Turn Back The Clock
The 50th Anniversary Edition
Author: Ray Bradbury
Published By: Del Rey Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
What is Fahrenheit 451? The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns. I first read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury when I was in Junior High School. At around the same time, I read George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. All three novels were about censorship and although I loved Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 had the most impact on me. As a lover of the written word, it’s painful to imagine a world in which books are outlawed material. A world where the burning of books is justified – even welcome – is a world in which I would hate to live. Years later, after reading the 50th Anniversary Edition of the novel, I can honestly say that it still has the same effect on me.
In a world that now shuns all that can threaten to depress them, America has chosen to ban books. Instead of reading, Americans immerse themselves in non-sensical visual media with little plot or meaning, believing themselves content. Books are burned and wall-to-wall television is praised. Meanwhile, all around them, signs creep up that provide proof of the errors of their ways. A thoughtlessness presides and within that thoughtlessness, disaster resounds. Suicides spike to an all-time high. Murders abound. People drive their cars at 100mph and tell themselves it’s for the thrill and the adrenaline rush. Perhaps that’s part of the truth, but the other half of the coin reveals the reality – an insatiable death wish.
Within all this madness resides Guy Montag, a fireman, in the very literal sense of the word. Gone are the days when firemen put out fires. Those days are long forgotten. For ten years, Guy has loved his job as a fireman, burning books and the houses they are hidden in, until one day, Guys does the unthinkable. In a rush of spontaneity, he steals one of the very books he is supposed to burn. Once he begins, he can hardly help himself and he continues the trend, hiding them inside an air vent in his home and praying that his indiscretions will go undiscovered.
One day, Guy meets Clarisse, a young girl full of life and wonderment. Guy begins a daily routine of talking to this girl and the realization hits home. Here is a person who is curious about everything around her, finds joy in the simplest of things, and she is truly happy. He realizes that he has never truly been happy in his life. Then one day, Clarisse is gone, a victim of the new thoughtless world they live in. Shortly afterward, the owner of a house that Guy and fellow firemen respond to takes matters into her own hands, deciding to die with her books of her own free will. Clarisse’s death and the suicide of this elderly woman bring things to a head for Guy.
He comes to the realization that he has had no free will in his life. In his theft of books, Guy was subconsciously acting out the smallest bit of rebellion against a life filled with a robotic obedience. Vowing never to burn another book, Guy opens one of his hoarded treasures and begins to read. His world is never the same again.
It’s hard to believe that this novel is 50 years old. That Bradbury could write something 50 years ago and have it come so close to today’s America is amazing. Not to say that people don’t still lose themselves in novels, but more and more people I know seem to categorize magazines as books. They would rather read little snippets and look at pictures than read full-length novels and let their imaginations be their guides. Visual media has become very big with this generation and anyone who says they don’t watch at least three hours of television a night is considered strange. Bradbury’s world is actually coming to be in bits and pieces and one can only hope that our world will never see its full potential of ignorance.
The 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451 contains extras that were not available in the version I read so many years ago. In Afterword, Ray Bradbury enlightens us as to the origin of this tale. How ironic that a novel about the censorship and destruction of books should be completed upon typewriters for rent in the local library. He also gives us more insight into the character of Chief Beatty by describing a scene that he wrote for a theatrical version of the novel. In the scene, we learn that Beatty was once a lover of books until events in his life turned him against them.
In Coda, we learn Bradbury’s feelings about censorship and political correctness as he talks about recent requests from readers to rewrite novels, including such things as different races, more women and other items that would make the novels more politically correct in their eyes. “If Mormons don’t like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture…In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hands to wave or make a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted to become a non-book.”
Also included in this edition is an interview with Ray Bradbury remarking on the lasting power of Fahrenheit 451 and how it relates to present times. We are given great insight into how Bradbury’s characters are written. I was surprised to see that, much like myself, Bradbury allowed the characters of his novels to write their own stories. He was just a medium – a conduit through which they spoke.
Fahrenheit 451 is a must have for anyone who loves reading. It’s a reminder of what we stand to lose should we ever shake off the love of books and become one of the mindless hoard lulled into supplication by hours and hours of television. The politically inclined will enjoy this book, but the book-lover himself is encouraged to read this novel and learn some valuable lessons about ourselves and our world. We may very well need the information this book supplies us with. Some day, it may be atop the heap of books being burned by the firemen of our future.
And for more novels about censorship, try these: