Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fahrenheit 451

I remember reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 when I was a teenager . . . the wall-size TV screens, earbuds, fast cars, increasingly larger billboards . . . and thought at the time that things were already headed in that direction. And now, thirty years later, those things predicted in the book are commonplace!

The main character is Montag, a fireman who (like all fireman in this future world) starts fires instead of putting them out. Books have been banned, so they must be burned! Most people spend hours in front of wall-size TV screens that even include interactive scripts so the watcher can be in the "program" that really doesn't even tell a story or have a plot. They also like to drive cars really fast; so fast in fact that billboards have been continuously expanded so they can be read at the high speeds.

Montag doesn't really question this system much until he meets a young girl named Clarisse who notices things and talks about the way her family says things were years ago (fireman actually put out fires and people sat on their porches and talked to each other). At the next fire, he slips a book in his uniform and takes it home to read. When his wife discovers this, she eventually turns him in and the fireman come to burn his home.

At one point, Montag goes to visit Faber, a retired English professor. Montag shows him a Bible he rescued from being burned. I really like Faber's comment:

"Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square ink you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail."

In the final part of the book, Montag is on the run, being chased by the Mechanical Hound. Fortunately, he escapes and meets up with the "book people" who live outside of town, each one having memorized a book in order to pass it on to the next generation. At the very end of the book, the men are walking along in darkness. Montag is squinting, trying to see their faces, and one of them says, "Don't judge a book by its cover."

The 60th anniversary edition of the book I recently read included lots of commentaries, original book reviews, and comments from Ray Bradbury about the book as well as the play and the movie that followed. I especially enjoyed the story of how he fed dimes into typewriters in the basement of a library in order to write this book ... about burning books!

We found the movie disappointing, although it was actually fairly well done for a 1960s film. It was not at all how I pictured the book, even when I read it years ago. However, Bradbury said this about it:

"The finale, with the fine Bernard Herrmann score, shows the Book People moving in a snowfall through the woods, whispering the lines from all the books they have remembered. This ending has never failed to move audiences. The film ends on this high note, and one leaves feeling you've seen more than was really there."

Have you read this book or seen the movie? Please share you thoughts in the comments.


  1. This book was my introduction to Bradbury, one of my most favourite authors ever. I had no idea there was a movie, though, I'll have to hunt it out.

  2. Somehow I missed this classic--both the book and the movie. Thanks for the great summary; I'm probably not going to get to it anytime soon.


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