Ray Douglas Bradbury will be remembered mostly as a titan of science fiction, a genre that illuminates the conflicts and tensions of our current society by depicting its potential future.
Tributes to him will mention The Martian Chronicles, a classic portrayal of humanity's attempt to impose its will on a foreign world. People will write glowingly of Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian vision of a future in which literature is banned as a subversive tool (the book is startlingly prescient in many respects, not least of which is the fact that many characters are lulled into apathy by tiny Seashells, little radios worn in the ear that instantly evoke an iPod's earbuds).
But the Bradbury stories that resonated most with me were the ones that look not forward but backward. Two books in particular, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, capture beautifully the often contradictory fears and desires of childhood.
The protagonist of Dandelion Wine is a 12-year-old boy named Douglas Spaulding, and the overarching theme of the book's series of interwoven short stories is the mystical quality of summer. Told through Spaulding's description of the long, shimmering time between the end of one school year and the start of another, the book speaks to summer's peculiar ability to suspend the flow of time.
Spaulding records his adventures by sorting them into two categories: Rites and Ceremonies and Discoveries and Revelations. The first speaks to his attempt to master time through repetition; the second underscores the fact that he is growing and learning and maturing, despite his best efforts to keep things the same.
Something Wicked This Way Comes concerns two best friends, young boys named William Halloway and James Nightshade, who must contend with a supernatural carnival run by the sinister G.M. Dark. Central to the carnival's powers is a carousel that controls time: People who ride it in reverse become younger, and people who ride it conventionally get older rapidly.
The allure of getting older eventually proves to be too much -- Will and Jim can't resist going for a ride, a mistake that nearly proves fatal. The carnival is an assembly of the damned in part because of its terrible power to indulge the common human wish to cast aside the imperatives of time and mortality.
Part of why I love these stories is the language with which they're written. Bradbury's writing conveys a sheer sense of joy with words, with how they look and sound and feel, something recognizable to anyone who has harbored delusions of being a writer.
But it's impossible for me reflect on these stories now without feeling an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. They remind me of the years that have gone by since I first read the books, time that has slipped irretrievably into the vast abyss of the past.
I remember summers as Douglas Spaulding experienced them, vast expanses of sun-suffused days that seemed limitless in late May. I remember the powerful desire to grow up and escape the constraints of adolescence, yearning for adulthood without realizing what I would sacrifice in getting there.
Now, Ray Bradbury has been claimed by the same inexorable march of time that underpinned so much of his writing. The books, at least, will remain.