I recently read Ray Bradbury’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.