Saturday, August 08, 2009

Burn baby, burn!

Some things just jump at you.

The first I'd heard of it was just the name. Just that it was a great piece of science fiction that might be developed into a film by Mel Gibson – given that this was just after Braveheart (1995) and the fact that I was on my way to becoming a science fiction nut must have been why it stuck.

Another reason might have been that, even though I read a lot, I'd never read a full-length science fiction novel. I had watched, and continue to watch, a lot of such films but had never read a book. Yet another reason might have been that Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, had written it.

But, I digress...

I had totally forgotten about the book until our lecturer Kit Leee (three 'E's not two – now known as Antares) asked us to write a book review that was not really a book review.

Sitting in a taxi, on my way to college I noticed its code number, used to identify it to the station, comprised of 4-5-1 . 'What a strange coincidence!' I though. And that's how I wound up with the subject of my non-review;

The 50th Anniversary Edition cover art for Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (1953), the book about a fireman who lit fires. A book that takes us to a future which holds reading or owning books illegal. Where books are burnt because they 'confuse ' us.

Herein followeth the review:

Taking its title from the temperature at which book paper auto-ignites Fahrenheit 451 is supposedly the story of Guy Montag – fireman no. 451. A fireman who burns for a living. A 'fireman' who is good at what he does.

He burns books because they make society 'unhealthy' – because the books make 'no sense ' and speak of things other than 'reality'. He is good because he does what he does without question.

He enjoys the sound – the searing death rattle of the pages as they're consumed by the orange beast. And the glow of the flame, as it shifts colours from red to blue to black/grey and orange transforming the pages to ash that scatter and dissolve in the wind, thrills him.

But then along comes Clarisse, and out go Montag's automated responses to books. The animal instinct which closed on, and ripped the books apart before he set fire to them, starts to turn the pages with the gentlest of touch, reading from them, soaking up their knowledge and emotion, reaching awareness from within.

Fahrenheit 451 is often heralded as the classic bestseller about censorship but at a cursory glance the word 'censorship' does not have the full impact, that perhaps it should.

I mean, what does somebody withholding a few books mean, right?

But as far as things go in the 'normal' world, it's not quite as simple. It's not just the books, but what they stand for (as Beatty, the fire chief whose words are laced with phrases by old poets and philosophers, so that he may more easily identify elements in society who may be in possession of the 'contraband', so hastily admits).


The liberty, the hope, the knowledge, the insights, the joy, the pain, all this and more which the books have on offer. The sheer emotional and intellectual gratification that is feeling, trust, love; hidden and unbidden. What it means to think, what it means to have ideas, what it means to reach out, what it means to stand out, what it means to stand out. What it means to be an 'individual' a person with thoughts, views and personal feelings of how things should be. A person with morals, a person with their sense of morals. THAT is what's really at stake.

In Bradbury's fictitious society, where all that people are expected of is to expect 'fun', where school kids run down their schoolmates, without so much as an after thought, no one knows what hope means. No one has a sense of meaning. This begs the question, how, if they do not understand what hope means, can they have fun?

It's disturbing that this book Bradbury wrote in 1953, mirrors some attributes we see in our society today. Kids hack down other kids because we, the society at large, have no time to nurture them, to impart upon them the value of life, of hope.

I hope and pray that we will never sink to the depths that society has sunk to in Fahrenheit 451. Yes it 's worse in the book than in real life. But only just. And only just by a hair's breath. There are warning signs that we're headed that way though.

And we need to be aware of what's going on around us. Aware of what those who 'guide' us sanction in our names , labelling their wants as ours, their needs as our needs – in order to do this, they control the information we consume in a way that favours them.

In the end Ray Bradbury's book is not just about burning books. It's about burning the ideals that unfold through those books. It's about burning the emotions and the hope that it may instill in humanity.

Burning so that others can control. Burning so we may not question. Why not question? Because we do not have the knowledge. Why do we not have knowledge? Because those 'above', governing us for our 'well-being', us want to 'protect' us from 'confusion', and 'rivalry', from hope and individuality. Read, seek, think, learn – the book cries out to us, and for us to 'know what you want and most of all know how to think'.

Fahrenheit 451 may have been written in 1953 but it's more relevant now than it ever was – do yourselvesf a favour and read one of the best science fiction stories ever written.

[Disclaimer: This post is mostly a re-edited self plagiarism of a “book review” for 'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury – originally written as a college assignment (Advertising Creativity – Lecturer Kit Leee) in 2001 (23rd April)]

Thank you Teech for the inspiration!

3 comments:

Antares said...

Hey, you picked the book, didn't you? In any case, Aindhy, I clearly remember you as a very bright spark whom I knew would blossom into a Bard of the First Order, no matter what medium you choose to tell your stories. May our orbits intersect again at some unexpected juncture and bring forth great joy and mutual inspiration. Thanks very much for the links, pal. I'll reciprocate by adding you to my blogroll with pleasure.

aindhy said...

Thanks Teech!

The Shadowrunner said...

I happen to have that in the command bunker somewhere...