Reprise Books

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The story goes that science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote his famous dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter in the basement of University of California, Los Angeles’ Powell Library surrounded by books. Interesting setting, that, because Fahrenheit 451 is about a time in the future when reading and thinking and books are banned.

Published in 1953, and eerily prescient, it ties in with Bradbury's notion of what science fiction meant to him. In an interview to the Paris Review in 2010, he said, “Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn't exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again.”

It’s fine work

Bradbury was born in 1920 on August 22 at Waukegan, Illinois. As a child he gobbled up Wizard of Oz and tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and while growing up he witnessed the boom in television first hand, and predicted the arrival of wall-to-wall TVs, among other things like iPods. In Fahrenheit, the only job of a fireman is to light a fire, not douse one; he has to make a bonfire of books. The title refers to “the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.”

One day as fireman Guy Montag is returning home after a successful fire run, he runs into Clarissa, soon-to-be-17, who asks him, “Do you ever read any of the books you burn?” Defending his job, Montag quips: “That's against the law! It's fine work. Monday burn Millay (American poet and activist), Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes.”

That way lies melancholy

But Montag has been storing books in secret, and his chief tries his best to stop him from thinking. “If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy,” fire chief Beatty tells him. Instead, Montag meets a community of people who have been memorising books before burning them to keep them alive: “Each man had a book he wanted to remember, and did.”

Bradbury, credited to have brought science fiction into the mainstream, influenced story-tellers across mediums. François Truffaut brought Fahrenheit to the big screen in 1966, an audacious effort that was criticised initially but gradually acquired cult status.

When Bradbury passed away in 2012, Steven Spielberg tweeted: “He was my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career.” In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize announced a special citation to Ray Bradbury for his “deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.” Bradbury liked to call himself a fantasy writer, saying he had written only one book of science fiction, Fahrenheit 451, which talks about “things that can happen.”

The writer looks back at one classic each fortnight.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 7:48:22 AM |

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