Ray Bradbury, Journalism & Mr. Dark. “You can’t act if you don’t know.”
“Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he’s covering up. He’s had his fun and he’s guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells.” Charles Halloway, town librarian, in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors and I’m sad to hear he’s left this realm for The October Country. In some ways, he’s responsible for my decision to become an investigative journalist. Admittedly, he’s not the usual subject material for The Japan Subculture Research Center, so pardon me for writing about him here and what he meant to me. There’s a point to all this, trust me.
I admired Ray Bradbury so much I named my son after him. I considered naming him, Raymond, as in Raymond Chandler but decided on Ray after all. There was also a Special Agent in the Air Force OSI that I admired as well with that name.*
A few weeks ago I gave my son Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes to read. I’ll let a reviewer summarize the book for me: It is the memorable story of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the evil that grips their small Midwestern town with the arrival of a “dark carnival” one Autumn midnight. How these two innocents, both age 13, save the souls of the town (as well as their own), makes for compelling reading on timeless themes. What would you do if your secret wishes could be granted by the mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark?
The hero of the book is Charles Halloway, the town librarian, has a son, Will, when he’s very old. He worries that he can’t play with his son the way other fathers do and that his son may have to deal with his death earlier in life than most children would. He is filled with regret for the one time he wasn’t able to save his son from drowning and another man came to the rescue.
But Mr. Halloway turns out to be a great hero and a father as well. They made a decent movie from the book and I watched it with Ray after he finished reading the novel. There are some lines that resonate long after the movie ends. Many of them are almost verbatim from the book.
The grand villain of the book is Mr. Dark. He is the voice of evil. He reminds me of the worst of the yakuza. He’s a charismatic figure, charming, glib, menacing, and authoritarian. He tempts others to follow him and many do. He keeps his underlings in line with rewards for bad deeds done and terrible punishments for failures. I can think of one yakuza boss who is almost a living incarnation of this fictional character.
Mr. Dark: Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well. To stuff ourselves on other people’s torments. And butter our plain bread with delicious pain… Funerals, marriages, lost loves, lonely beds that is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet.
But while Mr. Dark gloats, Mr. Halloway does not give in.
“And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. With peace on earth, good will to men”…
There’s a moment in the book where Charles’s son Will asks for reassurance from his father that they will be safe, because after all, they are good people. His father is unable to give him that reassurance. I understand the feeling. You know, it’s a scary thing to have to teach your kids or anyone that just being good won’t protect you from evil or death.
I don’t remember where I read it but somewhere Ray Bradbury once said that all great tales had a moral, that we all wanted a fairy tale in some sense. Maybe he never wrote that and my memory is faulty. But I believe it nonetheless. I’ve read most of his books. I loved The October Country, Death is a Lonely Business, and most of all, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I read it three times in my life. The first time, I felt like Will Halloway, the cautious and studious boy. The second time, I was Jim Nightshade, Will’s friend who longs for adventure, exotic worlds and wants to become an adult as fast as possible. And now I find myself feeling a little like the world weary but wise Charles Halloway. And that’s not a bad place to be in life.
Ray Bradbury’s work has some hard lessons for children and for all of us: doing good and helping others is not necessarily rewarded nor will it always bring ebullient happiness, but a clear conscience brings an inner joy that no wealth can ever buy. His advice on writing may also be taken as good advice in living your life, whether you are a writer or not, but hopefully at least a reader of books. Mr. Bradbury in the voices of his heroes, through their meditations on the importance of friendship and community, the nature of evil, and the importance of knowledge, says things that still matter today.
In Charles Halloway’s discussion with his son about what it means to be good in the face of evil, Bradbury succinctly describes why journalism matters. Well, that just may be my interpretation but ponder the words. When I think back on them now, reading this passage in junior high school is probably what started me down the path that I have taken so far. Ray Bradbury gave excellent directions. Every one writes for different reasons. When I read this passage I know why I became an investigative journalist and why I continue to write.
“Have I said anything I started out to say about being good? God, I don’t know. A stranger is shot in the street, you hardly move to help. But if, half an hour before, you spent just ten minutes with the fellow and knew a little bit about him and his family, you might just jump in front of his killer and try to stop it. Really knowing is good. Not knowing, or refusing to know, is bad, or amoral, at least. You can’t act if you don’t know.”
*Note: The final reason I chose to name my son Ray is that Ray also works as Rei (礼)in Japanese. Rei (礼) means politeness or decorum or respect. .お礼参り/o-rei mairi is also a phrase in polite Japanese society meaning to go and pay your respects, but in yakuza slang, it means to take revenge. I liked that. I hope Ray grows up to be a polite, honorable, and tough kid. And a good guy.