Goodbye summer. Are you ready for autumn? Are you prepared for the transitions that signify seasonal change? As we move away from the bright colors of summer toward the auburn hues of autumn, we must bid farewell to an abundance of light and welcome the staying darkness. Soon we will turn off the air conditioners and fire up the furnaces, trade in our shorts and sun visors for jackets and mufflers.
What of season-based books – shall we trade in those sun-shiny tales that make us smile for moonlight stories that cause us to shiver? We could, but we might just discover that the same spirit dwells within both genres.
Seasons change. Do we change with it them? While it is true that all things are in constant flux, seasonal change alone does not have the power to radically alter our identities. Instead, seasons may bring to light different states of being. As a writer, I am forced to be reflective daily. But before taking up the craft, I found myself to be more introspective during the autumn months. Summer was more about chasing those carefree joys. Summer was for making memories. Autumn and winter were for reflecting upon those memories. But through it all, I remained me just as you will continue on the path of “you”. Together we endure.
Summer, autumn or winter. Heart warming narratives or bone chilling tales. All can be different variations of a continuing theme. This is the crux of this article. We will examine this phenomenon through the works of two creative geniuses. Two authors – two books per author.
Ray Bradbury Herman Raucher
Dandelion Wine, 1957 Summer of ’42, 1971
Something Wicked Comes This Way, 1962 Maynard’s House, 1980
In each pairing, the earlier works represent stories of summertime adventures. The latter deal with conflicts that take place in the autumn and winter months. However, both authors write of themes that are similar in both their earlier and later works. While the premises remain the same, the flavors are different. In short, the first are tales of nostalgia. The second are tales of horror. However, a simple dichotomy of summer = longing / fall-winter = scary does not accurately describe the variance in flavor. The summertime tales might include such descriptors as “magical,” “joyful,” and yes, “longing,” but they also include words and phrases such as “sadness” and “letting go.” While the stories of the cooler months darken and chill these same themes, bringing to mind words such as “confusion”, “confrontation”, and “terror”, they also speak of “introspection,” “finality” and “acceptance.”
Each author deals with a unique theme. Let’s examine these themes one by one and observe the darkening, shall we?
We will begin with the books of Ray Bradbury. While widely known for his contributions to the sci-fi/fantasy genre, Bradbury also wrote four semi-autobiographical novels that were inspired by his childhood experiences in his hometown of Waukegan, IL. Collectively, these novels are known as “The Greentown Series.” These stories blend homespun reality with imaginative fiction in such a way that should reassure his fantasy genre fans that his imagination was not on vacation when he sat down to write these stories. I’m quite sure his imagination served him well as he went toe to toe with a dilemma that has been haunting humanity since its inception – the passage of time and the mortality of humanity. The tone of this theme changes depending on which seasonal prism Bradbury chooses to view the subject. Both Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked Comes This Way force young boys in a Midwestern town, U.S.A. to confront this dilemma. Let’s examine these confrontations more closely.
“Dandelion Wine” – The Dawn and Death of Summer
Dandelion Wine is a collection of vignettes from the summers of Ray Bradbury’s boyhood. The stories are filled with symbols of delight – ice cream, trolley rides, fire crackers, neighbors on porches, boys running across grassy fields. The novel begins when summer begins, but by the book’s end, twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding must face reality – all summers come to an end. This in turn forces him to confront a deeper and darker truth – people must end as well. There are warnings about this truth sprinkled throughout the book, so the story is not all roses and “dandelions” (I’ll get to the subject of dandelions momentarily). However, it’s more about relishing the memories of seemingly timeless summers. Moreover, young Douglas learns to accept mortality via the therapeutic lessons taught to him by his aging grandfather. Enter the dandelions!
Douglas and his younger brother Tom just love the dandelion-gathering ritual that begins the summer. They collect the golden flowers from the green lawns of their neighborhood and turn them over to their grandfather, who makes batches of dandelion wine. Jars and jars of this tasty drink are then stored in his basement. From his grandfather, Douglas learns that he can have a batch of “summer” anytime. In a cold day in January, on a day when school is getting him down; when life is making him sad, he can just visit Grandpa’s basement where summer shines at him from inside the jars. He can then drink and revisit summer. In other words, golden moments, when properly preserved, are eternal.
Move over summer, for “Something Wicked Comes This Way”
The town is the same. The protagonist, Will Halloway, is the same age as Douglas Spaulding. Rumor has it that Bradbury considered carrying over the same characters from Dandelion Wine but in the end decided against it. The overall theme remains – time is passing. For most it passes too quickly. But for some it passes too slowly. In Something Wicked Comes This Way, people try and disrupt the natural flow of time. The results of their meddling are horrific. Where is that dandelion wine when you need it?
