Young writers are often told to “write what you know,” a phrase usually taken to mean that said young writer should focus on the events of their own life in looking for inspiration. In a way, Dandelion Wine is a book produced out of that impulse. It is obviously mostly autobiographical, even without the clear proof of Bradbury’s introduction. It is the story of the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois. Although the story is ostensibly from Douglas Spaulding’s point of view as a twelve-year old boy, the narrator is much older and many of the events of the story are told from the point of view of older characters. There is sometimes a sort of irony in the difference between their observations and the “discoveries” of Douglas and his brother Tom which follow those observations. Because Douglas is not the sole narrator this is really not a book for children. It is a book for those who remember being a child.
Bradbury is a master of the short story form and in many ways this book is really a collection of short stories about various citizens of Green Town in summer 1928, all of them held together by the framework of Douglas. The stories move in chronological order, often with interlocking plots and characters. Miss Roberta and Miss Fern are frequently seen, as are Douglas and Tom’s grandparents. This interlocking gives a sense of life in this small town, where people’s lives do not occur separately, but are interwoven.
Bradbury is also a master of prose and nowhere more so than here. Open the book to almost any page and almost any paragraph and you will find a gem waiting for you. There on the first page:
A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. he would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted icehouse door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, Grandma’s kitchen.
And there are many others scattered throughout the book.
My favorite of all the stories is the time machine. This being Ray Bradbury, you might suppose that this is a time machine in the conventional science fiction sense. But Dandelion Wine is full of surprises. This time machine is no metal contraption. It is an old man, Colonel Freeleigh, who remembers the bison and the Civil War, although he cannot remember which side he fought on. He brings the past to life for the three friends, Charlie, John, and Douglas.
This is a book to revisit in the same way that Bradbury is revisiting the summers of his childhood, a book to savour and to let sink into your pores. It is a book which, like the dandelion wine of the title, you could open in the winter when you need the golden warmth of summer; it is a book which you could open in the summer to taste the flavor of all the summers past.