Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fireflys in a jar

Another good appreciation of Ray Bradbury, this one by Peter Leithart at First Things. Leithart captures some of what it was that I so much liked about the books:
.... He is at his most exotic when exploring the mysteries of a summer evening in a small midwestern town. Streetlights blink on, fireflies flicker over the yard, cicadas and crickets chirp in the warm air. As you walk down the sidewalk, you can hear the clatter of dishes through open kitchen windows, the creak of swings and rocking chairs and the murmur of the men sitting in the yellow dome of light on the front porches, a whiff of tobacco smoke hovering overhead. Out on the darkening lawn, a cluster of boys led by Douglas Spaulding argues, wrestles, and plots. Tomorrow, they’re going to refight Shiloh all over town, using the parks and cemetery as battlefields. They’ll steal the chess pieces from the old men who play in the town square and magically control the boys with their knights and rooks. Tomorrow night, they’ll break into city hall and kill the clock that keeps the town in thrall.

The idyll is touched with melancholy and a tremor of gulping panic. It’s late enough in the summer for the boys to feel the chill of a new school year coming. Pencils and notebooks are displayed already in the shop window at the five-and-dime. Summer is ending, and with it, freedom and innocence. Bradbury’s America feels as vigorous as boyhood, and as elegiac.

Other endings overshadow Douglas and his friends in Dandelion Wine. Colonel Freeleigh the living time machine dies, and Douglas understands that all the characters that lived in his memory died with him. Douglas’s great-grandma dies, and his best friend John moves away. At the end of the summer, Douglas takes out his yellow pad and his Ticonderoga pencil and lists all the things that you can’t depend on in life—machines, tennis shoes, trolleys that come to the end of the line, people. As he writes, the fireflies in the jar beside his bed “turned themselves off.” ....

.... Re-reading Bradbury means reliving the existential Illumination that comes to Douglas early in the summer of 1928. Sprawled on the grass after wrestling his brother, one eye open to “everything, absolutely everything,” Douglas discovers the summery wonder: “I’m alive.” The world around him brims with glory he never noticed before. Bradbury helps us notice. Then, and more slowly, he brings the further Revelation: Summers end, so make the best of it. [more]
I looked for Dandelion Wine at Amazon only to discover that almost none of Bradbury's books are available for Kindle. That is an option I would love to have [but Bradbury probably resisted].

Poet of Summer’s End | First Things