Posts Tagged ‘Ray Bradbury’

Doc SavageSo I’m reading this book called Wanted Undead or Alive: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil by Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman. I intend to do a more lengthy review of it presently, so stay tuned. But I just wanted to mention one thing.

The book has a chapter on the pulp magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which mentions “Doc Savage.” The Doc Savage adventures were really popular back in the heyday of pulp. They featured the titular square-jawed hero who traveled the world with a cadre of brainy tough guys, putting a stop to various evil-doers.

The author, “Kenneth Robeson,” was actually a rotating stable of writers. I read a few when I was a kid. They weren’t great in retrospect, in the manner of other pulp material from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft or Ray Bradbury. But they were a fun read. And to be fair, that’s no more and no less than what they aspired to.

But the books did have a lasting impact on me as a reader, in the form of one important lesson.

See, when I was about 13, I was reading one called The Sargasso Ogre. It features a scene where Doc Savage is interrogating a couple of criminals.

At one point, one of them defiantly answers Doc Savage’s questions with “Phooey on you!”
As a kid, I thought that was hilarious. This is a dangerous criminal. A very bad man, the story makes clear. And he says “phooey on you?”

When I thought about it at greater length, though, I realized what was really going on. The words “phooey on you” might as well have an asterisk indicating a footnote from the author. And that footnote would read as follows:

“Look. Both you and I know that the guy didn’t really say ‘phooey on you.’ What he said was ‘fuck you.’ But I’m writing this in 1933, and there’s no way in hell I’d get away with writing that. So I’m going to ask you, the reader, to use a little effort and fill in what he actually said in your mind, OK?”

That moment of realization comes back to me whenever I’m reading a book from a bygone era, and the writer has to obliquely hint at what’s going on.

I’m not one of these people who subscribes to the idea that graphically presenting something is akin to bad writing. I find that attitude naïve and a bit childish. Good writing is good writing, whether a faithful film adaptation would merit a rating of G or NC-17. And if the material calls for a lot of F-bombs, by all means get ‘em in there.

Still, there’s something impressive about reading – or watching, in the form of screenplays – writers from the past managing to convey through subtle suggestion what they can’t state overtly.

Case in point. I’m in the process of reading Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, published in 1898, for the first time. (SPOILER ALERT!) And the scene where Mrs. Grose reveals Quint’s nature as a sexual predator and pedophile is all the more disturbing for her unwillingness – and James’ inability, given the time he was writing – to state it overtly.

It’s all a bit more subtle than “phooey on you” in lieu of … you know. Still, I thank whichever incarnation of Kenneth Robeson penned “The Sargasso Ogre” for giving me that early lesson in reading between the lines.

Just goes to show that you can glean insights into literary interpretation from just about any source. Don’t agree with me? Go phooey yourself.

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I have no doubt that every single science fiction geek with a blog is spending this evening banging out a tribute to Ray Bradbury, who died today at the age of 91. So I guess I don’t have much to add. But what can I say? I just can’t help myself. I loved the guy too much.

So I’ll try keep this brief. I can probably restrict it to two points.

1) He changed my idea of what writing — what art in general — could be. But he did it subtly. Gradually. See, I can’t say I loved him unreservedly when I was a kid. As a young sci-fi geek, I wanted adrenaline-pounding stuff. Giant alien monsters. Laser-gun shootouts. Hot babes in metal bikinis. Ray Bradbury gave me none of that, to my frequent disappointment.

And yet … I couldn’t stop reading his books. They got under my 12-year-old skin in a way I couldn’t understand. If you’d asked me what I wanted out of a book, I would have said something like “hot babes in metal bikinis having laser gun fights with giant alien monsters.” I sure as shit wouldn’t have said “surreal and elegiac meditations on the loss of childhood innocence.” And I would have considered anyone who actively sought out subject matter like that to be an irredeemable lame-ass.

But it turns out that WAS the kind of thing I wanted to read, whether or not I was aware of it at the time. I owe you one, Ray.

Interesting note: When I went to Penn State back in the day, I openly feuded with a literature professor who told us on the first day of class not to bother reading science fiction because it was all garbage.

In retrospect, I still think the guy kind of had his head up his ass on that score. (Kurt Vonnegut? Hello?) He apparently thought I was some airhead blinded to the merits of truly great literature because I’d spent too much time immersed in infantile fantasies of … well … laser fights, giant monsters and babes in metal bikinis. Hell, I guess we were both partially right.

We finally bonded to some extent over a science fiction writer we both admired, and who even he had to admit had genuine literary merit. Yep. You guessed it. Ray Bradbury.

2) Most of the news stories I’ve seen about Ray Bradbury’s death mention “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” as his defining works. And no question, both are brilliant.

But hands down, my favorite Ray Bradbury book was “From the Dust Returned.” That actually started out as a collaboration between TWO great 20th-century American artists — Bradbury and Charles Addams.

Addams, of course, was the cartoonist whose works inspired “The Addams Family.”

In 1946, Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called “The Homecoming” for Mademoiselle Magazine, and Addams contributed an illustration. It concerned the Elliotts, a family of ghosts and monsters living in middle America.

Bradbury wrote a series of related short stories about the Elliots in the years ahead, which eventually combined to form the novel “From the Dust Returned.”

From that description of the story, you’ve probably inferred that there’s a lot of overlap between the Elliotts and the Addams Family. The book basically comes across as a series of vignettes about the Addams Family, written by one of our great literary stylists.

It’s got everything that made the Addams Family so great — mainly the humorous juxtaposition of the characters’ monstrous nature, and their loving, happy family life. But it’s all rendered in achingly beautiful prose, which finds emotional depths in the material that the Addams Family never reached.

Man! Remember at the beginning when I said I’d keep this short? I just realized that I could go on and on here. I won’t. So in closing: Goodbye, Ray. Thanks.