Time To Drink Some Dandelion Wine

Film, Reading & Writing

Like many others I was sorry to hear of the death of Ray Bradbury, America’s finest short story writer, and also surprised to hear him written off as ‘a science fiction writer’ in several obituaries. Bradbury was unique in that his stories could not have been written by anyone else. In a time when so few writers earn my admiration by having a voice, his was utterly distinctive.

In recent times he was written off a little by those who felt he was a backward-looking, nostalgia-prone writer. In fact, excepting his deliberate evocation of childhood, the story-cyle ‘Dandelion Wine’, nothing could be further from the truth. Over and over, his stories prove alarmingly prescient. In ‘The Veldt’, virtual reality corrupts children against their parents simply because it is more appealing to escape than to be nagged. In ‘The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse’ a dullard is taken up by a clique of empty new artists (are you listening, Damien Hirst?) and is eventually transformed into a Dali-esque work of art.

He was unafraid of expressing sentiment and did not feel the need to be perceived as ‘edgy’ (a slightly desperate quality that blights so much speculative writing) because he could write about emotions without ever being cloying or sickly. What he did beautifully was connect the reader to universal feelings.

In my collection ‘Old Devil Moon’ I wrote a story called ‘The Twilight Express’, which is an homage to Bradbury. His stories sustained me through frequent prolonged childhood illnesses, but what’s most surprising now is to look back at them and see just how incredibly experimental they appear next to modern writing, but these experimental styles were wedded to very satisfying stories. He was clever without showing off, elegant with substance and accessible without being dull.

And there was always a sense – an overview – of life passing and being lived. In ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, Mr Dark offers Will’s father a chance to relive his life by going back and starting again at different ages – which get later and later as he prevaricates.

I hope Bradbury’s timeless works see a resurgence as ebooks – they are currently unavailable. If you haven’t read them before I urge you to do so, starting with a ‘Best Of’ collection.

NB The film version of ‘Something Wicked’ is terrific, and seems to possess two soundtracks, one by Georges Delarue which was not used.

11 comments on “Time To Drink Some Dandelion Wine”

  1. chris matheson says:

    I was deeply saddened when I heard about Ray Bradbury’s death. His stories and novels are written in a wonderfully poetic style, bursting with emotion and a true sense of wonder. Both an important writer, and a hero of mine.

  2. Steve Antill says:

    I was introduced to Bradbury by my English teacher around age 12-13, and avidly collected and read many volumes of short stories. His wasn’t the only work recommended by teachers, but one of the few that stuck, a combination of the outright enthusiasm of Mr Murray (the teacher) and such fantastic stories. I’ve always thought the criticisms (twee, old-fashioned, etc) were quite unfair, and showed a lack of reading of the actual stories.
    Dare I say, without this fabulous introduction to storytelling I’d maybe not be such a fan of this blog’s writer now?

  3. Mantichore says:

    Sad news, but let’s not confuse his works and his opinions which, in his last years, were a bit embarrassing. I’ve felt it when watching or reading interviews with him, and people who’ve known him close up confirm it (for instance: http://www.newsfromme.com/2012/06/06/ray-bradbury-r-i-p/ ). That in no way affects the worth of his stories, but if Bradbury’s books are unavailable as e-books, it’s because he hated computers and the Internet and fought tooth and claw to prevent his works from being published there.

    As for “writing him off” as a science-fiction writer, that’s ignorance and just a reflection on those who do dismiss him thus. He was also a crime writer, a horror writer. He even committed mainstream, but we won’t hold that against him. His death made the news on most TV and radio channels in France, and he was mentioned as “not only an SF writer, but a writer in the fullest sense of it”.

    Which some people considered as damning with faint praise. You can’t ever please everybody.

  4. Sam Tomaino says:

    The first science fiction I ever read was his “A Sound of Thunder” in the collection ‘R Is For Rocket’ and I still think that it’s one of the best s.f. sort stories. Likewise, I think ‘Fahrenheit 451′ may by the best science fiction novel.

    I, too, enjoyed the movie of ‘Something Wicked.’ Bradbury did the original screenplay and it’s a bit different from the book. Also, the producers monkeyed with it a bit. I heard at the time that Bradbury did not care for it, but, subsequently, heard he had come around to liking it. I’d love to read Bradbury’s original script to see how he reworked his original novel.

  5. Bob Low says:

    Ray Bradbury was just one of the greatest writers, however he was classified. I was lucky enough to be at secondary school in Scotland at a time when Bradbury’s short stories seemed to dominate the ‘O’ Grade and Higher English reading lists. I hope they still are being used to introduce younger readers to the brilliant possibilities of language. I have never forgotten the description of the Tyrannosaurus Rex from ”A Sound of Thunder”,with its ”delicate watchmaker’s claws”, and its head ”like a ton of sculptured stone”-the entire paragraph describing the creature is one of the most glorious pieces of descriptive writing in literature-contained within an ingenuous and chilling time travel story. He was the whole package.

    Oddly enough the two pieces of Bradbury’s that seem to some up his uniqueness to me are, firstly, an introduction which he wrote for a two volume collection of his stories published by Granada in the early eighties, entitled ”Drunk in Charge of a Bicycle”-a hilarious and touching description of his life and writing philosphy-and, secondly, a dedication , which introduces the anthology ”The Machineries of Joy”,and which I hope I will be forgiven for quoting in its entirety-

    ”For Ramona,
    who cried when she heard
    that the Hound of the
    Baskervilles was dead….

    For Susan,
    who snorted at the same news…

    For Bettina,
    who laughed…

    And for Alexandra,
    who told everyone to
    just get out of the way…

    This book, dear daughters
    with four different kinds
    of love for you.”

    Pure magic.

  6. Amy says:

    I just got through reading “The Pedestrian.” Roger Ebert posted it on his website. It’s good to be reminded of why someone is so great. He lead a long life and gave us a great deal to think about in regards to what type of world we want to live in. He will be missed.

  7. glasgow1975 says:

    I was sorry to hear he had died, but I’m ashamed to say I thought he already had :(
    I bought a lovely little hardback re-issue of The Martian Chronicles many years ago.

  8. Susan Shepard says:

    I just spent half an hour trying to remember Jonathan Pryce’s name. Finally had to do a google search.

    Loved Ray Bradbury, may he rest in peace.

  9. paul m hasbrouck says:

    Goodbye Mr. Bradbury, i love you, for your novels, short stories and poems. As a movie fan, also for your great screenplay for John Huston’s MOBY DICK, in my opinion the finest screen version of the novel. Rest well Ray.

  10. Bill Goodwin says:

    I’ve been reading Ray’s novels to him by his bedside for months, and even in his hospital room he insisted on hearing my own trivial work. I say this more out of amazment than to brag. Ray was amazed himself–by life–and clearly wanted to visit and touch upon his murky cellars and Martian canals a final time. His love of ideas, and surprise at himself, were as fresh as when his books were first published. He was also damn good company. Even as the windows of the world were closing, he wouldn’t stop peering out through the frost, enthralled. The Bradbury Legend is literally true; he really was that rare individual in whom vanity and humility, sentiment and strength, are perfectly fused. I dare not say more. I miss him. He was my friend.

  11. Bill Goodwin says:

    P.S. Bradbury recently negotiated a deal for the e-publishing rights to his writing. The numbers involved were as impressive as you’d expect. The books ought to be available shortly.

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