Ray Bradbury’s Zestful Zen: Burning Books at Fahrenheit 451 and Bottling Boyhood Dandelion Wine

The Golden Apples of the SunThe Golden Apples of the Sun (1952) has nestled for years on my top bookshelf, with a floating metal clock on the cover and haunting tales inside.  A lonely sea serpent is drawn to a lighthouse foghorn as to its lost mate.  A time travelling big game hunt – forget lions, bag T Rex – changes the political future chaos theoretically by squashing a prehistoric butterfly.  A man who’d rather walk than watch TV at night is arrested to research his regressive tendencies.  The author is Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), who indeed has, as the blurb announces, “a powerful and mysterious imagination”.

With other story collections like R is for Rocket and S is for Space, you’d think he would promote technology, but Bradbury doubted it like a Luddite, hoping to “prevent the future, not predict it”.  For 40 years he was scared to fly; he lived for six decades in Los Angeles, where “a human without a car is a Samurai without his sword”, and never learned to drive, having seen six people die in a crash when he was 16.

Any society where a natural man – the pedestrian – becomes the intruder, and an unnatural men encased in a steel shell becomes his molester, is a science fiction nightmare.

Bradbury called television “that insidious beast, that Medusa, which freezes a billion people to stone every night.”  He preferred his electric typewriter to a computer, thought the Internet was a waste of time and E-books had no future.  For one thing, they lack aroma:

There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.

Although I enjoyed Isaac Asimov and Douglas Adams in my teens, I’m no sci-fi buff.  This year, however, I’ve read three Bradburys and met a thoughtful poet, who is scorned by many robot-heads as too light on alien science and technology.  Bradbury called himself more a writer of modern myths than of science fiction, and he focussed on human life and society.  As he said in one interview,

I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us.

I’m a lot like Verne – a writer of moral fables, an instructor in the humanities. He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally.


zen-in-the-art-of-writingZestful Zen in the Art of Writing

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (1994) graces many lists of top books on the writer’s craft.  From the first page I was gripped by Bradbury’s Dionysian enthusiasm and Promethean curiosity, his vitality and verve and vigour:

Zest.  Gusto.  How rarely one hears these words used.  How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them…  Think of Shakespeare and Melville and you think of thunder, lightening, wind.  They… seized a bit of the quicksilver of life, froze it over for all time and turned, in the blaze of their creativity, to point at it and cry, “Isn’t this good!”…  For the first thing a writer should be is – excited.  He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.

Bradbury certainly was.  At 12 years old, a travelling circus came to his hometown.  With 10 million volts of hair on end, Mr Electrico knighted Ray with his static-charged sword and shouted, “Live forever!”  From that moment, Bradbury never lost the spark – “I don’t need an alarm clock.  My ideas wake me.”

Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.

Bradbury rejects the cliché of the tortured genius or Bohemian procrastinator, dreading the agony of creation.  As soon as some new thing explodes inside him like old faithful, “it schedules me, I don’t schedule it” and he leaps into action, “trying to beach Leviathan with my typewriter”.  He’s never been depressed or run dry – writing is such fun!

It’s the exquisite joy and madness of my life, and I don’t understand writers who have to work at it. I like to play. I’m interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them. If I had to work at it I would give it up. I don’t like working.

The man may disdain “work”, but he never slowed down.  In the year of that electric blessing, his parents gave him a toy typewriter.  Ever since he’s written at least 1000 words per day, one story a week.  For years he ploughed through a blizzard of rejection slips, before success with The Martian Chronicles (1950).  When asked what made this work so lyrical and atmospheric – CS Lewis praised his “poetic style”, Bradbury pointed to reading poetry every day of his life.  He fell in love with Shakespeare at 14; other favourites are Gerald Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, and Pope.

Poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanese paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes. Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books…  I deal in metaphors. All my stories are like the Greek and Roman myths…

Before meeting these ancient classics, young Bradbury’s imagination was fed by his mother’s fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Bros, then comic strips and L Frank Baum and Edgar Allan Poe.  He haunted fairgrounds and watched 12 to 14 movies per week through his teens, roller-skating around Hollywood to collect autographs.  He loved to pull books at random from shelves and chase myriad ideas like a jackdaw archaeologist or anthropologist,

who seeks bright objects, odd carapaces and misshapen femurs from the boneheaps of junk inside my head, where lay strewn the remnants of collisions with life as well as Buck Rogers, Tarzan, John Carter, Quasimodo, and all the other creatures who made me want to live forever.

