Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In remembrance of Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451 Review

In recognition of the passing on June 5th of legendary American writer Ray Bradbury, this month we include Walt Branch librarian Becky's combined review of three different versions of one of Bradbury's most indelible works -- Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

Within a few months' time I happened, in this order, to: see the movie, read a graphic novel version and, finally, read the original book itself of Ray Bradbury's modern American classic Fahrenheit 451. And this was just a couple of years ago, about the time I turned 50. It had never been an assigned book in my high school or college classes and, although I knew the subject matter and had seen bits and pieces from the film, it was never on my "must read" or "must watch" lists. I actually found it useful and challenging to approach the variations in this order, as I am primarily oriented to audio-visual depictions of stories. It was interesting to see what had been emphasized and/or omitted in the movie and comic book when I got back around to the novel. I would guess a lot of people decry the movie in favor of the book, but I got something out of all three editions of this seminal work. More than anything, though, I was fascinated by the genesis (combining elements of various short stories he had already penned and a real and strange encounter with a patrolling cop) and execution (serial form first, changing titles, periodic recollections of its creation as subsequent editions were published), and the credit Bradbury gives to LIBRARIES for helping him become who he was

If you are not familiar at all with the story, it is about a time in the - perhaps even more so now - not-too-distant future in which you can insert yourself into your favorite TV shows from the comfort of your home, wars start and end (sometimes very badly) in just a couple of days, and a fireman's job is to ignite fires instead of put them out. The prevailing authority dictates that books, especially works of fiction and philosophy, turn people into unhappy malcontents who think and question too much. They don't fit society's norms and are, therefore, dangerous to their own and others' "peace". Enter Montag the "Fireman" who enjoys his book-burning job, Beatty, his "Captain" and nemesis, Millie, his self-medicating wife, Clarisse, the young woman who challenges him to reconsider why he does what he does and what makes him happy, and Faber, who facilitates his awakening. And then there are those mechanical hounds who relentlessly deliver sanitized, specific justice

Oskar Werner and Cyril Cusack deliver solid performances as Montag and Beatty in the 1966 film, directed by legendary filmmaker Fran├žois Truffaut, which has a 'happier' ending than the novel. Although the film score was composed by the esteemed Bernard Herrmann and had some nice dramatic and quiet moments, I also found it intrusive at times, a vague precursor to Philip Glass's minimalism without hitting quite the right balance. Some would argue that Werner's performance was dull or wooden, or his German accent distracting, but I actually thought these were plausible characteristics for the persona of Montag, who journeys from "before" to "after" in a very short time. And I found it especially poignant that Truffaut chose to show Mein Kampf as one of the books being thrown into the pile for incineration, as pertains to the convoluted human dynamics of freedom, tyranny, and violence. I was a bit thrown off by Julie Christie portraying both Millie and Clarisse but came to see it more favorably the more I thought about it, as an artistic interpretation of Montag's ideal love divided into two halves - one who acknowledges and feeds her soul and one who has lost hers

I am not a big reader of comics or graphic novels, so I don't have much of an opinion about the "authorized" comicbook version but it's certainly one way that the book might appeal to a young adult, or a reading-challenged person.

If you've never read the novel, I suggest you give it a try - it's not all that lengthy and it was fairly accurate at predicting techno-social advances. If you've only seen the movie, or only read the book, read or watch the other version and see if you agree with the choices made by writer and filmmaker.

I'll finish with a couple of quotes from the book: near the end, when Montag falls in with men from the hobo camp outside The City, one of them describes himself and the others who have committed entire books to their memory to preserve them for the future as "…bums on the outside, libraries on the inside"; from Bradbury's 1982 Afterword, as he remembers roaming the UCLA library where he rented a typing room to create his manuscript, "There I strolled, lost in love, …pulling volumes out, touching pages…"
Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for being bold and imaginative and indefatigable, and unashamed in your love of reading, writing, books, and libraries. -- review by Becky W.C. - Walt Branch Library

[Also available in multiple different print editions, book-on-cd and Large Print formats.]

[ Ray Bradbury entry on Wikipedia with numerous off-site links ] | [ official Ray Bradbury web site ] | [ Internet Movie Database entry for the 1966 film Fahrenheit 451 ]

Have you read this one? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month.

1 comment:

Matthew Gary Milam said...

I love Ray Bradbury. I read one of his most recent novels and liked it (can't even remember name--summer roses or something), but my favorite (maybe just because I like the cover) is "The October Country."
Matthew Gary Milam