“We are an Impossibility in an Impossible Universe”
I don’t remember when Ray Bradbury’s stories entered my life. It’s one of those strange occurrences where an author of a book, a object that does not exist naturally but through the effort and persistence of the human need to communicate, becomes a static fixture of your life simply for having existed from so early on in it. Bradbury for me, and undoubtedly countless other readers and writers, remains an enduring testament to the power of stories and how they can reveal not only the character of their conduit (as all authors are in some way the siphon of their environment) but shape our own.
Ray Bradbury was an author with the rare talent of coaxing a particular emotion out of even the most stoic of adult hearts estranged from the whimsicality inherent in youth. He was able, through his stories and his poetry, to bend back the folds of time however temporarily and transport his readers to that mythic phantom country between the borders of childhood and adolescence.
Reading a Bradbury story we miraculously, as if by some magical force, are compelled to shed our disapproving tastes and sour dispositions as though shucking a calloused husk we have come to call adulthood. We suspend our disbelief willing and delve into worlds of both horror and honesty, of virtue and imagination. Bradbury had never, as Einstein would have put it, “lost a holy curiosity” but instead imbued that sense of precocious wonder of the unsaddled heart in each of his books.
Ray Bradbury, maybe even more so than C.S. Lewis and R.L. Stine and J.K. Rowling (Seriously, what’s up with these double-initial pen-names), first taught me how to imagine as a kid. I remember reading excerpts from Fahrenheit 451 and being awed by the vision of a kerosene-soaked fireman named Guy Montag, silhouetted against the the blazing light of a door frame torched in the radiant heat of a thousand burning books, saying nothing else but simply,
“Why would someone ever burn a book?” I asked my teacher when she read it to my class. “Because…because ideas can scare people, Toussaint.” And looking back I love her for giving me that answer almost as much as I love Bradbury for giving me with that question.
To name Bradbury’s body of work is to name a series of enduring classics, stories as immovable and ephemeral as the gesture of pointing to the stars at night to chart the shape of constellations.
The Martian Chronicles. Fahrenheit 451. Dandelion Wine. The Illustrated Man. Death is a Lonely Business. Golden Apples of the Sun. Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Each name conjures up a memory of reading from my childhood, or of watching these stories performed in my later years, as Bradbury was a writer prolific not only for his writing but for the wide enduring love of his adapters and collaborators. But there is one book of his that I regrettably have never read in it’s entirety. However Through my off-hand occasions of catching the tail-end of an animated adaptation by chance, this story has stuck with me not only because it speaks volumes about the origin of Bradbury’s creative well but also, simply, about the stubborn enduring persistence of love and friendship.
The Halloween Tree is the story of eight children who seek to save their mutual friend Pipkin on the eve of Halloween Night. I remember the jack-o-lantern ornaments baubled on the ends of string tied to the jutting forked branches of the Halloween Tree. I remember a child stepping perilously over the edge of a broken cathedral step only for a block of cement to rush up to meet his feet as if by magic, I remember the looming specter of Mr. Moundshroud and the barter of a year of life each for the life of a friend. I didn’t know why this story resonated with me so much, having only seen a smattering of disconnected scenes formed into an impression of understanding, but now in my young adulthood, late but never too late, I think I do.
The Halloween Tree is Ray Bradbury’s love letter to childhood, to his favorite holiday, to the simple enduring virtues of our youth and how they resonated long into our adult lives. Halloween is a time where we shed one mask and choose one of our own. For a night, we celebrate the impermanence of identities, emulate the shape of our darkest fears with some measure of reassurance of the binding of their substance. How with enough face-paint and a keen re-purposing of used clothing we can utterly transform ourselves, if only for a night.
I’m going to quote from one of my favorite shows The Venture Brothers, where at the end of a one-hour special the character of Dr. Orpheus imparts the true meaning of Halloween on a company of his supernatural compatriots,
This is a night of true magic. Halloween is the night we discover who we are. Are we people who make zombie armies. Are we those who condemn others? Or are we beautiful children in resplendent costumes collecting candy? Are our choices in costumes provocative? Do we dress up as our ideal self? Or are we not ready to decide what to be? Do you see it now? We use this one enchanted night to perform the greatest feat of magic there is. We become ourselves. Halloween is the true magic. It is the night we discover who we really are!
I love you Ray Bradbury. We love you, and miss you dearly.