Bursting with all this inspiration, popping like a pomegranate stuffed full of seeds, he said, at first he made the beginner’s mistake:

I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence.  Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.

He quickly learnt not to force-feed the muse but to act like a lizard and wait.  “Be a chameleon, ink-blend, chromosome change with the landscape.”  When an idea comes along off guard, “flick like an eyelash, crack like a whip” and pounce.

As soon as things get difficult, I walk away.  That’s the great secret of creativity.  You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you. If you try to approach a cat and pick it up, hell, it won’t let you do it. You’ve got to say, “Well, hell with you.” And the cat says, “Wait a minute. He’s not behaving the way most humans do.” Then the cat follows you out of curiosity.

To tiger-trap the creative cat, Bradbury’s formula is to make a list of the things you most deeply love and most passionately hate.  Then bring actors on stage who feel the same and let them tell their story.

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations…
Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart.  Give him running orders.  Shoot him off.  Then follow as fast as you can go…  The zest and gusto of his need, and there is zest in hate as well as in love, will fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.


Fahrenheit 451 first coverBurning Books at Fahrenheit 451

At seven years old, Bradbury went looking for books on Oz and Tarzan and “discovered me in the library”.  Too poor for university in the depression, he read there at night for a decade and “graduated from the library” at age 27, wedded to literature for life.

The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers. If they couldn’t speak pidgin Tolstoy, articulate Henry James, or give me directions to Usher and Ox, it was no go.

Bradbury met his wife Maggie at the bookstore in downtown LA where she worked and at first took him for a thief.  Their young daughters wanted daddy to play not write at home, but they couldn’t afford an office.  Then Bradbury struck gold beneath the UCLA library: a basement of rental typewriters.  His love of libraries and hatred of the Nazi book burners rapidly raised his typewriter temperature to 451 F, the flash point at which paper spontaneously ignites.  When not dashing upstairs to hunt through the stacks for quotes, paying a dime per half hour made him type fast.  Nine days and $9.80 later, he had a 25,000 word manuscript, “The Fireman”.  Doubled in length, this was published as Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

As in Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s 1984 (1949), it’s a dark future.  Houses are now fireproofed so traditional fire-fighting is redundant, but the opening lines show that firemen like Guy Montag have a new task.

It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies… the flapping pigeon-winged books died.

The regime has realised that books are too unsettling to be safe, with their contrasting views that stir up dissent.  Reading books is now illegal.

A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?

Defuse the danger by bombarding the masses with advertising and feel-good facts and trivia contests they can win, immerse them in soothing music through stereo earphones (which may have inspired the Sony Walkman), surround them with interactive TV walls for a non-confusing emotional high.

If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.  Better yet, give him none… Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with.  That way lies melancholy.

bradburyBradbury didn’t plan his stories in advance, so to find what would happen in this book-burning dystopia, he called his fireman protagonist for a sort of author interview.

Montag came up to me and said, I’m going crazy.  I said, What’s the matter, Montag? I’ve been burning books, he said.  I said, Well, don’t you want to anymore? He said, No, I love them. I said, Go do something about it. And he wrote the book for me in nine days.

Montag peeks inside the books he’s paid to burn, and his world turns upside down.  His Fire Chief boss suspects his doubts and sits Montag down for a rather firmer chat.

Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ’em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That’s our official slogan…
Remember, Montag, we’re the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.

Such themes of Fahrenheit 451 seemed to prophesy state censorship and anti-red propaganda during the McCarthy era – the Russians pirated it and published half a million copies, before realising the book also targeted them!  Bradbury was outraged at the irony when a publisher printed an expurgated edition for high schools without words like “hell”, “damn”, “abortion” or “drunk” – and without Bradbury’s knowledge or consent.  The book also predicted political correctness decades in advance, as seen when the Fire Chief further explains how and why books came to be unread.

Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists… The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy…
Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca…  Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste-pudding norm…
It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick.

In this vein, Bradbury said Fahrenheit 451 was less a criticism of official repression than of mass entertainment and illiteracy, which undercut the basis of democracy.  “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Here Montag meets a retired English professor who still remembers how a quality book has the rich texture of life.

