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“Joy is the grace we say to God.”

Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine"

July 3, 2014 4:27 pm | 5 Comments

I recently read Ray Bradburybradbury-’s beautiful book Dandelion Wine. It is incredibly evocative of what being a child is like. I found myself pausing repeatedly in my reading as Bradbury’s prose jostled memories of my own childhood: the first realization that, yes, I was a real person and really truly alive; walking in the moonlight during a warm night and suddenly going from comfort to fear; the first real awareness of mortality; the joy of being allowed to stay up late and share in the world of adults; the foods, activities, music that come with summer.

Ray Bradbury uses the metaphor of dandelion wine to represent capturing summer in a bottle, one that can be opened and shared even in the dead of winter to awaken those remembrances of joy and warmth. Bradbury’s writing is itself a bottle of that wine—I’m not sure how he did it, but he captured magic with his words. He himself humbly described how he felt when reading his own work: “Every so often, late at night, I come downstairs, open one of my books, read a paragraph and say, My God. I sit there and cry because I feel that I’m not responsible for any of this. It’s from God. And I’m so grateful, so, so grateful.”

There’s another quote of Bradbury’s that I love: “Joy is the grace we say to God.” This is a saying that could sound trite, but reading his work shows a writer deeply aware of suffering, of evil. But he doesn’t allow that to overwhelm and subdue the awe, curiosity, and joy that he feels toward the universe. When we behold the good that God gives, the proper response is joy.

In the genres of science fiction and fantasy that Bradbury inhabited, there’s been a trend toward a superficial seriousness. Joy and wonder are for kids, seems to be the attitude; we adults need to wallow in suffering and pain. You see this trickling into the movie world as well; for example, the grim reboot of Superman. Dark and gritty equals depth. (Thankfully, the Marvel adaptations have largely eschewed this mindset.) Is it any wonder that adult readers are picking up books from the Young Adult section? It’s still a place where writers can be considered serious even if they allow themselves some of the Bradbury joyfulness.

Speaking for myself, I find it easy to be overcome by a lack of joy. I find myself needing to seek out things that reawaken the receptiveness to joyfulness. According to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI),  “The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today.” If you know anybody suffering from this poverty, you could do worse than handing them a copy of Dandelion Wine. It’s a rich antidote.

John Herreid

John Herreid

John Herreid is catalog manager at Ignatius Press. In addition to catalogs and ads, he has also worked on the cover design for many Ignatius Press books and DVDs. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four children. You can also find his writing on his personal site at herreid.org.

Tags: Bradbury fantasy reviews

5 Comments

  1. July 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Have to check this out. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite books and very prophetic of the dangers of technology to authentic human interaction and an objective sense of morality, along with the importance of books, of history, of free and deep intellectual thought,essentially traditional learning, to preserving them. What was Bradbury’s religious beliefs?

    I do have to disagree with you slightly about the recent interpretation of Superman, which I didn’t see as being ‘grim’, although did take a grittier more realistic approach. Point is, it was done well and underrated as a film, i thought. When a superhero film is done well, it can’t help but contain a hopeful sense of a transcending and objective fate that the hero is meant to fulfill, much like pagan myths, which Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton emphasize as stories that reflected an objective innate desire for objective good, that pointed to the truth of God, particular that of traditional Christianity, a kind of foreshadowing in a truth based on the premise that our existence is a story not a mere linear and arbitrary progression of history dictated merely by environment. A story that has an Author. I think the new Superman film conveyed this very well, and being at a more epic scale, perhaps did it slightly better than the Avengers film.

    Also in superhero films and comic books in general, they tend to essentially ignore religion, particularly traditional Christianity, and even use actual pagan heroes, such as Thor, that fit perfectly in a comic book universe. The scene in the church, with the priest, was therefore, a pleasant surprise, that Superman himself required faith from a higher power, however unlikely this was as the intent of the filmmaker. More likely the ideal attempted to be conveyed was Humanism, more acceptable an ideal for the modern mind. However, what the modern mind seem to miss is that the ultimate form of Humanism is traditional orthodox Christianity, Man being created in the image of God Himself, Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, God becoming human. So, how perfect was the scene of the priest conveying to Superman to take a leap of faith for humanity, as the image of Christ in a stained glass window looms large in the background behind the Man of Steel as we learn later, takes the advice, and takes this leap of faith.

  2. July 3, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting him several times at Fahrenheit 451 Books, in Laguna Beach, when it was still a little hippie beach town and Fahrenheit 451 Books was still an independent bookstore (before amazon and boarders, etc.). I remember reading “All Summer in a Day” in elementary school. That story stays with you forever. It teaches kindness, and is anti-bully.
    On a long road trip to Montana, we listened to the Martian Chronicles on disc. That was wonderful. So much to think about.
    When I met Bradbury, he would do book signings. He was old, and would wear these really odd, short tennis shorts, and big socks. His hair was extremely white. He was very intense and loved to talk. He definitely didn’t fit in in Orange county, the only consolation was that the real pacific ocean was so close. I love his novel, but the true craft is in the short story. Much harder to write.

  3. To this day I think Ray Bradbury may have been the best writer of prose that was poetic and lyrical while remaining transparent and easy to follow. If not THE best, certainly one of, in my opinion.

    Throw in the sense of decency found in the themes of his work and a lack of cynicism about humanity that tends to choke modern science fiction and fantasy, and he was one of my favorites.

  4. July 12, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    John, thanks for these reflections on my favorite Bradbury novel. I’ve read Dandelion Wine 3-4 times. Green Town, IL = Waukegan. I seem to recall that some of these characters re-appear in subsequent short stories. Bradbury wrote a kind of sequel decades later but the wine had lost its zest. Same thing occurred with Asimov and his Foundation series and Adams and Watership Down.

  5. John Herreid

    July 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for the great comments! I just got back from a few days off with my family, and the kids had a great time bottling their own dandelion wine, so to speak, as they visited the beach, caught bugs, and generally ran wild. It’s what summer is all about.

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