In 1946 Ray Bradbury gave us “Homecoming,” and From The Dust Returned was born. More than 50 years later, the finished product consists of six previously published short stories, including “Homecoming,” which have become chapters of a larger work. These stories, plus new material, are woven together with Bradbury’s characteristically engaging style into a novel that should delight any fan of Bradbury’s dark fantasy.
From The Dust Returned is the story of the Family, from A Thousand Times Great Grandmere stored in her shroud in the attic, to Angelina Marguerite who ages backwards into the womb, to Uncle Einar with his delicately membraned wings, to Timothy who is so unusual among the Family because he has a reflection. This is a family of dark creatures, spectral beings, phantoms, and the undead. Yet, this is a close family, a caring family, and a family who would take in a foundling baby and raise him with love. In these enlightened times, the Family may be literally facing extinction, crumbling away into memory, conquered by the disbelief of modern thinking. They must struggle to find a way to survive in the face of Nothingness:
“As long as they believed in their sermoned lives, and disbelieved in us, we had more than a mythical flesh. We had something to fight for to survive. But now that the world is filled with warriors who do not attack, but simply turn away or walk through us, who do not even argue us as half unreal, we find ourselves weaponless. One more tidal wave of neglect, one more titanic rainfall of nothings from nowhere and the Apocalypse, arriving, will with one neglectful gust blow out our candles. A dust storm of sorts will sneeze across the world and our Family will be no more.”
In the end, Timothy and his sister CeCy (who can travel out of body while sleeping and can take over other bodies while she travels) are called upon to save the Family from certain doom. And in the end, we see that while immortality may beguile us with certain charms, this transient mortality we inhabit has a sweetness and a glory all its own.
Ray Bradbury writes so lyrically, so descriptively, that many passages of *From The Dust Returned* are more poetry than prose. Consider an unnamed cousin, called only the ghastly passenger, as he attempts to define what the members of the Family truly are:
“And what are you, or we, or us? Can it be named? Is there a shape? What ambience is there? Are we kin to autumn rains? Do we rise in mists from wetland moors? Do twilight fogs seem similar? Do we prowl or run or lope? Are we shadows on a ruined wall? Are we dusts shaken in sneezes from angel tombstones with broken wings? Do we hover or fly or writhe in October ectoplasms? Are we footsteps heard to waken us and bump our skulls on nailed-shut lids? Are we batwing heartbeats held in claw or hand or teeth?”
I’m very glad that it took 50 years for Ray Bradbury to complete this novel, for as he grew in years and wisdom, so grew this amazing book. From The Dust Returned is by turns exhilarating, poignant, hopeful, and melancholy. With themes of love, remembrance, and loss, perhaps this book is as much an elegy as a story, as much a fable as a fantasy; I found myself mourning all things lost, gone, and forgotten. Yet in the end this book is more pensive than sorrowful. Bradbury, the philosopher, the lyricist, guides the reader to an understanding of what it means to be alive not only in body, but in spirit.
(Harper Collins, 2001)