This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.  The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

fahrenheit-451Haunted by fragments of poetry and scripture that show “the pores in the face of life”, Montag becomes an enemy of the comfortable people who “want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless”.  In an eerie coincidence, as I read the book a black police helicopter circled and circled over the valley outside my window.  I almost expected to see Guy Montag flee across the lawn, pursued by the eight-legged Mechanical Hound with its four-inch steel novocaine needle, or hear the firemen break down my door to set my bookcase ablaze.  Although I shudder at the thought, it is hard to resist Bradbury’s sensuous descriptions of books thrown out and set alight:

Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather…
Delicately, like the petals of a flower, light the first page, light the second page.  Each becomes a black butterfly…
The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers.

From the ashes of these firebirds, a literary phoenix rises with an ember of hope.  There’s a virtual library of vagabonds who’ve each learnt texts by heart:

I am Plato’s Republic…  And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein…  Here we all are…  Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. We are also Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John… bums on the outside, libraries inside…  We’re nothing more than dust jackets for books.


dandelionBottling Boyhood Dandelion Wine

Bradbury described himself as Janus-faced, both “warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past”, reflecting humanity’s nature as “half monster, half dreamer”.  After the futuristic monstrosities of Fahrenheit 451, I turned to Bradbury’s nostalgic side in a dream of boyhood summer holidays, Dandelion Wine (1957).

The book was stitched together from short stories catalysed by Bradbury’s word-association trick.  To access early memories, Bradbury listed nouns from his childhood, like “The night. The crickets. The train whistle. The basement. The attic. The tennis shoes. The fireworks.”  Then he’d brainstorm prose poems on each word, and “truths leapt out of bushes like quail before gunshot”.

Dandelion Wine is set in Green Town, Illinois, modelled on Bradbury’s small-town birthplace of Waukegan.  12-year-old Douglas Spaulding rises before dawn in his sorcerer’s tower, his grandparents’ cupola bedroom, ready to magic the world awake:

He stood at the open window in the dark, took a deep breath and exhaled.
The street lights, like candles on a black cake, went out. He exhaled again and again and the stars began to vanish.
Douglas smiled. He pointed a finger.
There, and there. Now over here, and here…
Yellow squares were cut in the dim morning earth as house lights winked slowly on.

Clock alarms tinkled faintly. The courthouse clock boomed. Birds leaped from trees like a net thrown by his hand, singing. Douglas, conducting an orchestra, pointed to the eastern sky.
The sun began to rise.
He folded his arms and smiled a magician’s smile. Yes, sir, he thought, everyone jumps, everyone runs when I yell. It’ll be a fine season.
He gave the town a last snap of his fingers.
Doors slammed open; people stepped out.
Summer 1928 began.

Time to hang Granddad’s front porch swing for lazy evening conversations – a character in Fahrenheit 451 recalls days before architects got rid of front porches so people couldn’t sit and rock, talk and think.  And it’s time to pick the golden flowers flooding Granddad’s lawn like a “pride of lions in the yard”, so he can make dandelion wine.

Bottled in clean ketchup shakers, then ranked in sparkling rows in cellar gloom…  The wine was summer caught and stoppered…  sealed away for opening on a January day with snow falling fast and the sun unseen for weeks…  Peer through it at the wintry day – the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabited with bird, leaf, and blossoms.

As Grandfather numbers a bottle for each splendid summer day, Douglas gets a writing pad to salvage and label each holiday event:

I’m going to divide the summer up in two parts. First part of this tablet is titled: RITES AND CEREMONIES. The first root beer pop of the year. The first time running barefoot in the grass of the year. First time almost drowning in the lake of the year. First watermelon. First mosquito. First harvest of dandelions. Those are the things we do over and over and over and never think. Now here in back, like I said, is DISCOVERIES AND REVELATIONS.

Such as the discovery that night falls when shadows crawl out from under the world’s five billion trees; or that Grandpa and Dad don’t know everything in the world (yes they do, cries his 10-year-old brother Tom).  Or that adults were never children but are a different species, which is why they never understand.  Doug’s real REVELATION that summer, however, comes as he lies on the grass while gathering wild grapes and it hits him: “I’m alive”.

