Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine: A Novel. William Morrow, 2006. 267 pages. ISBN978-0-380-97726-0
I recently read Bradbury's Dandelion Wine for the third time. One of the themes that stood out to me is how a young boy comes alive one summer. Another theme is the importance of memory. A third and fourth theme are technology and community. There are more themes in the book that I will not mention.
Our book group read and discussed Dandelion Wine a couple of weeks ago. The conversation focused mainly on the importance of memory and seeing with new eyes. One can see the importance of both memory and seeing with new eyes right in the title. A dandelion is an insignificant flower that most people do not even notice. Is this symbolical of the events of our life that seem insignificant to us? The metaphor of making Dandelion wine stands for the memories we preserve for a future time. These bottled memories can be opened up again in bleak, winter months.
Dandelion Wine tells the story of a young boy named Douglas who comes alive one summer. He expects great things to happen this summer and they do. One thing he does is record two types of entries in his notebook: events that occur and reflections on these events. If we are reflecting on events can we experience them? I think both C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton said experiences are incomplete without reflecting on them. James V. Schall says there is a certain pleasure in thinking on things or what is.
There is also a sense of awe or the numinous in the book. One sees this in the book when the boys go berry-picking in the woods with their father. There is a sense that the woods are alive and something will jump out and reach them. It is almost like a spiritual presence.
There is also a sense of danger in the book. There are two examples that illustrate this. First there is the ravine. This ravine reflects the untamed or uncivilized part of life. There is also the "Lonely one." This person goes around killing women. One does not know if this person really exists or he is only in the people's mind. After this person is killed, the boys think that they must think that he escaped so they can still be fearful of his presence.
An interesting example of community is when the generations are conversing with one another on the porch. In a sense this is informal education for the younger generation. Here is an excerpt from the scene on the porch: "What they talked of all evening long, no one remembered next day. It wasn't important to anyone what the adults talked about; it was only important that the sounds came and went over the delicate ferns that bordered the porch on three sides; it was only important that the darkness filled the town like black water being pored over the houses, and that the cigars glowed and the conversations went on . . . Sitting on the summer-night porch was so good, so easy and so reassuring that it could never be done away with. These were rituals that were right and lasting; the lighting of pipes, the pale hands that moved knitting needles . . . For at some time or other during the evening, everyone visited here. . ." What are the rituals we practice that keeps the memories alive?
Another example of memory is Colonel Freeleigh who is a link to the past. Once he dies, a big part of history dies with him. I was just telling my family yesterday that there is a whole history that lives within my grandmother. We must somehow acquire this history or it will die with her. This reminds me that part of scholarship is preserving the ideas of the past. You do not know how important this memory of the past is till you lose it.
I could talk of many other things that exist in this wonderful book by Bradbury. I could speak of how the Happiness Machine never brings happiness. I could speak how the children do not believe Mrs. Bentley was ever twelve years old. There are many other wonderful themes in this book. I recommend you get you a copy of Dandelion Wine and read it for yourself.