Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance. It’s like my friend Mr. Electrico.
That’s the character who makes a brief appearance in Something Wicked This Way Comes, right? And you’ve often spoken of a real-life Mr. Electrico, though no scholar has ever been able to confirm his existence. The story has taken on a kind of mythic stature—the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies calls the search for Mr. Electrico the “Holy Grail” of Bradbury scholarship.
Yes, but he was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.
What a weird, brilliant, beautiful man he was.
Ray Bradbury pays Tribute to Ray Harryhausen (who’s thankfully still with us).
I haven’t read as much Bradbury as I would like. I dare say I haven’t read as much as you have, whoever you are. He’s a writer I have to take in small doses, because he swamps my senses otherwise. He was one of the first SF writers I read, though, in a tattered anthology of great science fiction I found at the used book store. “The Veldt” has never left me. It lives inside my head with “The Electric Grandmother” and Asimov’s “Ugly Little Boy” — all stories about what it means to be human and what it means to lose your humanity. I read Fahrenheit 451 in junior high, and I think I failed all of the quizzes on it, because I always hated being forced to read something I would have read anyway, but it resisted my teacher’s attempts to destroy it. I read Something Wicked This Way Comes in 2010, and I’m still thinking about what it taught me.
This morning, my friend Rissa said:
@ChiaLynn Ray Bradbury certainly did seem eternal. All Summer in a Day sticks with me to this day. RIP— rissadee (@rissadee) June 6, 2012
In rereading that beautiful, tragic story, I thought, “He understood cruelty, but he wasn’t a cynic. And that’s rare.”
Goodbye, Mr. Bradbury. And thank you. I may not have read as much of your work as I would like, but I’ve read enough to know that you were one of our best, and I’m thankful that you left us with so much to explore.
Last fall, just before Viable Paradise, I started reading Something Wicked This Way Comes. In the midst of catching up on the VP instructors’ works, though, and then starting into the madness of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t finish it. But I spotted it on the shelf Wednesday, and thought, “I should pick that up as soon as I finish Boneshaker, then I’ll start into Bitter Seeds.”
Last night, just before bed, I started back in where I’d left off.
“Three,” a voice said. Will listened, cold but warming, glad to be in with a roof above, floor below, wall and door between too much exposure, too much freedom, too much night. “Three…” Dad’s voice, home now, moving down the hall, speaking to itself. “Three…” Why, thought Will, that’s when the train came. Had Dad seen, heard, followed? No, he musn’t. Will hunched himself. Why not? What did he fear? The carnival rushing in like a black stampede of storm waves on the shore out beyond? Of him and Jim and Dad knowing, of the town asleep, of knowing, was that it? Yes. Will buried himself, deep. Yes… “Three…” Three in the morning, thought Charles Halloway, seated on the edge of the bed. Why did the train come at that hour?
Is it any wonder I snapped awake at 3 AM, admiring that seamless shift from Will’s POV to his father’s, and thinking that it isn’t true, as Bradbury states in the next paragraph, that women never wake at 3 - because I had, and ain’t I a woman? And then I pondered whether I could use his POV tricks in the novel I started (and no, didn’t finish) during NaNoWriMo, which has three POV characters and tripped me up when I realized that a certain scene wanted two of them.
Fortunately, Mr. Bradbury’s grip on my early-morning mind loosened quickly. But it’s got me thinking again about what I wrote in November. I just reread part of it, and it’s dreck, but the bones of the story are there, and I think it’s a good one. About time I tossed out the hastily-written rags they’re clothed with and got down to work.