Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury

ToynbeeConvectorBradbury, Ray.  The Toynbee Convector.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

Today is Ray Bradbury’s birthday.  He would have been 96 today (1920-2012).  He was a futurist and he left us an extraordinary legacy.  I recently read a blog from an author, who had met Bradbury.  How envious I am.  When stuck for an idea, he encouraged her to think “what if”.  Today I want to talk with you about a book filled with “what if” stories, The Toynbee Convector.

I heard this book before I read its pages. Jim and I borrowed the tape from the library and listened to Ray Bradbury, himself read his stories to us.  His stories are evocative and lyrical.  They are often gently sad and regretful. Sometimes they are frightening. They are wonderful “what if” stories.

There are three stories from this particular book that I have remembered over time.  The first is the title story, “The Toynbee Convector”.  This story reminds me of the things we say about expectations for children.  If you expect the best, you get the best.  Craig Bennett Stiles traveled to the future and brought back a message of great hope for the future.

We made it! he said. We did it! The future is ours.  We rebuilt the cities, freshened the small towns, cleaned the lakes and rivers, washed the air, saved the dolphins, increased the whales, stopped the wars, tossed solar stations across space to light the world, colonized the moon, moved on to Mars, then Alpha Centauri.  We cured cancer and stopped death. We did it–Oh Lord, much thanks–we did it.  Oh, future’s bright and beauteous spires, arise!

In this story, the world believed and took heart and accomplished.  Would our politicians take a leaf from this book!  What if it was a real trip into time or what if it was a giant hoax?  You decide.

The second story is “Come and Bring Constance”.  Here’s how it starts.

His wife opened the mail at Saturday breakfast.  It was the usual landslide.

“We’re on every hit list in town, and beyond,” he said. “I can stand the bills. But the come-ons, the premiers you don’t want to attend, the benefits that benefit no one, the–”

“Who’s Constance?” asked his wife.

“Who’s who?” he said.

“Constance,” said his wife.

And the summer morning passed quickly into November shade.

There in lies the confusion and the anger.  The letter received had a post script.  It read: “If you come, bring Constance.”  The husband insists there is no such person as Constance and the wife refuses to believe him.  Read what happens, when Constance appears on their doorstep.  It is so strange and yet amusing!  Jim and I always chuckle and think, yes and we should bring Constance.

While I find all the stories in this book intriguing my favorite of all is “One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!” Jim and I still chuckle when we think of it. We had a small wake for Jim’s Dad when he passed away last year and we regaled our family with this tale.

Lord Kilgotten, laird of the loveliest town in Eire with the biggest wine collection this side of I don’t know where has passed away.  The news of his death traveled like wildfire to Heeber Finn’s pub.  What’s to be done with all that wine.  Lord Kilgotten had no heir. The constituents from the pub rushed to spruce up and scrambled to the grave side for the wake.  As they stood by the grave, they witnessed a mighty procession.  They were all astonished by their laird’s coffin.  It was a thing to behold!  It was made of wooden wine crates.  It was followed by all manner of carts, cars and trucks with the remains of the lord’s cellars. As himself was lowered into the ground, it was noted that a lawyer strode up.  The Lawyer Clement proceeded to read the codicil to the will.  To the horror of all in attendance, they found that Lord Kilgotten intended for his wine to join him in the grave.  What a conundrum!  There was almost a riot. A brilliant solution was offered.  See if you can figure out what happened from this prayer offered up by Father Kelly.

Oh, Lord…Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.  And thank you, Lord, for the genius of Heeber Finn, who thought of this–

And bless this wine, which may circumnavigate along the way, but finally wind up where it should be going.  And if today and tonight won’t do, and all the stuff not drunk, bless us as we return each nigh until the deed is done and the soul of the wine’s at rest…

And finally, Lord bless the old Lord Kilgotten, whose years of saving-up now help us in the hour of putting-away. Amen.

These stories start out in the most ordinary of ways and end up in extraordinary places.  I offer this book up to you as one of many ready pleasures that Ray Bradbury gave to us.

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury wherever you are!

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