(This continues my interview with Ray Bradbury from 1995.)
It goes back further than that season of 8, back to the time he was 3 and collecting metaphors -- myths and fair tales and sips of dandelion wine. He offers those illustrations Tuesday night to the crowd of 1,500 at Centenary College's Gold Dome. Young and old have gathered. To some he's the longtime master of miracles, to others, he's required reading in the flesh; the freshman class has been studying Fahrenheit 451.
In his black suit, blue shirt and tie, Bradbury looks like a breathing version of his cover photos, standing beneath the dome's ceiling, a sky of white cubes. They seem appropriate as a backdrop. They look like building blocks for one of the futuristic cities of his dreams.
He draws laughter as he tells of how he "walked funny" after seeing Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. "When I was 5, Lon Chaney made the Phantom of the Opera in 1925," he continues, then recalls the film's impact on his imagination -- he borrowed a relative's opera cape and fashioned it to his own needs, sported a set of fake fangs and dropped from trees to scare passers-by.
"There were plans afoot to drown me in Waukegan, IL.," he recalls with a chuckle.
When the laughter dies, he mentions the impact of King Tut's golden mask when he first saw it on a magazine cover in 1923. Color photos were a rarity then, and this served as his introduction to Egyptian myth.
"When I was 8 years old, science fiction magazines were beginning to appear," he recalls. "They had these fantastic covers with the fabulous cities of the future. I wanted to live in those cities."
For three months after the Buck Rogers comic strip debuted, he clipped it daily. "That changed my life forever," he says, though that change was born of pain. As he voiced fascination with the space man's exploits, friends began to taunt about guns and jet packs. "None of these things were ever going to happen," they told him, and with the stinging of their words, he tore up his collection.
"That was the dumbest thing I ever did," he recalls.
The next day he burst into tears as if he'd lost a loved one. "Who died?" he wondered and knew the answer. "I had killed myself. I had killed the future.
"I went back and collected Buck Rogers and made my life whole, and I've never listened to a damn fool after that."
He suggests audience members heed his advice in pursuing the things they love and the quest for that at which they can excel.
"The search begins in the next 10 minutes," Bradbury quips, and excuses any who need to leave and get on with it.
To be continued