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Dandelion Wine
Ray Bradbury
Avon Books, 267 pages

Dandelion Wine
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, on August 22, 1920. Between 1926 and 1933, the family moved back and forth between Waukegan and Tucson, Arizona. In 1934, the Bradbury family moved to Los Angeles, where Bradbury graduated from high school in 1938. His first story publication was "Hollerbochen's Dilemma," printed in 1938 in Imagination!, an amateur fan magazine, and in 1939, he published four issues of Futuria Fantasia, his own fan magazine, contributing much of the published material himself. Bradbury's first paid publication was "Pendulum" in 1941 to Super Science Stories. In 1947, he married Marguerite McClure and compiled his best material, publishing it as Dark Carnival, his first short story collection (later pared down into The October Country). Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man,and The Martian Chronicles are amongst his best works.

He has been awarded the O. Henry Memorial Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, the Aviation-Space Writer's Association Award for best space article in an American Magazine, the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, and the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. His animated film about the history of flight, Icarus Montgolfier Wright, was nominated for an Academy Award, and his teleplay of "The Halloween Tree" won an Emmy. Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine was honoured in a most unusual way, by being immortalized when an Apollo astronaut named the Dandelion Crater on the Moon. Ray Bradbury currently lives in California and is still actively writing and lecturing. Bradbury Tribute Site
Playboy Interview (pay site)
"The Romance of Places" by Robert Couteau from Quantum Science Fiction and Fantasy Review, Spring 1991
Audio interview
Bradbury's upcoming film projects
1997 commentary-interview with Dorian Benkoil
Bradbury with Shel Horowitz
Items written by Bradbury:
"The Small Town Plaza: What Life is All About"
"Coda from Fahrenheit 451" Site 1
"Coda from Fahrenheit 451" Site 2
"A Salute to Superman from Superman #400, 1984
ISFDB Bibliography
Ray Bradbury Theater
About Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451
"Ray Bradbury: 'A Poet of Affirmation'" by James E. Person, Jr.
Bibliography of Bradbury published in Finnish
Study guide to Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles
Martian Chronicles game on CD-ROM
Previous reviews:
Driving Blind
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Illustrated Man
Bringing Back Bradbury

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Dandelion Wine, originally published in 1957, was, for Bradbury, an intensely personal and emotional book. Rather than giving you a list of the reminiscences in the book, or a dry pedantic analysis of Dandelion Wine as a series of sensory-rich vignettes of Bradbury's life as a youngster in his home town of Waukegan, Illinois, in the late 1920s, I thought that I'd take a similar approach to Bradbury's. Besides, it isn't likely that I'd be saying anything that reviewers and literary scholars haven't been saying over the last 40 years.

As most readers, I particularly enjoy certain authors and books, around whom and which I have developed certain strong associations. These associations may include where I found the book, where I read it, how the story affected me, what was happening in my life at the time and so on. For example, I associate James Macpherson's The Poems of Ossian with how its wonderfully evocative yet sparse prose knocked my clone-of-The Lord of the Rings-jaded socks off, while having few associations as to source or reading venue. Conversely, I picked up my then new copy of Robert Bloch's Strange Eons from one of those squeaky rotating metal books racks in an old creaky wooden-floored Woolworth's in a small town in Ohio that I only biked through because of a road construction detour, and where the one gas station sold Peach Nehi, which I had never tasted before. I read this book lying in the grass under a summer afternoon sun on top of the hill that overlooks the small Central New York State town where my uncle's family lives. If you can't understand such emotional attachments, then Dandelion Wine is just not for you.

Raised in Montreal in the 60s and early 70s, I naturally didn't have a growing experience comparable to Bradbury's 20s, though summers spent in the country at my grandmother's farmhouse where barns, attics, and abandoned chicken coops hid all sorts of pre-WW2 treasures did a lot to develop my deep nostalgia for those times. My grandmother's stories of Cavalry Balls, a dashing young brother lost in WW1, courting fallen Eastern European aristocrats, and of the various gunrunners and rogues in my ancestry further skewed my view of life. At about 10 years old, when my great-aunt gave me a year's issues of the French pulp magazine L'Aventure dated 1923, complete with sepia photo-documentaries on the Red Baron and tiger hunting in India, lost race and science-fiction novels with mind-control rays, and crossword puzzles in the shapes of wild African animals, I was completely converted into a living anachronism. If you don't feel the least twinge of nostalgia at this point, don't bother reading Dandelion Wine.