The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere.  Flowers were suns and fiery spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened.
I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!

dandelion-wine-50th-anniversary-ray-bradburyThe discovery calls for speed, the ability to race through the forest faster than foxes or squirrels, to leap over creeks and jump over trees like antelopes or gazelles, in short, a new pair of sneakers or, to be precise, the Royal Crown Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Tennis Shoes: “LIKE MENTHOL ON YOUR FEET!”

Somehow the people who made tennis shoes knew what boys needed and wanted. They put marshmallows and coiled springs in the soles and they wove the rest out of grasses bleached and fired in the wilderness. Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer were hidden.

As Douglas races through summer – measuring the temperature by how fast cicadas chirp – he meets a charming cast of small-town characters.  He hitches rides with spinster sisters on their new Green Machine electric runabout, “splendid as a prince’s coach… quiet as a swan’s feather”, until they hit-and-run an old man on the sidewalk.  The town jeweller, inventor and fix-it man hammers and bolts and clangs together a most ingenious Happiness Machine.  It reduces his family to tears before going up in flames, again revealing the author’s suspicion of technical progress.

Every time man and the machine look like they will get on all right – boom! Someone adds a cog, airplanes drop bombs on us, cars run us off cliffs.

The boys find that old Colonel Freeleigh is a real-life Time Machine, showing them puffs of powder in Civil War battles and storms of dust as bison thunder across the ancient prairies.  Meanwhile, Grandpa roundly rejects a new type of grass that never needs cutting and will kill off clover and dandelions.

Cutting grass and pulling weeds can be a way of life…  Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher. Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are, Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock. A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is kin to Atlas letting the world spin easy on his shoulder…  “Dig in the earth, delve in the soul.”

dandelion wine coverThe sights and sounds and smells of American summer remind me of three-month school vacation when I was six years old in Boulder, Colorado – catching harmless grass snakes in the paddock and hiding among sunflowers taller than me. For Bradbury, however, childhood is more than a stream of happy days.  Green Town is merely on loan from the land, besieged by the green tides of nature and bisected by the Ravine.

The town was, after all, only a large ship filled with constantly moving survivors, bailing out the grass, chipping away the rust. Now and again a lifeboat, a shanty, kin to the mother ship, lost out to the quiet storm of seasons, sank down in silent waves of termite and ant into swallowing ravine to feel the flicker of grasshoppers rattling like dry paper in hot weeds, become soundproofed with spider dust and finally, in avalanche of shingle and tar, collapse like kindling shrines into a bonfire, which thunderstorms ignited with blue lightning, while flash-photographing the triumph of the wilderness.

The magical trolley – flashing gold and lemon on silver tracks, seats of green moss and smell of brass lightning, accordion steps unfold as bell goes bing! – runs for the last time, replaced by the mundane bus.  Doug’s best friend leaves town, realising how much he never noticed or will soon forget.  Colonel Freeleigh dies and plains of buffalo are gone.  The Lonely One stalks the Ravine and Doug sees a woman he’s slain.  Great-grandma dies, albeit with peace and grace.

To dodge parental policing of flashlights under blankets, Doug fills a jar with fireflies to inscribe another summer revelation one night:

With the fireflies burning, dying, burning, dying, and his eyes glinting with three dozen fugitive bits of pale green color, he block printed for ten and then twenty minutes, aligning and realigning, writing and rewriting the facts that he had gathered all too swiftly during the season…
SO IF TROLLEYS AND RUNABOUTS AND FRIENDS AND NEAR FRIENDS CAN GO AWAY FOR A WHILE OR GO AWAY FOREVER, OR RUST, OR FALL APART OR DIE, AND IF PEOPLE CAN BE MURDERED, AND IF SOMEONE LIKE GREAT-GRANDMA, WHO WAS GOING TO LIVE FOREVER, CAN DIE… IF ALL OF THIS IS TRUE… THEN… I, DOUGLAS, SPAULDING, SOME DAY… MUST…
But the fireflies, as if extinguished by his sombre thoughts, had softly turned themselves off.


Living with Gusto and Gratitude

I have just returned from an early summer run.  My shoes probably cost ten times more than Douglas Spaulding’s and contain more Asian sweat than antelope spring, but at least they shout with Bradbury zest: lime trim on electric blue.  I passed a man in a suit of Hi Vis orange with a nozzle in his fists spitting venom onto cricket-pitch weeds, and I thought of Guy Montag’s pleasure to burn.

