If you know what the temperature is when paper burns, you can thank the lovable legend Ray Bradbury.
As so many wise people before me have observed, anyone who wants to write, must first and always be a reader as well. My brain is where it is today, because of many good and great books across many genres, and starting with an appreciation for Mr. Bradbury is a really good place to begin being thankful.
Fahrenheit 451 was one of those early inspirational, live changing books that forever altered my perspective of my Universe. Published in 1953, I did not discover this gem until about 1980, and I recall it was one of the first books I could not put down once I started reading it.
While all fiction reflects some aspects of the human condition, the genius of Bradbury was recognizing a pattern long before the rest of us, and in essence, predicting the potential outcome of the human behavior he observed decades before.
I will include some minor spoilers in regards to characters and setting, but there is no reason to reveal the plot, because I would rather keep those elements a surprise for those who have yet to discover this science fiction masterpiece. And as this particular piece is to honor the writer, I should note he did not consider himself a science fiction writer, but more of a writer overall, who happened to write a lot of fantasy and horror. For example, he considered the Martian Chronicles more of a mythological retelling or fantasy than science fiction. I could also tell he was a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe’s work when I read Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Moving back to the joys of Fahrenheit 451, it seems society in general jumped in on the horrifying premise of burning books, and the irony of firemen of the future destroyed rather than saved things with fire. Silly me locked in on that singular concept, and I assumed that since the book was written less than a decade after World War II, it served as a caveat about government thought control and book burning.
My family had much love, but very little resources when I was younger and books were an enormous part of existence, because it wasn’t too tough to hit the library or snag a cheap paperback. So here was a book illuminating my greatest fear, building a dystopian world sans books. Bradbury showed me just how frightening life could be in such a place.
Bradbury’s protagonist Guy Montag was very easy to relate to, he struggled with his world and how it should be, but when we first meet him, he happily goes along with the program. After all, his job was burning books as a modern fireman. His journey is one that really stuck with me, and so many characters I write have a little bit of the Guy tragedy in them — wanting to do the right thing yet, not really sure how to do it. Add to that, I initially missed the primary point of his character learning by what others told him to do, prior to trying to learn/read and make his own decisions.
Of course, then there was also the great Bradbury quote always hanging in my head, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
And yet, I didn’t fully understand the lesson or the bigger warning within the tale. It wasn’t fire or burning pages that we should fear. It is the lack of attention to another, the lack of empathy, the fear of intellect, knowledge and life experience that allowed books to fade from society.
The genius of Ray Bradbury is he saw our world today in 1953. Book stores, newspapers are vanishing, and science and intellect is being mocked at every turn. We get lost in big screen televisions and portable devices instead of each other. Even if the next logical step isn’t to burn them, it is scary the banned books list in communities grows exponentially each decade.
As education is at crisis level in many parts of the country, the argument seems to have fallen to what should not be read instead of the concept everything should be read. Love or loathe a book, it is not the idea inside that will hurt you, it is ignorance that occurs by avoiding differing ideas altogether that sets us back.
But I digress. Merely taking in a fictional adventure ride with the likes of Ray Bradbury and we need not have such concerns. In other words, if you have not yet read Fahrenheit 451, run, don’t walk to the book store or your favorite reading device.