It is ten days before Halloween and a carnival comes to town. Will and his friend Jim Nightshade are excited by the attractions. Dangerous attractions they turn out to be! The boys watch in horror as their teacher, Miss Foley, gets lost in the mirror maze. Its reflective power can be traumatizing; all of the mirrors working together act like a sea that seeks to drown its trespassers. Those that fear their own reflection are the most susceptible. Miss Foley becomes obsessed with what the mirrors eventually show her – the reflective image of a young girl. She fails to recognize the truth about the girl’s identity; she is as a younger version of herself. Soon Miss Foley will become this very young child but at a cost – she will succumb to amnesia, not knowing who she is or who she has been.
Will and Jim witness this transformative power in action. After the carnival closes, they secretly watch a man ride the carousel in reverse. This reversal transforms him into a young boy; for every rotation he regresses one year. Later the boy rides the carousel forward at increased speeds. When the ride is done, he dismounts as an old man that resembles a mummy.
The operators of the carnival, made up of freaks and fearsome folks, become aware that the boys have discovered their secrets. They set out to hunt them down. Riding a hot air balloon, a witch seeks them out. But the most heinous of the lot is the owner, Mr. Dark. He has been operating this carnival for untold years. He feeds off of the life energies of the living; the misguided customers who unintentionally sell their souls to regain their youth. Conversely, there is Will who wishes to be older and desires a forward journey on the magical carousel.
In the end, our heroes defeat the seductive evil of the carnival with the help of Charles Halloway, Will’s father. He shows them how acceptance can win out over unproductive longing. Perhaps the final message is this: a life spent chasing the past or rushing towards unearned years is in fact is the opposite of living. This chasing drains our life force. “Living” is enjoying the moment while accepting your place in time.
Bradbury- Different variations/Similar themes.
Living, Dying, Aging, Remembering, Accepting – these are several of the subjects that are at the forefront of these two books. One uses the wholesome images of summertime to warm readers with a fondness for days long gone while the other uses the Halloween imagery of autumn to scare readers with a display of unnatural magic.
Herman Raucher is an author and screenwriter who is best known for writing both the screenplay and novel The Summer of ‘42 – an autobiographical story about a boy’s coming of age during a memorable summer. Horror fans, however, might feel more at home inside Maynard’s House. The latter is the story of a veteran of the Vietnam War who isolates himself inside a shack in the snowy mountains of Maine. He is alone with his tormented thoughts. He is also alone with the strange beings that roam about in the surrounding forest. Are they one in the same?
These books will serve as maps to guide us through the “territories” of summer and winter. Both books deal characters that embark upon a seasonal, inward journey. By each season’s end, they will be different people. In one way or another, both protagonists learn of the brutality of war. Both characters have or will have friends that die on the battlefield. And yet the “summer traveler,” despite the sadness of war, gains wisdom and strength of character. The plight of the “winter traveler” isn’t so lucky. He loses his sense of self.
Summer of ’42 – Chasing Manhood
Summer of ’42 begins with a middle-aged man gazing upon a beach house on the island of Nantucket. He remembers “that” summer. His mind’s eye sees three young boys running on the beach. He is one of those boys. He is the teenaged “Hermie” and he pals around with Benji the nerd and Oscy, the alpha-male of the trio. Throughout the summer, they do what young boys do; they pick on each other, engage in shenanigans. They go to movies, they “study” sex from a medical magazine. There is also Dorothy. She is a young woman who lives alone in the beach house. Her husband has gone away to war. Despite their age differences, Hermie and Dorothy develop a friendship. But Hermie fantasizes about Dorothy. If only…
“Only” comes on a fateful day when Dorothy receives an official letter from The United States government. Her husband has been killed in action. Hermie happens to visit Dorothy on the evening of the sorrowful day. Sad and in need of comfort, she dances with Hermie. They hold each other close. They disrobe. They lay next to one other in the bed. They share tender moments.
That night, Hermie leaves Dorothy’s house but he doesn’t go home. He spends the night on the beach. The next day, he returns to her house, only to find it empty. There is a good-bye/thank you note pasted on the front door. From Dorothy to Hermie. He never sees her again.
World War II claims a young man. It leaves behind a grieving widow. But it also helps a young man to grow up, to “come of age.” It turns a mournful situation into a rites-of-passage moment for young Herman Raucher. Throughout the book, Hermie admires war heroes in a juvenile kind of way. He sees them the same way modern kids see Marvel Superheroes. He has posters of them and pretends he is one of them, often acting out battle scenes in his head. At summer’s end, he has a new perspective. He has lost his innocence and perhaps his virginity. But the book as a whole has a nostalgic tone. It also serves as a dedication to his pal Oscy who would later die in the Korean War.
