Friday, 4 March 2011

Dandelion Wine or How to Capture Summer in a Bottle

Have you ever tried to capture summer moments so that you go back to them in cold winter nights and remember the good times? Have you ever realized that you forgot some of the precious magic of summer, when you were content, pleased, and happy? Have you ever cried when summer is over and counted the days till the next one? If your answer is "Yes" to any of these questions, this is your book.

Dandelion Wine by Rad Bradbury is a gentle, touching nostalgic novel about summer days gone by. Combining reality with fantasy, the book represents the magic of childhood, the excitement of simple experiences, and the childish curiosity about the meaning and purpose of life. Through the eyes of the main character, 12-years-old Douglas Spoulding, the author explores the daily summer routines of a small fictional town, Greentown. People there live a simple, calm, and uneventful life, waiting for days, months, and years to pass. Douglas, with his passion, desire for knowledge, and curiosity stands out in this crowd. The boy is fascinated with summer days and nights. He records all of his experiences into a little notebook, afraid that someday he might forget them. Despite playing with his friends, Douglas is also preoccupied with topics far too mature for his own age. At the beginning of the summer he suddenly realizes he is alive and has to take advantage of every opportunity, to enjoy every moment, to run barefoot on the grass, to eat as many ice-creams as possible, to have new shoes, to swing, to laugh, to play. Mid-summer, the boy is faced with the inevitable truth that he is going to die. He losses his best friend, his grandmother dies, and Douglas is now disillusioned and confused. Yet, what the author is trying to tell us, is that the contentment of people depends on their ability to deal with and accept the imperfect aspects of life and to find pleasures in the small things.

The entire novel is trying to show the reader how much happiness and joy is right in front of our eyes but we fail to notice it. The first summer day, the time you hang the swings, the first time you wear your trainers, the first time you eat ice-cream, the first time you hear the crickets sing, the first time you run in the grass, all of these events excite Douglas and his friends. The boy's philosophy of life is so mature, yet grown up people very easily forget it. We should live today, grab up everything we can, enjoy it, play with it, write it down, make someone smile, capture the sun, the moon, the wind, the grass, because this day is never going to come back.

Most of the short stories are in some way related to Douglas, his family, or his friends. The old characters are nostalgic about their youth, their loved ones, who have died, their experiences. The young ones listen to their stories with amazement that these old people have sometime been young. Overall, Bradbury's heroes are sweet, loving, sensitive, caring for life, living in memories or carefully storing them for future years. Bradbury's heroes are healthy and happy mainly because they live today, without plans for the futures, without waiting for something grand to happen. They realize that existence is about is the little pleasures that we experience every day, even every hour, in between the big, shaking events that transform our lives drastically.

All of these summer moments are accompanied by the gentle touch of dandelion wine. For Douglas, the wine symbolizes all the summer joys, trapped in a single bottle. Every day has its own bottle, which reminds the boy of what he did, what he felt, or what he learned that day. So that in the winter, he can go down the basement, open the dandelion wine, and return to this blissful time.

Dandelion Wine is a semi-biographical novel. It combines Bradbury's actual experiences as a little boy in a small US town with his unique imagination. Most of the stories were published previously as short-stories before being combined into one large novel. These romantic and sentimental short stories are in a huge contrast with the grim, depressing world that 451 Fahrenheit portrays. As if two different people wrote two different novels, both of which feature intimate reflections about our world, even though in totally different aspects. Ray Bradbury is a name that combines everything - science, fantasy, horror, science-fiction, and...nostalgia.

In Dandelion Wine reality is sometimes overwhelmed by fantasy to arrive at a wonderful novel, which warms up even the most cynical and cold heart. I will be re-reading it over and over again when I feel I am living not in the present but in some uncertain future. Because the present is all we have and we should enjoy it with a bottle of dandelion wine.

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