Ride-on mowers trimmed golf links and playing fields, and I wondered what Doug’s granddad would think.  Diesel whine less pleasing than mechanical clatter, and riders too high above the earth to deepen the soul?  Less manicured lawns twinkled with daisy starbursts and dandelion gold, as bright and prolific as Bradbury’s dozen novels, 20 plays and 600-odd short stories.

This sci-fi Shakespeare distrusted technology but believed in space travel, at one time hoping his ashes could be buried on Mars.  Our planet is now orbited by asteroid “9766 Bradbury”, and in 1971 Apollo 15 astronauts named “Dandelion Crater” on the moon.  As a terrestrial tribute to his most personal work, Bradbury painted his LA house bright dandelion yellow, but his vivid loves didn’t blind him to life’s sombre hues.

A wise junk collector in Dandelion Wine says, “some people turn sad awfully young”, and Bradbury’s best work is part lament.  He lost his grandfather at five years old.  The last fire balloon they launched together floated off among the stars “as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself” and his young eyes filled with tears because he knew that night would never return.   “If you’re reluctant to weep, you won’t live a full and complete life”, Bradbury advised men who repress emotion ­– he takes a shower when he needs to cry so no one can hear.  And then, when life turns tragic, “when death slows others… dive headfirst into your typewriter”.

Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know. A variation of this is true for writers…
If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.  You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Bradbury often cited Nietzsche’s dictum, “We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth” and one of his story collections is called “A Medicine for Melancholy”.  Most of all, he says, writing teaches what Doug discovered that summer morning, “that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”  Bradbury never forgot this, or Mr Electrico’s high-voltage blessing, “live forever”, and never grew ashamed of his first loves.

I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.

One interviewer described Bradbury in his 80s as an excitable kid with an old man’s voice.  He had a nine-foot dinosaur in its own bed at home and still requested toys for Christmas.  (I’ve got his Green Town sequel Farewell Summer (2006) on my wish list!)  With the glee of a boy running everywhere, he juggled bright-orbed words, ricocheting between flashing images and ringing ideas like a pinball machine in the fairground arcades that he loved.  When asked which moment of his life he’d revisit if he could time-travel back, Bradbury replied:

Every. Single. Moment. Every single moment of my life has been incredible, I’ve loved it, I’ve savored it, it’s been beautiful – because I’ve remained a boy. The man you see here tonight is not a man, he’s a 12-year-old boy, and this boy is still having fun. And I remain a boy forever.

Ray Bradbury signing books Photo credit: William

Ray Bradbury signing books.  Photo credit: William

In his essay “Ray Bradbury: Hope in a Doubtful Age” Christian author Calvin Miller described Bradbury’s optimism as a gift to our despairing culture – “no other contemporary writer sees the world so full of possibility”.  I’m praying for more of his curiosity and wonder and delight, his love of love and love of life, his zest and gusto and gratitude.

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. The best description of my career as a writer is “at play in the fields of the Lord.” It’s been wonderful fun and I’ll be damned where any of it came from. I’ve been fortunate. Very fortunate.

Towards the end of Dandelion Wine Doug sniffs his way through Grandma’s pantry of spices – Basil and Betel, Capsicum, Curry – until a label shouts his summer REVELATION of life:

The word on the jar was RELISH…  What a special name for the minced pickle sweetly crushed in its white-capped jar. The man who had named it, what a man he must have been. Roaring, stamping around, he must have tromped the joys of the world and jammed them in this jar and writ in a big hand, shouting, RELISH!

That’s a self-portrait of the author, who lived by this advice from Fahrenheit 451 – followed by his gutsy life motto:

Stuff your eyes with wonder…  Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.  Ask no guarantees, ask for no security…

Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.


Watch a freehand sketch video of Fahrenheit 451, read Chapter 1 of Dandelion Wine, or study guides for Dandelion Wine and Fahrenheit 451.  Meet the author in the 1970s Paris Review interview, the 1996 Playboy interview, other articles and interviews at www.raybradbury.com, or the Telegraph obituary.  See paintings of Bradbury books, or watch Bradbury on libraries, life and love: