Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 02/04/2009 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A brilliant account of a boy's summer discoveries.
It’s been said that great writers are born, not made. One such writer is Ray Bradbury, the eminent author emeritus of American Science Fiction. Not being a fan of Science Fiction, I did not truly enjoy or appreciate Bradbury after reading some of his short fiction, but his semi-autobiographical work Dandelion Wine changed all that.
Dandelion Wine is the story of Douglas Spaulding, a twelve year-old boy, who, in the summer of 1928, discovers that he is alive. I distinctly remember the summer of 1995, when I discovered I was alive. But a sixteen year-old in 1995 comes to much different realizations of aliveness than a twelve year-old in 1928. This is a narrative told in images and sensations, spanning the three summer months of June, July and August. The stories are only loosely connected; Douglas doesn’t figure as the protagonist in every single one. But this is merely incidental because a twelve year-old boy’s memory isn’t necessarily a chronological log of events. Rather, events, feelings, sensations and images all ball up into a series of interconnected experiences consociated by the fact that they were all experienced by the same boy. The Barnes and Noble webpage about Ray Bradbury notes something similar about boyhood perspectives:
“In 'Just This Side of Byzantium,' the introduction to Dandelion Wine, Bradbury mentions a critic who observed that the author never mentioned the ugly coal trucks and disgusting harbors that surrounded his picturesque recount of Waukegan. Bradbury rallied, that to a young boy, such things are wonderful and mysterious, and ugliness is a trait only grown in adults.”
This is all true, but Douglas is far from a typical boy. He tends to brood on issues of life and death and evil and change, which, when mixed with a potent disposition towards imagining and daydreaming, produce a volcanic admixture of emotion and nostalgia – often defused by his younger, more pragmatic brother Tom. What Douglas’ ruminations never produce, however, is a truly spiritual awakening to the Lord God of the universe. Instead, he falls prey to fears, superstitions, and speculations that make for an enthralling read, but fall short of offering any comfort or understanding.
This book therefore leaves the Christian reader with a thankfulness to God’s common grace for creating an author with the talents and gifting of Bradbury, but with a sadness regarding Bradbury’s inability (and by extension, Douglas’ inability) to trace back the aliveness of the world to its Creator. Normally I would hesitate to commit a fallacy by reading into an author’s spirituality via his or her fictional creations, but Bradbury is on record as praising the collected essays of George Bernard Shaw, which, according to him, “contain all of the intelligence of humanity during the last hundred years and perhaps more.” This praise of a rabid atheist is illustrative of Bradbury’s dismissal of God as a force in the world, much less a force to be reckoned with where eternity is concerned. I should also mention that if you are wary of magic and the like, you will not appreciate the account of Douglas and Tom’s kidnapping of the carnival tarot witch. Obviously the boys have no concept of the biblical commands in Deuteronomy 18 or Galatians 5.
I wish we (Christians) could count Ray Bradbury as one our own. I do pray for Bradbury’s soul – whether he would like me to or not – and I will enjoy Dandelion Wine over and over again as a gift of common grace to the reading public. I encourage you to do the same, whether in summer, or in winter when you need a hint of summer.