Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ray Bradbury, Art, and Life

Ray Bradbury died a few weeks ago at the age of 91. Margaret Atwood, a huge fan, wrote an obituary from which I discovered this remarkable tale of how life becomes art:
At the age of 12 – as he tells us on his website – he had a definitive encounter with a stage magician called Mr Electrico. This was in the age of travelling circuses and the like, and Mr Electrico had a unique act: he sat in an electrified chair, thus in turn electrifying a sword he held, with which he in turn electrified the spectators, making their hair stand on end and sparks come out of their ears. He electrified young Bradbury in this manner, while shouting, "Live Forever!" The child had to go to a funeral the next day, a close encounter with death that led him to seek out Mr Electrico once more to find out how this living forever thing was to be done. The old carney showed him around what used to be called the freak show – complete with a tattooed man who was later to morph into the Illustrated Man – and then told him that he, Ray, contained the soul of Mr Electrico's best friend, who had died in the first world war. You can see how all this would have made an impression. Right after his baptism by electricity at the hands of Mr Electrico, Bradbury started writing; nor did he stop until his own death.
Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Illustrated Man both spring in an obvious way from this experience, which you can read about here. Bradbury did not just retell the story, though, but transformed it into magical and horrific stories:
Leaving the carnival grounds that day I stood by the carousel and watched the horses go round and round to the music of "Beautiful Ohio." Standing there, the tears poured down my face, for I felt that something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electrico.
Something wonderful did happen, something called art.

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