"Seems like the town is full
of machines," says Doug Spaulding at the beginning of Chapter 17. "Mr.
Auffmann and his Happiness Machine, Miss Fern and Miss Roberta and their Green
Machine. Now, Charlie, what you handing me?" Charlie Woodman says he has a
time machine, leading Doug to believe that he's about to show him something
made out of scrap metal in the garage. But instead, Charlie takes Doug to meet
Colonel Freeleigh, the man whose stories allow Doug to travel throughout the
If you came to Dandelion Wine
expecting hardcore sci-fi—which,
given that this is Bradbury, it would have been reasonable to expect—you might
feel a little cheated when you find out that they're just going to chill with
the old guy who lives down the block. But go with us here: Human-as-time-machine
is a pretty interesting concept, especially when explored by an author who is both
fascinated by and deeply wary of technology.
Bradbury himself didn't trust
machines one bit—he never had a driver's license or ATM card, and he did his
writing with a pen and paper. He called the Internet "a scam" cooked
up by computer companies. But he did very
much trust in the power of human relationships and storytelling.
When you hold your copy of Dandelion
Wine in your hands, you're not just holding Bradbury's nostalgia
trip, you're holding the closest thing to a time machine he could give you.
When Doug and Tom hypothesize in Chapter
34 that the animatronic Tarot Witch is in fact a real person trapped in wax, it's
not too much of a stretch to imagine Bradbury foreseeing and fearing cyborgs,
artificial intelligence, or ASIMO walking up stairs at the Honda plant. And when
Leo Auffmann builds the Happiness Machine, that's Bradbury predicting virtual
reality, YouTube, and smartphones.
While the characters in Dandelion Wine are
time-traveling with Colonel Freeleigh, via his stories about the death of "Oriental
magician" Ching Ling Soo (17.27) or watching buffalo stampede with Pawnee
Bill (17.40), we readers are time-traveling with the author, who has a very
definite point to make: Real social networking happens on our porches,
Bradbury's adamant about the fact
that technology will never replace human interaction, and that attempting to
use it as a substitute is detrimental to our health. When Leo Auffmann ignores
his family because he's so obsessed with building the Happiness Machine, his
wife Lena says:
"He hasn't talked to his children in two
weeks, they are nervous, they fight, listen! His wife is nervous, she's gained
ten pounds, she'll need new clothes, look! Sure—the machine is ready. But
happy? Who can say?" (13.21)
The Happiness Machine turns out to
be a bust technologically (it bursts into flames), which fits with Bradbury's
message of machines as limited. Lena reminds Leo that his family is where it's
really at anyway, saying, "You want to see the real Happiness Machine? […] The one they
patented a couple thousand years ago, it still runs, not good, all the time,
no! but it runs. It's been here all along" (13.129)—referring, of course,
to their family.
Later that night, when Doug, Tom,
and Grandfather walk by his house and see Leo inside having dinner with his
kids, they take note of the fact that he finally got it right. Machines may be
dazzling and promise ease, but they always get out of hand in Dandelion Wine, and
when they do, the people who use them eventually return to, well, their people.