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Dandelion Wine

by Ray Bradbury

Essay  by Ted Gioia

By his early thirties, Ray Bradbury had established
himself as one of the luminaries of science fiction, but his
ambitions and interests were already leading him to
abandon the formulas of genre storytelling.  Around this
time, he began crafting a series of
stories inspired by his childhood in
Waukegan, Illinois, where Bradbury
had spent most of the first fourteen years
of his life.  This careful mining of the
modest and uneventful happenings of
his own youth would eventually result in
several books, and numerous short stories.

Just as surprising were the periodicals where
Ray Bradbury was now publishing these Illinois
stories.    "The Season of Sitting" appeared in
Charm—which positioned itself as "the magazine
for the business girl"—in August 1951;  "The
Lawns of Summer" was published in
Nation’s
Business
in May 1952;  "Dandelion Wine" found
a home in the June 1953 issue of
Gourmet;  "The Swan" was
featured in
Cosmopolitan in September 1954; and the
illustrious
Saturday Evening Post accepted "Summer in the
Air" and ran it in its February 1956 issue.   The author who
had cut his teeth on
Weird Tales had clearly moved into a
better literary neighborhood.  

These efforts reached their culmination in Bradbury’s
ambitions for a big "Waukegan novel," which he sent to his
publisher at the end of 1956.   Years later, the writer’s wife
Maggie would mention that
Dandelion Wine was Bradbury’s
favorite among his books—although the author himself was
more coy.  "They are all my children.  You can’t pick favorites
when it comes to children."   But if you have any doubts about
how closely Bradbury identifies with this work you need merely
look at is protagonist Douglas Spaulding, whose very name
makes clear that he is the author’s alter ego:   Bradbury’s
middle name is Douglas, and his great-grandmother’s maiden
name was Spaulding.   Here in Green Town, Illinois—the
stand-in for Waukegan—we follow in this boy’s path during the
summer of 1928.  

Our novelist, at first glance, seems to be ignoring the science
fiction and fantasy concepts that brought him to fame.  But at
closer examination, the familiar genre themes are employed
repeatedly—albeit in altered or parodied form.  In a chapter
also published separately as a short story called "The Time
Machine," Douglas’s friend Charlie Woodman promises to
show his friends exactly that.  "Travels in the past and the
future?" inquires another youngster.  "Only in the past, but
you can’t have everything," Charlie responds.  But the time
machine here is nothing more than their neighbor Colonel
Freeleigh, a Civil War veteran, whose stories of time past
have such Proustian immediacy, that the children sit around
him in rapt fascination as he recounts anecdote after
anecdote.  

No, this is not the same kind of
time machine that H.G. Wells
made famous, but Bradbury is willing to poke gentle fun at the
very genre formulas that most readers would associate with
his own work.  And if he didn't make the point clearly enough
in this interlude, he returns to it again in a separate chapter,
one of the deepest stories Bradbury ever penned, about a 95-
year-old woman in her final days and a young reporter for the
local newspaper.  This story, a delicate reworking of the
timeless theme of the old trying to find something of value and
remembrance to hand down to the young, seems almost too
poised and mature, a vintage of something more substantial
than dandelions, for an author in the full flush of youthful
ambition to construct.

We see this same oblique reference to the fanciful and
conceptual in other sections of
Dandelion Wine.  Two
separate interludes in the book incorporate the subject of
witchcraft, but in ways that parody the traditional MacBethian
"fire burn and cauldron bubble" trappings of such accounts.   
Another chapter presents a Lovecraftian horror story about a
killer known as the "Lonely One";  the account creates
genuine suspense and is capped by an unsettling surprise
ending—but then Bradbury undoes it all with an epilogue that
turns the horror into comedy.  In another chapter, Douglas’s
neighbor Leo Auffmann decides to build a "happiness
machine," and the contraption he constructs bears an
uncanny resemblance to the modern day virtual reality
generator known as the World Wide Web.  Only in this
instance, the residents of this small town reject the innovation,
finding that it merely leaves them depressed and teary-eyed.  
The message here—the assertion that the modest reality of
the here-and-now is superior to the grand promises of the
future—is emblematic of
Dandelion Wine as a whole.  Who
would have guessed, based on his earlier work, that Ray
Bradbury would be the stick-in-the-mud to cop such a
reactionary attitude?

Bradbury, by his nature, is a short story writer, and even when
he tries his hand at longer forms, they still show their origins in
more compact narrative forms.
Fahrenheit 451 actually
started life as a short story ("FireMan" published in 1947) then
became a novella ("The Fireman" published in 1951) and only
finally grew into a novel that barely stretches out to the 200
page mark.   
The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man
try to create the impression of bulk via larger framing
narratives, but without losing their identity as short story
collections. Bradbury was more successful in stitching
together his little stories into novelistic form in his accounts of
small town life, notably here in
Dandelion Wine and
Something Wicked This Way Comes, but even in these
instances the finished works come across as collections of
vignettes that only gradually give way to a larger vision.  

Even so, this book transcends the miniaturist sensibility of so
much of Bradbury’s work.  He has worked hard to draw
together his diverse subplots through the use of unifying
themes and characters, as well as various anticipations and
flashbacks.  As a result,
Dandelion Wine has more coherence
than, say,
The Illustrated Man or The Martian Chronicles.    
Above all, a certain wistful nostalgia permeates the book, and
gives it a unifying flavor from the opening page to the
concluding sentence.  But it is nostalgia mixed with an
ineffable sense of immanence.  That latter quality ultimately
makes this book about the past—nowadays 1928 seems like
the distant past—into an admonition for the reader to take
watchful delight in the present.   
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

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Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal



Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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