Monday, September 7, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

There is a new version of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451", redone as a graphic novel. It is the joint work of Bradbury and Tim Hamilton. I intend to pick up a copy.

I remember reading this short novel as a kid in the mid 1950s, several years after it was written (1953). Bradbury was well-known to us Sci-Fi buffs through his collection "The Martian Chronicles" and other works. This time was still near the high-water mark of McCarthyism and any book (or play or song or movie) about free speech or book-burning automatically came with at least a slight frisson of fear. Politicians, writers and teachers all were conscious of what they said and how it might be interpreted. This is not to say that everyone was cowed -- far from it -- but this wariness was in the air, and it certainly filtered down to us teens.

Bradbury did not intend this novella to be a statement about free speech and red-baiting; in fact, he has specifically said that he was more concerned about the effects of increased TV watching on the reading of books -- on the future of books in general. But everyone I knew interpreted his story as an attack on anti-intellectualism and political thought-suppression (which I'm still sure it was -- at least partially -- no matter what Bradbury says).

The story is about the "fireman" Guy Montag. I still remember the chilling moment when I realized that he was a fireman in the sense that he made fires -- to burn books. In this view of the future, books are despised and suspect, and when discovered are destroyed by professional burners like Montag. I don't remember the details of the plot any more -- that's why I want to read this new version. Even if I did recall, I wouldn't ruin it by revealing it in this blog. I can say that Montag is led to question his profession.

A movie was made of the novel in the mid sixties by Truffaut, starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. I saw the film and recall liking it, though I think it took liberties with the book. I hear a remake is being planned.

If you have any comments on either the original or new novel, or the film, please send them in.

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