by Bill Doughty
Ray Bradbury, who passed away earlier this month, may have discovered the meaning of life: “witness and celebrate” and love life with a passion.
“There’s no use having a universe, is there? There’s no use having a billion stars. There’s no use having a planet Earth, if there isn’t someone here to see it. You are the audience. You’re here to witness and celebrate,” he said in Point Loma in 2001.
Bradbury, unable to join the military due to poor eyesight, used his eyes to read books, his mind to balance wonder with insight, and his fingers to create new worlds. His science fiction, fantasy and horror stories were popular with soldiers and sailors in World War II, helping them escape, imagine and reflect for a few hours.
Ray Bradbury was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. In the wake of the depression his family moved from Illinois to Arizona and eventually to California. After high school he was self-educated, believing in the power of libraries and books.
“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves -- you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.”
In Los Angeles he was mentored by Leigh Brackett and literally looked over Robert Heinlein’s shoulder as Heinlein wrote.
The Navy Professional Reading Program includes some works of fiction, including one by Robert Heinlein, “Starship Troopers.” Heinlein, Bradbury and Isaac Asimov are considered excellent gateway authors for young readers who discover literature through science fiction and fantasy.
Bradbury’s “Illustrated Man,” “Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451” are revered as masterworks. In honor of Bradbury, Apollo 15 astronauts named a crater on the moon after the Bradbury’s novel “Dandelion Wine.”
“Fahrenheit 451,” published in 1953, is seen as a classic in dystopian fiction, along with George Orwell’s “1984,” published in 1949, and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” published in 1932. Modern dystopian tales (that may stand the test of time) are Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985), Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (2006) and Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” (2008).
“Fahrenheit 451” continues to be a top seller. The book celebrates books, the freedom to read and the need for a diversity of ideas.
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them,” said Bradbury. “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
Through books we can see the world and understand what it means to be alive -- important thoughts for Father’s Day.
On his view of the meaning of life, according to Sam Weller, author of “The Bradbury Chronicles,” “His mantra to his very last breath was ‘do what you love and love what you.‘ He believed that love was the rocket fuel ... that propelled his career. He always said that ‘everything is love.’”