At around 14, late at night after the Expos' baseball broadcast, scanning the AM dial on an old tube radio, I discovered the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre with E.G. Marshall on WCAU, Philadelphia. While I had read many of the standard children's classics like R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island and H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, this impetus led me to begin devouring H.P. Lovecraft (or at least his literary works). Lovecraft's affectation of being a Victorian gentleman and his feeling of having being born out of time immediately meshed with my own grandmother-influenced outlook. Lovecraft and his coterie of Weird Tales authors eventually led me to the seek out some of the writers of the last years of the original magazine. There is where I discovered Ray Bradbury.

I began with Bradbury's The October Country and followed it up with Fahrenheit 451 -- so far, to me Bradbury was no more than an excellent atmospheric horror writer. A couple of years later, returning from a reading diversion into medieval Arthurian romance and Norse epics, I entered a store in an old turreted red sandstone home. In the cheapie-bin overflowing with cheap romance novels and obsolescent bestsellers that were not deemed worthy of the inner sanctum of what was after all an "academic" bookstore, were the original Bantam paperback editions of The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles. Though stories like "The Veldt" and others are science-fictional, had you asked me at the time I would have told you, literary purist that I was, that Bradbury was a horror writer and he didn't do any of that low-brow SF stuff. It was dark cross-over stories like "The Pedestrian" in Bradbury's S is for Space that bridged the horror-science fiction gulf and finally convinced me that there might be something worthwhile in science fiction. Now, many hundreds of science-fiction books later, I fondly look back on Bradbury as the author who led me to shed my literary blinders. If you don't remember or don't care about such a epiphany in your reading tastes, then, again, don't bother with Dandelion Wine.

Fiction based on childhood reminiscences abounds: the European form tends to be pastoral, often nauseatingly saccharine, and generally deals with children's fascination with nature. Richard Jefferies set his Wood Magic, A Fable (1881) and Bevis, The Story of a Boy (1882) in the English countryside, as did Kenneth Grahame for his Dream Days (1902) and The Golden Age (1895). The French writer Marcel Pagnol's La Gloire de Mon Pere, set in the south of France, similarly glorifies the child/nature association. The American form, while maintaining these elements to some extent, tends to set such tales in a small town milieu. From literature's Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson, to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories, from film's It's a Wonderful Life to last year's Pleasantville, and from television's The Andy Griffith Show to The Wonder Years, American writers have celebrated small-town life. Dandelion Wine is a prime example of this.

One of the sub-genres of the older American small-town novel is the travelling-circus-comes-to-town story. I am of an age to have watched (in reruns) the early TV series Circus Boy and understand the concept of running away with the circus, something completely alien to today's children. About the time I first discovered Ray Bradbury, I also discovered the works of Charles G. Finney, in particular his The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935), one of the best works in this genre. For those not reading-inclined, George Pal's film The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, starring a young Tony Randall, will give you a general idea of Finney's tone.

While Finney, compared to Bradbury, had a generally more Ambrose Bierce-like tinge of humour in his horror, both had many stylistic similarities. In 1956, Bradbury edited the paperback anthology The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Impossible Stories, and in 1962 published his own, thematically very similar, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Recent sources suggest that Bradbury very much admired Finney's work, some commentators suggesting that Something Wicked This Way Comes was written in homage to Finney's The Circus of Dr. Lao. Interestingly, Finney grew up in Arizona, where Bradbury also spent part of his childhood. What is even more interesting, considering the Finney-Bradbury link (but never mentioned), is Finney's largely forgotten children's novel Past the End of the Pavement (1939). Unlike Finney's The Circus of Dr. Lao or his creepy fantasies The Unholy City (1937) and The Magician out of Manchuria (1968), his Past the End of the Pavement shows little if any of these horror elements and is a humorous, presumably semi-autobiographical, account of a young boy growing up and discovering Nature in small town America.

In a neatly parallel manner, Bradbury's Dandelion Wine was very different from anything he had written to that point. While his early horror and science fiction tales had the sense of nostalgia found throughout the body of his work, Dandelion Wine skewed the nostalgia/horror balance almost completely to one side. Dandelion Wine is at times a constant barrage of similes and metaphors almost without plot, while Bradbury's best horror, although powerfully atmospheric, is also strongly plot driven.

I ask myself whether I should recommend Dandelion Wine to those new readers discovering Bradbury in these handsome yet affordable new editions. On the one hand, the book was extremely evocative, but on the other, so evocative that it did little else. Having a deep associational bond with Bradbury's other early works, I had trouble with the book not fitting into my preconceptions of how early Bradbury should be. Had I read Dandelion Wine some 25 years ago and was only reading his other works now, would I be disappointed with the horror/SF elements crowding out the atmospheric elements? Hard to say. Certainly I would tell anyone wanting to know what makes Ray Bradbury the human being he is to read Dandelion Wine, and anyone wanting to know what makes Ray Bradbury the renowned writer he is to read The October Country or The Martian Chronicles.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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