Saturday, 1 September 2012

Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury

I had previously read, and thoroughly enjoyed, two of Ray Bradbury's most renowned novels, Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but when I turned to Dandelion Wine, I swiftly realised that this would be something else entirely.

The novel chronicles events during one summer in small-town Illinois during the late 1920s, mostly through the eyes of  12 year-old Doug Spaulding.  The story it seems was based at least partially on the author's own experiences.

From the opening chapters, I found the book to be wonderfully evocative and affecting, with the worldly being interspersed with the ethereal and dreamy.  Rich imagery and metaphor are employed throughout, and Bradbury was expert at setting a scene lyrically and powerfully.

The wine, and the dandelion from which it is derived, serve as metaphors not only for an endless and rich summer, but also for the humble but vital and precious things which life has to offer, and youthful wonder, innocence and above all, imagination.

Some of the early passages and chapters in Dandelion Wine deal with matters of consciousness and awakening, of Doug Spaulding's discovery and realisation of what it means to be alive, and this landmark or milestone colours much of the remainder of the story.

Other themes which run through the novel include ones of "rebirth", liberation, perception and empowerment .  However, as things progress the issues of ageing, death and regret become more and more prevalent.

Inter-generational tensions are also touched on, and are dealt with quite gently, but also with some potency.

The youngsters also become acutely aware of some of the cold realities of adulthood, and many of the more unsavoury aspects of life, and that eventually the cocoon is removed, and that we are not infallible or indestructible.

"The Ravine" also acts as a kind of symbol; as a brooding counter-weight, invoking light and shade, and the vulnerability and fragility which looms on the horizon.  If it was not for the ravine, maybe everything else would not appear so wondrous and invigorating?

The Happiness Machine is another clever and inspired ingredient of the story.  The moral here for me was that there is so much to be relished and enjoyed from the "here and now", the seemingly small things which all combine to form the tapestry of life and nature. Real, organic and raw human feelings,emotions and memories are so much more vivid and satisfying than anything engineered artificially.

This "living for the moment" theme is developed during Dandelion Wine.  Can the innocence and often unique insight of children cut through pre-conceptions and traditions, and alter perspectives?

Later in the book, we see more evidence of  children being confronted with their own mortality, and coming to terms with it in their own way.  We also see how life has a "continuity" and "one-ness" about it, and how one act of kindness or selflessness can induce another, thus spreading joy and simple beauty.

After finishing reading Dandelion Wine, I did not really get any strong sense that it had one over-riding message, but that it was a series of meditations on the phases, emotions and pressures which impact on all of us. Sometimes the old, sometimes the young, but often both.  One generation can learn from, and be inspired by, how the other interprets and addresses these stages of existence.

Above all, Dandelion Wine is an enthralling and at times moving read....

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