on October 19, 2014
Guy Montag is a fireman, he burns things, because that’s what firemen do, they burn things, and specifically, they burn books. "Burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes" is the firemen’s moto, and Guy is a happy fireman. Kerosene smells like perfume to him, and every day is an adventure, even if his home life is in shambles. Then the fireman meets the young vivacious Clarisse McClellan, who abstains from most of society's non-textual entertainments in lieu of walking and discussions.
Then one day Guy is witness to an old woman immolating herself by fire, using her kerosene soaked books as her funeral pyre. Guy crosses the line, he steals a book, one of many; his semi-comatose wife finds it, he takes a day off from his job, and his boss shows up to check on Guy. It’s here that he, and we, get a lecture on why books are banned, and as his boss leaves, he delivers to Guy a non-too veiled warning. With this, and that Clarisse and her family suddenly disappearing from the neighborhood, Guy finds that his life is going to change forever, and with these changes he also finds that he will never be able to go back to the life that he once had lived.
Because now he's hoarding books, he's reading them, he's thinking, questioning, learning, and he's realizing that the history that he's learned, and has been taught, has been rewritten, and faked, and all that he thought that he had known is wrong. And things continue to cascade as old alliances and relationships will corrode and dissolve, while new ones will be forged, and Guy finally realizes that his life has been a waste, and just how lonely he is. This is emphasized on page seventy-two when we get the lines "I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls." Which is a perfect little soliloquy about how it feels to be lonely in a world full of friends, and family, that you can't talk to, and you find yourself disconnecting from your life as you find yourself falling into solitude. And as the novel continues, Montag’s disintegration and rebirth is paralleled by his society's own disconnectedness from its citizens, and how this will cause his society to have its own phoenix moment.
Bradbury constructs this future on what he was seeing happening around him in the early fifties. In "Fahrenheit 451" a frustrated Bradbury gave us a cynical, and angry story with a cautiously optimistic ending, that is dystopian and apocalyptical. And to illustrate it, Tim Hamilton gives us page after page of beautiful, yet dark, moody, and expressionistic artwork that manages to capture all that Bradbury was trying to covey, while not getting in the story's way. While the novel is necessarily condensed somewhat for this graphic adaptation, and while it won’t take the place of the original, it is an excellent companion piece to the original that can only help enrich the experience of reading Bradbury's work, while standing well on its own.
Looking back, it's obvious that Bradbury was angry at both the liberal left with its political correctness and willing to overlook the failure of Stalinism, while being equally angry at the radical right with its constant fear mongering and its rewriting of history to fit its own means. With "Fahrenheit 451" Bradbury manages to warn against the rewriting of history for society's principals own ends, remote control wars, judging politicians by their looks, and not their brains, vacuous entertainment as a drug, and modern society's isolation, all of which have come to pass in spades.
Science fiction has always been political, from H. G. Wells, to Heinlein, to Asimov, to Clarke, Niven, Pournelle, and so on. And as such, it, at its best, becomes dangerous, and this is a dangerous book. With Hamilton’s great illustrations "Fahrenheit 451"'s message becomes easily digestible and consumed, thus making it extremely dangerous to those with closed minds who wish for dogmatism, instead of the ability to question, inquire, and to think. Bradbury's book is a book that always seems to be on the lists of books to be banned by the scared and the politically bluenosed, and if you’ve never read it, try this graphic novel version to start with, and you’ll see why it threatens so many, and why it is considered a threatening tome.