Wednesday, September 02, 2020

“Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury – Remnants from the Dream of Boyhood

Ray Bradbury has forever cemented his legacy as one of the titans of literature, with many of his works considered essential classics today.

As is the case with most authors of this calibre, some of his stories went more under the radar than other ones despite being no worse, and it feels to me Dandelion Wine is one of them, following the story of the twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding and his one magical summer of 1928.

Ray Bradbury Captures a Magical Summer

Whether or not we are capable of defining the particular moment, pretty much all of us have gone through the transition from childhood into adulthood, learning to see the world in more realistic and less magical terms.

However, I believe most of us remember fondly how mysterious and mythical the world felt back then, and if we could go back to it for just a little bit, I think most of us wouldn't be against it.

In Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, we make the acquaintance of Douglas Spaulding, a twelve-year old who will soon step into the disenchanting realm of adulthood. However, before this happens he still has some time left to himself, and plans to put it to as good a use as anyone could in his situation. The summer of 1928 is coming, and there's something magical in the air.

As Douglas and his brother are about to find out, life extends far beyond what the small and unassuming Green Town of Illinois has to offer. It stretches past the customary impending harvest of dandelions for grandfather's famous wine and the hazy afternoons which make it seem like time itself has come to a standstill.

They don't suspect it, but they are about to learn about the enormous existential potential and burden of being alive in this great wide world, and all the emotions life has to offer, from utter terror and complete ecstasy.

Though the entire story takes place over the course of a single summer, it will prove to be revealing enough to awaken the boys to a simple yet brutal concept: the passing of time.

A semi-autobiographical work, it aims to take us back to a time in our lives when things were simpler, when we didn't have to worry about growing old, and when the world still held the illusion of offering infinite possibilities.

A Slice of Bradbury Life in Dandelion Wine

Bradbury has published many books in his time, and for the most part, they tell rather cohesive stories from start to finish, structured in a way so as to move the plot along in an understandable manner. Dandelion Wine, however, goes rather starkly against this approach, and for this reason I believe some people have trouble getting into it at first.

Rather than presenting a narration we can follow, the story is more like a series of vignettes, each one aiming to show us a different aspect of life in the microcosm of Green Town. At first, it doesn't seem like there is much relation between the events and people we're reading about, and what kept me going was the quality of the prose itself.

To speak about this for a second, Bradbury is without a doubt one of the most talented wordsmiths to have graced literature, and I think I'd even be compelled to read literally anything if it was written by him. The sentences flow effortlessly into each other, and the descriptions are always vivid and evocative without fail.

Though personally I would have kept reading just for the prose itself, after a little while, I'd say about a quarter of the book, the picture started to become clearer as it became more apparent how the different vignettes and themes were interconnected.

I think it would help quite a bit to enter this book by looking at it as a semi-fictionalized slice of Bradbury's life, his own attempt to capture the magical summers of his youth and distill them together into a single story.

The Art of Growing on the Reader

For most books, we read them once, maybe twice if we really enjoyed them, and likely never touch them again afterwards, or at least decades down the line. What I'm getting at is most books don't really have enough to offer to be read more than once, and I'm not trying to knock them either; it's incredibly difficult to write a profound and meaningful story.

In my opinion, Dandelion Wine is the kind of story which has the distinct quality of growing on you over time, and pulling you back into its pages again and again. The depth in which Bradbury explores the various concepts relating to mortality and the passage of time is something few authors could ever hope to match... and most importantly, it pushes you to think about it even outside the novel.

The further I got into it, the more I became familiar with the characters, their mentalities, desires, hopes and dreams, the more I felt drawn to this world where time seemed to slow down, a world where neighbours took the time to talk with each other on their porches. Funnily enough, this book managed to make nostalgic for a time I never lived in.

When a novel really gets its hooks into me I find myself constantly thinking about it and dissecting the ideas presented, which in turn draws me deeper into the world. However, few books can draw me in for a second reading for the purpose of finding previously-unnoticed elements, but Bradbury's work managed just this.

I feel this is the type of novel which can grow on the reader over the course of decades, and always hold something different for them depending on where they are in life. More than just a magical summer preserved in amber, it's a book-long reflection on life in the face of mortality, something we're all going to have to face at some point.

The Final Verdict

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury is a one-of-a-kind novel, beautiful, poetic and thought-provoking from start to finish. A real work of classic American literature, it captures a time likely gone forever and offers profound insight into human life. If this sounds like it's up your alley, I can only urge you to read this timeless book.

Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)

Ray Douglas Bradbury
(August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)

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Author of the internationally-acclaimed Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury is one of the most distinguished science-fiction writers on this planet, known for his dystopian and partly-horrific sci-fi stories.

His influence on American culture cannot be understated, with some claiming him to be responsible for turning science-fiction into a mainstream genre.

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