless in their power, and yet captured in a setting that invokes nostalgia nowadays.

I think particularly of the story of the little boy who ceased to age. He was, by calendar, fully middle-aged, but he still looked about ten years old. When he realized he was never going to get any older, he packed his bags and went looking for one childless couple after another to take him in, to make him their son -- for a while. His job, his destiny, was being a kid. Looking into his soul and looking at the families he touched makes a powerful story. But the idea that a supposed ten-year-old could wander from one small town to another and be taken in by kindly strangers without all kinds of authority and bureaucracy and what-all is no longer believable about our day.

Still, most of Bradbury's fiction isn't really about the future, or the present, or even the past (though he could write stories set in the past, as in his magnificent, "The Flying Machine," set in medieval China). His stories are about people, strange people mostly, or maybe what it means to be normal when everything is so strange.

There is the man somewhere in Latin America, a member of the working poor, who looks out his window to see a fashion photographer taking pictures of glamorous girls with his cracked house wall as a background. He is offended that his life should be taken and used for mere background, as an ironic commentary on the supposed beauty of those who do not belong there. He confronts the photographer, who brushes him off. He then proceeds to (in our phrase du jour) photobomb them, by entering the frame with the glamor girls and dropping his pants, repeatedly. It is an assertion of his dignity, of his reality, of his right to be valued as he is and not as an accessory to someone else.

Then there is the lighthouse (of which almost none are left these days) and fog horn (ditto) which are mistaken by a prehistoric sea monster, the last of its kind, as a mating call. And the one ordinary child in a family of werewolves and vampires being assured by his mother that he is loved, even though he is different. And, of course, the Fireman Montag of an imagined future, who discovers those who memorize books -- each one becoming a particular book -- in order to save them from the book-burners of a dictatorship.

I can't remember most of the titles, but the stories -- the people in the stories -- are unforgettable.
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