Idle fun, beaches and romances, – these are some of the staples of summer. They are the novel-length prelude to the somber elements of this story that come at summer’s end. Enter the summer of 42’ as a boy, leave it as a man. The protagonist of Raucher’s fictional work Maynard’s House is at the other end of the spectrum. His innocence is long gone. He “came of age” before the events of the book. His dilemma is about finding sanity and peace of mind within an “age” that is cold and cruel.
Maynard’s House – At Home With Your Madness
Returning home from The Vietnam War, Austin Fletcher, in his early twenties, is without direction. He is not close to his family. He has few possessions and very little ambition. His only goal is to get to the shack that was bequeathed to him by his army buddy. Maynard Whittier fought side by side with Austin. Unlike his friend, Maynard doesn’t survive the war. To honor his memory, Austin vows to live in his former home. He fights his way through cold, mountainous terrain to arrive at the shack.
It’s going to be a long, cold winter. At least the place is equipped with resources. There’s a fire-operated stove. There’s a cellar where non-perishable food is stored. Several yards away from the house is the “back house”. The pages of a Sears catalog serve as toilet paper. Often he has to shovel away snow to do his business. The house has stocks of winter clothing. It has tools and guns.
Austin has his visitors. Minnawickies trespass across his grounds. These are impish creatures known for their mocking giggles. Giant bears threaten to tear down the walls of his rustic abode. At one point in the novel, black robed specters surround the house. Is all of this on account of the Witch’s Tree? Nearby his place, a tree that casts no shadow has remained for hundreds of years. Legend has it that during the Salem Witch Trials, a witch was hanged on this tree. Is this land cursed with her revenge? Or are all of these strange sightings the products of a mind that suffers from PTSD?
Maynard has something to do with all this. During the war, he had warned his friend about the dark legends that are associated with this house. Several years and one dead friend later, Austin occupies the house. There in the blizzard-stricken mountains he is forced to ward off the enemy – The Viet Cong. This incident causes the deceased Maynard to return as a ghost and help his friend ward of these hallucinations. The irony -a fanciful specter being necessary to bring Austin back to reality. Or is Maynard’s appearance in the shack a mere mental phantom? Is any of this real?
The ending is rather confusing. I won’t say too much, except that Austin changes in way that is unexpected. He enters the winter as a shiftless, war-weary man. The house claims him. Winter takes its toll. He is no longer himself. He becomes….something…someone.
Raucher – Different variations/Similar themes.
The first book is about the building of a man. This man is constructed on a warm sandy beach in the wake of a wartime tragedy. The second book is about taking apart a man. He is deconstructed in the cold winter snow. The war has claimed another. Summer of ’42 brings to life the quirks of the “buddy”, the best friend. This life comes to an end, but it does so outside the parameters of the book. Death begets the story of Maynard’s House. The buddy passed on before page one. Memories of Maynard spill throughout the pages, often in frightful ways.
All in the Seasons
I’m willing to bet that for some of my readers, summer is not a preferred season. Perhaps autumn is more in tune with this site’s readership on account of the Halloween season. Be that as it may, popular symbology associates summer with pristine pleasures and childlike longing. Often it is described as magical; existing outside of time, spawning eternal memories. Even the sadness that comes at summer’s closing is not altogether unpleasant. This sadness helps to eternalize the summer. It keeps if forever within the realms of yearning. Autumn is when things get real. Plants die. Leaves fall. We armor ourselves in jackets and bare the colder temperatures. For some school begins again. Others begin to miss the vacations, the barbecues, the days at the beach. Summer romances end as the temporary lovers part and face the world alone. The spell of summer has broken. The magic is gone.
The magic within Something Wicked Comes This Way is not of the enchanted kind. It’s an iniquitous magic that extracts your fears and holds them up in unholy light, forcing you to face the reality of time-bound existence. When the ugly face of mortality stares you down, it is time to reach for those jars of sunshine; those golden memories of eternity persevered. Dandelion Wine can save you.
But sometimes saving is not an option. That is the harshest of realities. In the end, Maynard’s House is about an eternity of winter bitterness. We take our chances at the end of every summer. In order to grow, to “come of age”, we must leave the things we love behind. Hermie learns this in The Summer of ’42. What happens after that depends on the individual choices we make. But it also depends on that heartless thing we call fate.
Fantasy and reality – we need them both. Youth and old age – to live long we must let the cycle run its course. Beginnings and endings, they support everything in the middle.
We are in the middle. We are a theme. Circumstances will alter the appearance of this theme. But in the end, we all have the same goal – to do our best at living. We are life incarnate. Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher teach us these invaluable lessons. I thank both authors for sharing such profound wisdom.