Thursday, August 30, 2012

His prose sounded like poetry.

News of Ray Bradbury's passing a few months ago made me (as it probably did many other fans) want to re-read some of his work.

I've written about Mr. Bradbury before--mostly in my book Radio by the Book, since a lot of his stuff was adapted for radio during that medium's Golden Age.

It's not surprising. Aside from his overflowing imagination and sharp understanding of both the good and bad in human nature, Mr. Bradbury was a master of the correct word choice and sentence structure. His stuff is a pleasure to read and--like so many great authors--often seems to beg to be read aloud simply because it sounds so cool.

Let's take an example almost at random. (Well, not completely at random--its one of just a few I could find online and thus provide a link to.)

"The Fog Horn," first published in 1951 in the Saturday Evening Post under the title "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," is a very short tale that still manages to hit all the right emotional notes. It's about a monster--possibly the last survivor of the dinosaur age--who falls in love with the fog horn on a lighthouse. It mistakes it for a mating call and has shown up once a year for quite some time--looking for a companion after a million years of being alone.

And who can blame it? As the veteran light house keeper explains: "All year long, Johnny, that poor monster there lying far out, a thousand miles at sea, and twenty miles deep maybe, biding its time, perhaps a million years old, this one creature.  Think of it, waiting a million years; could you wait that long? Maybe it's the last of its kind.  I sort of think that's true.  Anyway, here come men on land and build this lighthouse, five years ago.  And set up their Fog Horn and sound it and sound it out towards the place where you bury yourself in sleep and sea memories of a world where there were thousands like yourself, but now you're alone, all alone in a world that's not made for you, a world where you have to hide.

 "But the sound of the Fog Horn comes and goes, comes and goes, and you stir from the muddy bottom of the Deeps, and your eyes open like the lenses of two-foot cameras and you move, slow, slow, for you have the ocean sea on your shoulders, heavy.  But that Fog Horn comes through a thousand miles of water, faint and familiar, and the furnace in your belly stokes up, and you begin to rise, slow, slow.  You feed yourself on minnows, on rivers of jellyfish, and you rise slow through the autumn months, through September when the fogs started, through October with more fog and the horn still calling you on, and then, late in November, after pressurizing yourself day by day, a few feet higher every hour, you are near the surface and still alive.  You've got to go slow; if you surfaced all at once you'd explode. So it takes you all of three months to surface, and then a number of days to swim through the cold waters to the lighthouse. And there you are, out there, in the night, Johnny, the biggest damned monster in creation.  And here's the lighthouse calling to you, with a long neck like your neck sticking way up out of the water, and a body like your body, and most important of all, a voice like your voice.  Do you understand now, Johnny, do you understand?"

"The Fog Horn" is a story of loneliness and change and being left behind when everyone else has left the building. Bradbury's prose--which to me nearly always has a poetic feel to it--brings these emotions across perfectly.

"The Fog Horn," of course, was the inspiration for the Ray Harryhausen movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, though the movie turned out to be a very different story. According to Leonard Nimoy, it was also a partial inspiration for the fourth Star Trek film (the "save the whales" movie)--and I can sort of see that. 

But it's a story that can stand on it's own merits. Mr. Bradbury was one of the finest writers of the last century. "The Fog Horn" is just one of many examples of why this is so.

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