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Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 17–18 | Summary



Chapter 17

Douglas, Charlie Woodman, and John Huff look inside an old house, Colonel Freeleigh's place. Charlie claims that it contains a time machine. They enter, and Charlie shouts the colonel's name. The old man, sitting in an empty room, welcomes them. Charlie says, "Boston, 1910," and the colonel begins talking about an event that occurred there and then. In a theater, a Chinese magician accidentally shot himself on stage. Charlie then asks him to go back to the prairie in 1875, and the colonel begins telling the story of the time he saw an enormous herd of bison stir up a dust storm. He also tells the boys about the Civil War, though he has forgotten on which side he fought. He tells Charlie that he doesn't remember winning because "war's never a winning thing." Charlie asks Douglas if he now believes the colonel is a time machine, and Douglas agrees. At first, the colonel seems astounded that they see him this way, but he embraces the idea moments later and invites the boys to "come aboard any time."

Chapter 18

Late at night, Tom wakes to find Douglas writing in their list of summer ceremonies and discoveries. Not at all disappointed in the failure of the Happiness Machine, Douglas has realized he has a number of ways to explore the town—the trolley, Miss Fern and Miss Roberta's electric "runabout," and new sneakers. But even more significant is the opportunity to take advantage of the "time machine," learning of the past through people such as Colonel Freeleigh. Douglas calls this idea "far-traveling," meaning he is able to experience traveling far back in time through the colonel's stories, and the 12-year-old in him sees the adult version of himself doing the same thing for future children.


Although the notion of "machines," such as the Happiness Machine and the Green Machine, is linked to progress and the future, Charlie Woodman's time machine is both an analog and a relic of the past. The "time machine" is none other than Colonel Freeleigh, an elderly man in town who lives alone with memories of his long life and with no one to talk to. Colonel Freeleigh is full of transportive memories, seemingly on command, a skill that amazes and captivates Douglas and his friends. Buried inside his stories, however, are also bits of wisdom he has learned along the way, such his declaration that "war's never a winning thing." Indeed, the idea of Colonel Freeleigh as a human "time machine" negates the idea of technological progress, for the "machine" operates in the most elemental way. Indeed, it is the one reliable machine—while it is still functional. Douglas has already encountered the failed Happiness Machine and will encounter other problems with progress and machinery as well.

Related to the idea of capturing time, Douglas and Tom's conversation about Mrs. Bentley and Colonel Freeleigh shows that they are beginning to understand how growing old can have a mythical quality to it, such as Colonel Freeleigh's ability to "time travel." Douglas can hardly imagine the two of them living to 50, which is "just a jog around the block to them." That people such as Colonel Freeleigh and Mrs. Bentley can "far-travel" commands the boys' awe and respect and impresses Douglas more than the other "machines" they've witnessed this summer. Thus, Douglas, at 12, understands the importance of memory when compared with the questionable values of some forms of technology, two main themes of Dandelion Wine.

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